But for all of Drake’s strengths, he has not evolved past the tensions that have defined this half of his career—the sulky revenge fantasies of a petulant man-child who is capable of loyalty to men but treats all women with suspicion. He remains in a suspended state of something resembling teenage boyhood, in which he is constantly aggrieved, but never accountable. As ever, Drake finds new ways of expressing escalating amounts of pettiness: Instead of snow tires and designer purses, the women he dates now want butt lifts and Lasik eye surgery. Instead of tracking their mileage on his Bugatti, he sends a friend to take back a gifted car. One song, “Desires,” features the unhinged regret that he didn’t isolate a woman he was dating so as to avoid losing her: “I should’ve put you somewhere where no one could find you/Mansion out in the sticks with nothing around you.”
Drake lives in symbiosis with Kardashian-style celebrity culture, using veiled lyrics and social media posts to carefully extend or withdraw access to his narrative. Incidentally, one of the most evocative things he has written recently is the caption to an Instagram post he made celebrating his son’s birthday and sharing photos of him with the public for the first time. “It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past or what is happening around us now, you can always make the choice to break free of the wheel of suffering and panic and open up to your own light,” he wrote. The venue was appropriate for an artist whose success was formed in part on his ability to fill songs with pithy captions. But the message was a rarer thing: earnest, tenderhearted, with the focused sobriety of someone who has been meditating or studying Eckhart Tolle. Unfortunately, very little of that sentiment has made its way into his music, which remains guarded and skin-deep, even as it grows, like his houses, bigger and more expensive.
Drake’s new project is a mixtape of glossy “demos” from the recent past. It showcases his precise delivery, sticky flows, and arena-sized hooks, but comes with a fair amount of well-tread material.