As expected, Certified Lover Boy, the sixth full length project from the biggest artist in the world is thus far the biggest album of the year. In its second week, the album filled all positions of the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Five singles and had nine songs in its top 10, tying The Beatles’ record and breaking Michael Jackson’s respectively. Drake once again has proven his higher level strategy concerning streaming and the digital landscape with a substantial quantity of tracks with no advanced singles.
But the more questionable aspects of Drake’s private life concerning his accidental childbearing and alleged grooming of teenage girls, much of which informs his marquee full length project, seem to be those that fans and proud Torontonians purposefully avoid. In our second wave of cancel culture, many Samaritans these days prefer to separate art from artist; however, this becomes more complicated in the case of Aubrey whose interplay between public persona and private life is at the core of his brand. More specifically, women, love, and sex are at the epicentre of Drake’s music, and the rapper-singer has made references to 129 named and unnamed women throughout his career.
CLB can’t help but put Drake’s recent childrearing and flirting scandals center stage, taking an endless barrage of public relationship scandals and applying it to brand. The album is dedicated to two deceased Instagram models, its title directly references the rapper’s conflicted romantic life and its cover, a flatlay of 12 pregnant women emojis in various skin tones, shocked fans.
There is not one song on CLB that does not make reference to Drake’s love life, or sometimes lack thereof. Drake’s status as a bachelor, his poor decision making, and his stature as the biggest artist on the planet has both provided CLB with subject matter that we ultimately care about but has also cornered him into the defensive. In response to Drake’s pregnancy and sex scandals, which in addition to Adonis with Sophie Brusseaux, exists Shenseea, Johnni Blaze, and possibly more, CLB isn’t a left turn, or a judo move, or a towering statement like DONDA…it’s a reaction.
The new strategy that Drake has taken, proudly declaring his fatherhood instead of concealing it takes centrestage and its genesis from Pusha T’s information pipe bomb sets Drake up on the reactionary rather than in control of his own strategies. Here, Drake practically runs a triathlon with the accidental father trope doing everything from poking fun to apologizing to finding peace. It’s notably a full 180 from the Drake who allegedly demanded his baby mama Brussaux get an abortion and was too busy justifying his mistakes to raise his child.
But if the monster success of CLB has shown us anything, it’s that Drake’s awareness is his most powerful weapon and arguably sharper than his talent. The character deployed by Drake on CLB’s 21 songs knows what he wants and is somehow conflicted. A crippled Bruce Wayne-like figure pacing his massive Bridle Path estate, inherently powerful and offensively wealthy, yet plagued by loneliness. The Drake on CLB is intensely emotional, but jaded; he’s crucified and judged on one line, then shamelessly calling out his favourite strippers by name on the next. The artist whose persona is more leveraged on heartbreak than any singer in even country or emo, and yet can’t stop talking about his massive body count. It’s why Drake’s paternalistic treatment of strippers and love of teenaged girls is even worth talking about: nearly all of CLB relates to Drake’s love life.
Drake’s support for the strip club is no secret and much of his album is set there. An appearance from Drizzy at anyone storied establishment across the States often creates a splash with the rapper arriving with full briefcases of cash, but Drake’s love of the gentleman’s palace goes beyond any connection to the nightlife and point to an obsession with saving women from reckless lifestyles, a trope CLB often alludes to.
As Drake uses his art to expose his life, rather than imitate it, songs like “Pipe Down” feature Drake in first person breaking up with an escort and blaming her bad communication; he is ultimately doomed by his own trap. Drake feels no matter how much he loves these women, no matter what he buys them or what he can offer, they cannot give him what he needs, stability. CLB finds a very specific archetype of woman, one who Drake paints as high on Percocet, with abandonment issues, and whose dreams of leaving the sex work industry are ultimately not convincing enough. CLB’s late night ballads see Drake obsessing over their predicaments. It’s why Drake seems to assume victimhood in every romantic relationship turned awry in his real life (see Rihanna) and why much of the material dealing with women on CLB takes a somber note over celebratory. It’s why many find Drake’s “songs for women” condescending, because they are.
Obvious single “In The Bible (Ft. GIVĒON & Lil Durk)” borders on slut shame with Drake questioning the outcome of a woman’s sexual history in contrast to a life with him, while the R. Kelly-accredited “TSU,” paints a more deliberate picture of a party-loving sex worker, abandoned by her family that Drake saves. Subtlety is not this man’s strong suit.
Case in point, after Drake posted special jersey retirements for a few dancers on the wall of Houston club Dreams, several of the club’s staff criticized the stunt and called Drake’s past behaviour in the club to be mean and cruel. One, Maliah Michel unleashed a series of tweets, declaring, “no man can retire me…Y’all don’t know that n***a been trying to make me stop dancing. Always putting me down about it. Always telling me I’m not better than anyone else in the club selling ass instead of dancing. But n*gga can’t stay out the club.”
Drake’s affinity for younger women, and his tendency to build relationships with them, some cases in their early teens has also been a point of contention in recent years.
Multiple stories have spawned from leaked paparazzi photos of Drake taking out fresh faced stars and models to expensive restaurants, showering them with gifts, then always leaving separately. These affiliations have been boldly denied by both parties shortly after the public’s awareness. After additional photos revealed Drake knew many of these girls prior to them reaching the age of consent, Drake was widely maligned with questions regarding grooming, or forming a psychological bond with and exploiting that parental relationship when a minor comes of age.
Drake was rumoured to have dated Clinique model Bella Harris in 2018, apparently shutting down a restaurant in DC for their private dinner when she was 18 years old and he was a month shy of 32. She had known him for at least two years up until that point, sharing a backstage photo with him at his show and modeling for his clothing line.
Drake developed a closely intimate friendship with Hailey Baldwin (now Bieber), two years before when the model was 19. Tabloids caught them at The Nice Guy in Los Angeles and reported that he was pursuing her with lavish gifts. Shortly after, he appeared in her Snapchat story beside her with a puppy face filter. Baldwin also denied a relationship with Drake shortly after public backlash, confirming the rapper as a “great friend, but nothing more” and that like others, has “known Drake for a long time.”
It’s an ethical question that makes certain sections of CLB particularly conflicting.
“Fucking Fans’ which arrives at a particularly exhausting final movement of the album is particularly uncomfortable containing Drake’s admitted regret to sleeping with his fans, a fanbase which assumingly includes many women underage. Elsewhere, R. Kelly is sampled on “TSU” and on “You Only Live Twice (Ft. Lil Wayne & Rick Ross),” Drake raps the line, “Not sure if you know but I'm actually Michael Jackson,” two creative decisions which seem to trivialize the sex crimes of pop superstars.
Conversation surrounding Drake’s connection to teenage girls reached an apex after a video taken in May 2010 surfaced in 2019 of a concert in Colorado where Drake pulled a fan onstage for an uncomfortable slow dance. After kissing her, caressing her, smelling her hair, and commenting on her shampoo, the participant revealed she was 17 to an animatedly surprised Drake, "I can't go to jail yet, man! Seventeen? How do you look like that? You thick. Look at all this." He continued to shower her with compliments, one of which was attributed to the way her breasts felt on his chest before finally giving a final kiss.
The rapper continued to raise eyebrows and theories after it was revealed that he upheld a friendship with then-14 year old Stranger Things actress Millie Bobbie Brown, offering her advice about boys and texting that he misses her, despite being over 30. Things got even more uncomfortable after a Billie Eilish interview had the 18-year old singer disclose that she and Drake also kept a text correspondence showing a pattern of potentially predatory behaviour.
Drake’s personal life should raise questions about CLB’s subject matter, but the relationship between Drake’s actions and his music that explores them raises larger questions about our social complicity. The question of our allowance for celebrities to do unethical things in order to service their art seems particularly familiar when dealing with male superstars in R&B, a genre whose lyrical content is almost entirely predicated by the relationship courting process. With footage of Drake flirting with a 17-year-old girl on stage surfacing amidst the mania of Surviving R. Kelly and CLB dropping amidst our greater cultural shift, one that liberates sex workers instead of belittling them, it seems our society could benefit from looking into the reality that contextualizes our populist art, instead of dismissing it.