A Drake album is bound to leave your head scratching. Without so much as a glance at any of the headlines surrounding For All the Dogs, you’d have to go in expecting no shortage of aggravating moments, a fashionable degree of stylistic variation, and at least a few genuine sparks of creativity. You hope that the more inspired cuts are the ones that catch on, because even if you go out of a Drake album with no intention of listening to it ever again, the inevitable hit will remind you of his cultural omnipresence even as he claims to be stepping away from music for a while. In the case of For All the Dogs, that would be ‘Slime You Out’, the No. 1 SZA collab that’s not quite as dreadful as, say, ‘Way 2 Sexy’, but is still pretty underwhelming. The record’s got a lot more where that came from, but SZA also lends her voice to one of the album’s actual highlights, the Sexyy Red-assisted ‘Rich Baby Daddy’. Up until recently, those bright moments would be enough to leave you wondering what a great Drake album could be like, or how much better the same album could sound like if he didn’t double down on all his worst impulses. On For All the Dogs, they’re just not enough.
This is the most Drake album the rapper has put out since 2021’s Certified Lover Boy, which, despite his continued dominance over the past couple of years, makes it feels like a proper follow-up. If last year’s Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss, his joint LP with 21 Savage, were left turns – leaning into his moodiest and most misogynistic tendencies, respectively – For All the Dogs is, to sometimes compelling but mostly excruciating effect, straight up his lane. Of course it’s disjointed, and, with 23 tracks clocking in at almost 85 minutes, a slog to get through. You don’t care anymore if he’s trolling or trying to be earnest, but you still may find yourself hooked when his charisma and skill are on display, whether he gets himself fired up on the otherwise indistinct ‘8am in Charlotte’ or facing off J. Cole on ‘First Person Shooter’. But Drake’s signature corniness and petty solipsism are so overbearing that it can only take a single line to push things over the edge and drain all the enjoyment out of a track: “So many cheques owed/ I feel Czechoslovakian,” he raps on ‘8am in Charlotte’. “You ain’t even know how to suck it right, I taught you right,” goes a line on ‘Rich Baby Daddy’.
It’s depressing. At their worst, Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss felt like excuses to indulge in the darkest corners of Drake’s introspection, and you’d think he’d dial it down for a more focused and energetic effort, which For All the Dogs is. But the fact that the persona has only gotten more inescapable is sobering, and it explains a lot of the decisions on the new album – none of which are particularly new yet feel more cynical and pathetic than before, like when devotes a portion of the LP delivering rage flows in an obvious but respectable attempt at keeping up with his younger collaborators. It mostly works because he’s at least having fun and is endearingly self-aware about it, even if his trying to fit over a dembow beat alongside Bad Bunny on ‘Gently’ borders on laughable. Naturally, Drake is always at the center of For All the Dogs, but he rarely feels like the star of it, relying on his guests to brighten up the project and cheaply interpolating Florence + the Machine and Pet Shop Boys. “Sometimes I think to myself, what if I was somebody else,” he admits on ‘BBL Love – Interlude’, and the collection often scans as a means of entertaining the question.
But whether you hear glimpses of the “old Drake” or a sad projection of his current self, Drake is tediously, numbingly all over this thing. He can still be entertaining. He can sound sharp and more relevant than a lot of people would be willing to give him credit for, though I wouldn’t blame them. In terms of its atmosphere and flow, For All the Dogs might be better than CLB, though it’s probably not as memorable (except for one-liners like “You tried to grease me, but we’re not in Mykonos”). But while CLB at least hinted at some kind of heartfelt sincerity towards its conclusion, For All the Dogs weaponizes the nastiest parts of vulnerability and ultimately seems to revel in its toxicity. He’s too absorbed by his own mythos to pretend to be somebody else – worse, he sounds tired. If you even manage to get to the end of the album, I can’t imagine feeling any other way.