Drake has made his return to the music scene with his highly-anticipated album, 'For All The Dogs.' This album cycle, which some may have initially thought began with 'Search and Rescue' back in April 2023, actually commenced just a few weeks ago with Drake's 'Slime You Out (feat. SZA).' This relatively short album promotion strategy is not uncommon for Drake in recent years, as his previous albums Honestly, Nevermind and Her Loss both lacked promotional singles. Just a day before the release of For All The Dogs, Drake released a music video for '8am in Charlotte' on X (formerly Twitter), a video prominently featuring his son, Adonis Graham. Both "Slime You Out" and "8am in Charlotte" received positive responses from hip-hop fans, further intensifying the anticipation for For All The Dogs.
Upon first glance, the tracklist boasts an impressive 23 songs, totalling a runtime of 1 hour and 24 minutes. It's quite an extensive collection.
The album kicks off with two R&B tracks, "Virginia Beach" and "Amen" (feat. Teezo Touchdown),' which have gospel influences. "Virginia Beach" begins with a sample from Frank Ocean's unreleased song "Wise Man," originally intended for the 2012 film ‘Django Unchained’. In this track, Drake reflects on his career and musical journey, while "Amen" features Drake and Teezo seeking redemption and forgiveness from a former lover.
Just when it seems that 'For All The Dogs' might be solely R&B-focused, the second half of 'Calling For You' introduces 21 Savage's feature and the grittier rap themes of the album with tracks like 'Fear of Heights' and 'Daylight.' While both songs maintain a menacing tone, 'Fear of Heights' delves into themes of relationship uncertainty and progress, with lines like "How can you keep it buck if you ain't got no bucks?". 'Daylight,' one of my personal favorites, embraces full-on trap rap, narrating a story about a violent incident that took place "in daylight." Although Drake's energy stands out in this track, the lyrics revolving around exes, drugs, and shootings come off as somewhat uninspired. Adonis, Drake's son, makes his rap debut towards the end of this track, leaving us asking: "Out of all the songs for your son to feature on, you chose the one about shooting someone in daylight?"
J. Cole joins Drizzy on the next track, 'First Person Shooter' (my favorite on the entire album), emphasizing the significance of their collaboration with the line, "Big as the Superbowl." Drake confidently asserts his greatness in his first verse: "When they start debatin' about who the G.O.A.T / I'm like "Go 'head, say it then, who the G.O.A.T.'" Cole's verse is packed with wordplay and punchlines, addressing his recent beef with NBA YoungBoy and hinting at his highly-anticipated album, The Fall Off, stating, "I'm namin' the album The Fall Off, it's pretty ironic 'cause it ain't no fall off for me." Just when it seems Drake might struggle to keep up in Verse 3 (and yes, there's a beat switch), he delivers lines like, "She call my number, leave her hangin', she got dry-cleaned." As expected, Drake revisits themes related to women, stating, "I search one name, and end up seein' twenty tings." Drake's closing verse in the song carries a bold statement: "What the fuck bro? I'm one away from Michael," highlighting his chart-topping aspirations.
"IDGAF" and "7969" suffer from the featured artists (Yeat and Teezo & Snoop respectively) outshining Drake. Drake's vocal mix on "IDGAF" makes his verse feel disjointed, and his two-minute performance on "7969" feels lackluster, especially when compared to Teezo's later contribution to the track.
"Slime You Out," "Bahamas Promises," "Tried Our Best," "Drew A Picasso," and "Members Only" see Drake returning to his R&B roots. "Slime You Out" showcases his lyrical prowess, while "Bahamas Promises" delves into the emotional depths of a troubled relationship. "Tried Our Best" brings back an upbeat mood while still reflecting on relationship issues. Ironically, "Drew A Picasso" (and its instrumental) bears a strong resemblance to a PARTYNEXTDOOR performance, a similarity that becomes more apparent in the following track. On "Members Only," PARTYNEXTDOOR shines, making Drake feel more like a featured artist.
"8am in Charlotte" stands out as one of the best tracks on For All The Dogs. The combination of Conductor Williams' phenomenal instrumental and Drake's introspective punchline bars creates an undeniable hit: "Been talkin' to Adel like he majored in finance / Shania Twain, notepad, I'm makin' it line-dance." After multiple listens, "8am in Charlotte" could have served as an exceptional outro for the album.
"Gently (feat. Bad Bunny)" provides a fun change of pace, but one can't help but wonder if it might have been better suited for a different Drake project. With just over two minutes in runtime, we quickly move on to the next song as "Gently" is just getting started. "Rich Baby Daddy" sees Drake collaborating with SZA on another track. Sexyy Red's performance feels more like a sample usage, with her hook repeating four too many times throughout the song. SZA undeniably steals the spotlight, showcasing her exceptional vocal abilities.
The instrumental of "Another Late Night (feat. Lil Yachty)" could easily fit into other Drake projects like Her Loss or 'Dark Lane Demo Tapes.' Just last week, J. Cole and Lil Yachty released 'The Secret Recipe,' a remarkable rap track that makes "Another Late Night" feel subdued and unoriginal in comparison. "Away From Home" serves as evidence that For All The Dogs might be a bit bloated. While it explores interesting lyrical themes, by the time we reach "Away From Home," we might be too fatigued for a mildly-sleepy R&B cut.
The outro, "Polar Opposites," is a solid track (though I personally believe '8am in Charlotte' would have been a better choice). After 22 songs, with over ten of them leaning heavily toward R&B, the listener's appetite for a slow, woozy, late-night R&B jam may have waned. After revisiting 'Polar Opposites' several times in isolation, it becomes evident that it would have made a great outro if the album had been trimmed down to just twelve songs.
For All The Dogs is an interesting release. Drake undeniably possesses the ability to create hits across various genres, whether it's R&B, rap, or hip-hop. However, having released six albums since 2018, the quality of his work has sometimes been overshadowed by quantity. For All The Dogs does have its bright spots and moments of brilliance, but it lacks a clear focus and consistency throughout its runtime. Despite a star-studded lineup of producers and featured artists, For All The Dogs falls short and feels like another subpar record in Drake's discography.
Favorite Tracks: Virginia Beach, Amen, Daylight, First Person Shooter, Bahamas Promises, Tried Our Best, 8am in Charlotte, Polar Opposites
Favorite Features: J. Cole, Teezo Touchdown, SZA