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Drake, "Honestly, Nevermind" (Republic)

For more than a decade, the Drake factory has been operating at full capacity — recalibrating the relationship between hip-hop, R&B and pop; balancing grand-scale ambition with granular experimentation; embracing the meme-ification of his celebrity. But recently, it's felt like the machines might be grinding to a pause. What Drake has needed is an opportunity to refresh, a chance to be unburdened of old assumptions.

Drake's seventh solo studio album is a small marvel of bodily exuberance — appealingly weightless, escapist and zealously free. An album of entrancing club music, it's a pointed evolution toward a new era for one of music's most influential stars. It is also a Drake album made up almost wholly of the parts of Drake albums that send hip-hop purists into conniptions.

The expectations the 35-year-old is seeking to upend here, though, are his own. For almost the entire 2010s, hip-hop molded itself around his innovations. Last year's bloated "Certified Lover Boy" was his least focused and least imaginative album. "Honestly, Nevermind" is a clear pivot. Drake fully embraces the dance floor here, making house music that also touches on Jersey club, Baltimore club, ballroom and Amapiano.

Part of why this is so striking is that Drake has made a career out of caress. His productions were emphatically soothing. But the beats here have sharp corners, they kick and punch. This approach turns out to be well suited to Drake's singing style, which is lean and doesn't apply overt pressure.

"Honestly, Nevermind" is the work of someone unbothered by the potential for alienating old allies. He truly raps on only two songs here: "Sticky" and "Jimmy Cooks," the finale that feels like a pointed coda of bluster after 45 minutes of sheer ecstatic release.

Whether "Honestly, Nevermind" proves to be a head fake or a permanent new direction, it's maybe an indication that he's leaving the old Drake — and everyone who followed him — in the rearview.


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