In all likelihood, fans of both 21 Savage and Drake knew exactly what they were getting when the duo announced their joint album Her Loss. After all, both rappers’ brands are well established at this point. 21 is the heartbroken gangster, monotoning his way through maliciously cartoony threats while masking the R&B karaoke artist inside; Drake is the Certified Lover Boy, offering backhanded compliments and sulking through his latest split with a woman who was never good enough anyway (or the same one from 2009 – it’s kind of hard to tell).
For the most part, they both deliver on Her Loss. The title of “Pussy & Millions,” the lone track to add another voice to the mix – Travis Scott, because of course – more or less sums up the theme of the album. We’ve never come to Drake for incisive political commentary or 21 Savage for a John Oliver-esque breakdown of current events. Moreover, taking either at face value at this point feels like a fool’s errand. Drake cannot possibly be this lovelorn all the time. Likewise, if even a fraction – less than two percent of his murder talk – were true, he’d not only be deported but someone’s government would probably shoot his plane out of the sky for public safety.
Which is why the discussion surrounding this album is confusing and frustrating. It seems as though rap fans can’t make up their minds. Do they want 100 percent authenticity or literary license? Do they want artists to grow or stay in their lanes? If rappers like Drake and 21 Savage (not to mention peers like Pusha T, Westside Gunn, J. Cole, and Travis Scott) have well-established brands and consistently deliver on expectations, why do listeners just as consistently act surprised that they do?
Drake’s contradictions are clear; he’s a toxic asshole – at least, on record – who can’t help but belittle the women he romances even as he praises them for not being like the others (or woman. Again, it’s very hard to tell if he’s not just rehashing the same breakup over and over again because it sells like hotcakes). Compared to some of the rappers whose music dominated the ‘90s, he’s a sex-relations saint. But he’s also the guy who says “I blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist” in his verse in “On BS,” tongue firmly in cheek. It’s what the audience demands – despite finger-wagging from fans against this sort of rhetoric on his 2021 album Certified Lover Boy, it still sold 613,000 equivalent units in its first week. I guess rap fans are full of contradictions too.
He’s also been taking heat for a line from “Circo Loco” in which he jokes “this bitch lie ’bout gettin’ shots, but she still a stallion,” prompting an outcry for allegedly dissing Megan Thee Stallion. Now, I’m old enough to remember when Drake’s verse on J. Cole’s 2010 track “In The Morning” elicited disbelief for its “I would always ride the stallions whenever she let me” punchline because apparently a sizable portion of rap listeners had no clue that “stallion” was a slang term referring to tall, thick women in the southern US.
You’ll have to forgive my skepticism that Drake would “diss” someone he’s apparently only met once unprompted — on behalf of Tory Lanez, whom Drake has never seemed to have any love for in the first place, no less. Let’s say it is meant to be a slick punchline; I’d say it’s pretty far from his worst, let alone the worst in rap music as a whole. Obviously, 2022 is not 2012, and these kinds of jokes — delivered, as it was, in the same tongue-in-cheek mode of the album’s freewheeling rollout — are just not okay. He should know that intent doesn’t always go in hand with impact. And we the audience should also know that railing screeds that jump over the nuance of the discussion won’t have the same impact as they’re intended too, either.
So, yes, you could say it’s in poor taste, but again, on the same song, 21 Savage also says “all the opps get a bullet on some Oprah shit” on an album released within a week of Takeoff being shot to death in Houston. It’s not equivalent, but the selective outrage reads weird and dishonest, and frankly, I’m just kind of sick of being a broken record when it comes to this subject. Is it “Oochie Wally Wally” or is it “One Mic”?
The frustration comes in because this uproar means wading through online narratives rather than parsing the music for what it is and what it says. We could be discussing Drake’s tongue-twisting wordplay on “Middle Of The Ocean” or 21 Savage lifting his collaborators’ beloved “location freestyle” format on “3AM On Glenwood” and serving up one of the most hearty verses of his career. We could be dissecting the cleverness behind the project’s terrific, lawsuit-baiting marketing tactics. It’s clear from 21 calling himself “the greatest rapper from [the UK]” and Drake posting anime porn on his Instagram Story that they aren’t taking anything too seriously, let alone themselves.
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man telling the kids how it was better “back in the day,” I do feel grumpy that the outrage industrial complex has overshadowed a half-dozen notable points of reference for what should have been one of the most exciting projects of the year. It was announced by surprise, it had an amazing, hilarious rollout, and it finds its principles at the height of their powers, delivering exactly what their fans want from them. To quote another favorite, “Dope beats, dope rhymes, what more do y’all want?” All that was promised was an album-length spin-off of songs like “Knife Talk” and “Jimmy Cooks” – and that’s exactly what Her Loss is.
Her Loss is out now on OVO/Republic and Slaughter Gang/Epic. You can get it here.