Whither Drake, the brokenest man in music? The golden bachelor emerged from pandemic lockdown and unleashed a whirlwind of creativity with three albums that explored Afrobeats, club music, and trap, all while sending his emo fuckboy persona into increasingly darker crevices. Long the jilted lover who lashed out at women in response, his chameleonic melodies—and his endless charisma—often overshadowed his soft emotional outbursts, with bouts of insight on moody ballads of the sort he built his name. “I’m still working on me, and I’m coming back better for you,” for instance, on Certified Lover Boy’s “Fucking Fans,” an empty promise inside a heartfelt journey through his infidelity and remorse.
By Her Loss, though, his 2022 album with fellow wayward son 21 Savage, the sentiment had curdled. By putting famous women in his sights alongside the nameless proles in his contacts, his churlishness became more widely noticed—most specifically on “Circo Loco,” a bass track on which the line, “This bitch lie ’bout getting shots but she still a stallion,” was taken by fans and Megan Thee Stallion herself to mean both ass injections and a sideswipe at the Houston rapper. It also added to the shameful laundry list of male rappers who cast aspersions on whether Tory Lanez, now serving 10 years in North Kern State Prison, shot her.
On For All the Dogs, Drake has yet again doubled down over a melange of styles—drill, underworld R&B, Playboi Carti’s flow—and other than a few flashes of brilliance, the music can’t save him from himself. Despite his agility on “8am in Charlotte” and a tuneful SZA verse on the otherwise mid Men Are From Mars tone poem “Slime You Out,” the meat of this bloated 23-track album are his own grievances and a dearth of topical contrast. Once again releasing an album with the runtime of a feature-length film, Dogs is an unfocused, disjointed listen loosely tied to the undercooked conceit that the album is playing on a fictional quiet storm radio station—BARK Radio—hosted by DJs Snoop Dogg, George Clinton, and, miraculously, the Sade Adu, who shows up to do a brief radio tag.
Another wobbly peg seems to be Drake working through some kind of awful island vacation, which he makes sound like his own emotional Fyre Festival. It appears on the Savage-featuring “Callin For You,” in the form of a skit about flying economy, which is entirely sampled from Rye Rye on “Shake It to the Ground,” the Baltimore club classic she made with DJ Blaqstarr when she was just 15. The lounge-adjacent “Bahamas Promises” addresses “Hayley” with signature Drake corn—“You put the ‘no’ in monogamy.” Whether or not the vacation exists is a question for the tabloids, yet there’s no question Rihanna is the topic of “Fear of Heights,” where Drake demonstrates how hurt he is by making a song about how not hurt he is. “Why do they make it sound like I’m still hung up on you? That could never be,” he raps, protesting entirely too much.
By the time he says “The sex was average witcha”—referencing Rihanna’s “Sex With Me,” a song that came out close to a decade ago—you’re hoping for anyone else to grab the mic, whether it’s young rapper Yeat, who steals the show on “IDGAF,” or even the comparatively relaxing croons of Teezo Touchdown. On “Gently,” Bad Bunny sounds like he dialed in his verse from the Sprinter en route to the Gucci show while Drake deploys his best seventh-grade Spanish on a dembow beat—(“My broski Benito, he needs a bonita,” et cetera)—and yet it’s still a high point far away from Drake’s darkness. The Miami bass banger “Rich Baby Daddy” is clearly the best track on the album, due in part to Sexyy Red’s chorus: “Bend that ass over/Let that coochie breathe”—thank you, ma’am, for your concern for airing out one’s yoni—and SZA singing about her desire for “dick and conversation.”
At times Drake’s breakup bromides are softer and more interesting, as on the celestial “Tried Our Best” with rising R&B singer (and former The Four contestant) JeRonelle, when Drake drops the pose: “I swear there’s a list of places that I been with you, I wanna go without you/Just so I can know what it’s like to be there without havin’ to argue,” he sings earnestly. But by “All the Parties,” which is buoyed by a too-short Chief Keef interlude, you’re rolling your eyes as he interpolates Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls,” which might end up costing him some pocket change. Even lines that should otherwise be funny—Drake softly crooning, “Bust that pussy open for a real one” on “BBL Love (Interlude)” like Sinatra gone pornographic—have become dreadfully boring, caught up in what by this time feels like a narcissism spiral with a dash of famous-person insecurity (“Sometimes I think to myself, what if I was somebody else/Would your ass still be here?”). For All the Dogs suggests a magnanimity, a document of inclusive player’s anthems, but if you make it no-skips to the end, it’s clear the only dog in Drake’s world is Drake, and he’s trying to get the Men’s Rights Conference to howl back at him.
Thirteen years into his career, Drake keeps turning the dial of his music away from lovesick bachelor, past vulnerable playboy, and towards vile cretin. Whether this new setting is sincere, performative, or a bit of a troll, it’s at best repetitive and at worst severely off-putting. The effect is that of a man on the street who hollers at a random woman, but retaliates after she politely declines. A good half-hour of For All the Dogs is a slog through his thoughts on wealth, women, and surgical injections, with a few bright but frustrating bits of reprieve, which provide a glimpse into what could’ve been here if Drake only employed a better therapist. “Away From Home” is one of the best cuts here, an accounting of his struggle and come-up over a velvety Björkian, which includes an incredible flex about how Drake has three different friends named Jason (“My life like The Matrix,” he adds.) Yet he also snipes at the multitalented Esperanza Spalding for beating him out for the Best New Artist Grammy a full 12 years ago and, for some reason, blames Michelle Obama for her husband’s annual playlist.
At 36, Drake has risen to become one of the world’s most popular rappers and culturally-defining millennials. He has built an empire on underdog affability, internet-savvy quirks, and definitively changing the way rappers sound, his sensitive croons defying the age of the monotonous delivery and altering the pop landscape for a decade-plus and counting. His endearing qualities—his diaristic, heart-on-sleeve lyricism, his occasional dorkiness, his smart approach to serenade and diss track alike—have kept him rightfully dominant for a good chunk of the century. Yet For All the Dogs caps off a recent persona that sounds like none of it’s fun to him—and he’s dragging us along to be the company of his misery.