When Canadian rap juggernaut Drake announced his eighth studio album, “For All the Dogs,” he stated that it would be the return of “Old Drake.”
To many, that could mean a number of things, be it the smooth melodies and catchy hooks of “Take Care,” the atmospheric production of “Nothing Was the Same” or the focused braggadocio of “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late;” all welcome directions for an artist who has been treading water for the better half of a decade.
Unfortunately, “For All the Dogs” is decisively not a return to form.
Across the punishing 90-minute, 23-song runtime, the same problems that have plagued Drake’s music since 2016’s “Views” continue, with another bloated, unfocused tracklist packed with songs that either feel like blatant trend chasing or like no effort was put in at all.
What’s even worse are the lyrics, most of which read like Drake continuing the spiral into the self-parody he kickstarted with 2021’s “Certified Lover Boy.” Gone are the days of self-critique on “Marvins Room” or “Furthest Thing.” All that’s left is a vibe with no substance.
Still, Drake does manage to dig up a couple of highlights, even if it’s barely a handful.
“Fear Of Heights,” “Daylight” and “IDGAF” are total bangers that fit Drake well as he glides smoothly over booming, intoxicating beats. He even crosses over with on-the-rise weirdo Yeat on “IDGAF,” though it does feel more like Yeat’s song than Drake’s.
The album’s best feature is handily J. Cole on “First Person Shooter.” Cole’s defiant attitude and clever rhymes leave Drake playing catch-up, although he does put up a decent fight, especially after a dramatic beat switch toward the end.
Deeper into the album, “What Would Pluto Do” and “Rich Baby Daddy” show Drake still knows how to have fun. The former’s bouncy piano melody and carefree vocals are instantly infectious, while the latter brings on Sexyy Red and SZA for a club-friendly collab that even an unnecessary final verse from Drake can’t ruin.
The last major bright spot is “8am in Charlotte,” where Drake finally remembers how to properly rap.
On an album this disappointing, it’s great to hear some genuinely good writing like, “Preachin' to the dogs 'bout wantin' more for themselves / It's weighin' heavy on my moral scale / Knowin' they gon' sell another citizen 'caine, they think they Orson Welles.”
The rest of “For All the Dogs” falls into two categories: the duds and the disappointments.
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The duds aren’t worth going over in detail because they all fail in the same, boring ways. “7969 Santa,” "Bahamas Promises,” “Tried Our Best,” “Drew A Picasso,” “Members Only” and “Polar Opposites” are all completely lifeless, with thin crooning from Drake and barely any structure. They wear out their welcome by the two-minute mark, and yet most of them extend past four.
Then there’s the disappointments — those in which Drake should be in his element but consistently finds a way to screw up.
“Virginia Beach” has one of the best beats here thanks to its pitched Frank Ocean sample and snappy drums. Drake starts the song off pretty well with a solid vocal delivery and flow, but he completely loses steam by the second half, bringing the song’s worst lyrics as well.
Considering Drake’s pedigree for excellent opening tracks, this is an especially weak start to the album. Even for the positives it has, it is in no way comparable to past triumphs like “Legend,” “Tuscan Leather” or even “Keep the Family Close.”
“Amen” and “Slime You Out” are much more memorable for Teezo Touchdown and SZA respectively than anything Drake does on them, and he totally ruins “Gently” with an embarrassing vocal delivery in a way that not even a decent verse from Bad Bunny can save.
Meanwhile, Chief Keef is barely present on the comatose “All The Parties,” and Drake somehow manages to drag mediocre verses out of 21 Savage on the bafflingly disjointed “Calling For You” and Lil Yachty on the forgettable “Another Late Night.”
Finally, “Away From Home” perfectly encapsulates the biggest problem with “For All the Dogs”: Drake’s bitter and completely insufferable attitude throughout most of these tracks.
One of Drake’s biggest selling points early in his career was his emotional vulnerability. Now, 15 years into his career, that openness has curdled into a level of toxicity that is not only offputting, but far removed from the relatable struggles with emotional maturity that colored his best material.
At 36 years old and as a father, Drake shouldn’t sound this petty as he criticizes the women he’s with for every little thing that annoys him, or complains about the Grammys he didn’t win a decade ago. It’s more true than ever that he really just needs to grow up.
Titling this album “For All the Dogs” is pretty accurate, because it really does belong in the kennel.