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Charting Drake's Unforgettable Path To 'Honestly, Nevermind'
Drake speaks onstage during Drake's Till Death Do Us Part rap battle in Long Beach, California.

Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

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Charting Drake's Unforgettable Path To 'Honestly, Nevermind'

Drake's surprise new album, 'Honestly, Nevermind' is a house-fueled state of experimentation that reflects the singer-rapper's long-held belief in pushing hip-hop to its limits.

GRAMMYs/Jun 24, 2022 - 02:11 pm

Just hours after its announcement, Drake released the surprise album Honestly, Nevermind on June 17. The dance and house-inspired record, his seventh studio effort, further proves the pop icon's transcendent abilities and his willingness to extend his artistry to its furthest limits.

On the 14-track project, Drake casts his boisterous rap persona aside and flows over the reverberating sounds and soothing piano keys of South African house and American club music. Collaborators Black Coffee, Noah "40" Shebib and Gordo (formerly Carnage) steer the Toronto rapper and singer on a course of creative free flow, allowing his wistful lyrics and airy vocals to shine on "A Keeper," and "Falling Back."

Despite his stature — and ability to seemingly shift the course of hip-hop and pop at will — Drake has never dedicated an entire project to embark on a new musical pathway. But after being the face of mainstream hip-hop and pop for over a decade, there was no better time to delve into a state of experimentation. Enter, Honestly, Nevermind.

From hip-hop love ballads to strip club anthems and Afro-Caribbean tunes, the four-time GRAMMY winner is responsible for some of the era’s greatest hits. Whether melding melodic bridges and hooks with rap, or dabbling in Afrobeats and British grime, Drake has morphed the pop music soundscape to his liking without compromising his creative intuition — a habit that sprouted the moment he gleamed under the industry spotlight. 

Drake came into the spotlight at an auspicious time, when hip-hop heavyweights like Jay Z, Eminem, Kanye West, Rick Ross and his mentor Lil Wayne sat atop the hip-hop leaderboard and an intense auto-tune phase met its end. Drake's  2009  debut EP, So Far Gone, shook the world by fusing the timbre of slow-grind R&B with the spirit of braggadocious rap.

The EP’s break-out single, "Best I Ever Had," peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and garnered his first of many GRAMMY nominations — one for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Solo Performance. The "Nice For What" artist had officially created a distinct sound that elevated him to early superstardom.

Drake wasn’t the first artist to sing and rap on his songs, but in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle in 2012, he declared himself the first person to do it at a high level. "There were people who incorporated melody before me, but I would deem myself the first person to successfully rap and sing."

Backed by the Young Money Entertainment hype machine, Drizzy continued his success in 2010 with his first studio album, Thank Me Later. The project boasted concert-ready hits like "Over" and "Fancy," and threaded moments of soul-stirring emotion and honesty on "Fireworks" and "Shut It Down." With its commercial and critical success, the great Canadian hope fulfilled the colossal expectations set upon his shoulders.

Off the heels of his debut project, Drake endeared rap fans with his vulnerability. But this was a pocket he had to carve out for himself and fend against the "soft rapper" label that loomed over his early career. 

"I wish that we lived in a time and a generation where people would stop viewing my honesty as overly emotional," Drake told GQ in 2011 ahead of the release of his second album, Take Care. "People always act like I spend my life crying in a dark room. I don’t, I’m good. I’m a man. I want to be remembered as an artist that gave you a piece of me, as opposed to some surface bulls<em></em>*t. I don’t think people realize that we die, we leave here, and either they forget about you or remember you. And how they remember you is up to you. I just want to be remembered as a poet that was open and honest because I wake up every morning and I’m me." 

But instead of disrupting his accent, the vulnerable Take Care earned Drake his first GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Album and cemented his name among hip-hop’s elite with "Headlines," "Marvins Room" and "The Motto." While Thank Me Later was a respectful debut, Drake felt the latter project offered a firmer grip on his artistry and was a better reflection of the culture of his hometown.

"I came back home and reconnected with my friends… and just realized that we have a true opportunity to again establish ourselves separately from everybody else," Drake said in a sit-down with Elliot Wilson and B.Dot of Rap Radar in 2019. "So, that was when we were truly hellbent on we’re going to have our sound, that sounds like our city, and it’s going to be dark and it’s going to be moody and it’s going to sound like how cold it feels outside."

From his debut Thank Me Later to Nothing Was The Same, Drake reconfigured the limits of rap. His work continued to expand the genre to the outer banks of R&B — paving the way for other rapper-singers like Tory Lanez, Post Malone and the late Juice WRLD.

But it wasn’t until 2016’s Views that Drake veered from his signature sound and began exploring yet another genre. The seeds of "AfroDrake" were sown on album standouts "Controlla," "Too Good" and "One Dance," (his first No. 1 record), further inspiring other artists to delve into the Afrobeats, reggae and dancehall lane.

Drake’s fascination with Afrobeats and dancehall continued on the sonic mishmash More Life in 2017, where songs like "Blem" and "Madiba Riddim." Perhaps a prelude to the sounds of Honestly, Nevermind, the then 30-year-old artist also ventured into UK drill with "Gyalchester" and the Giggs-assisted "KMT" on the project, and made room for British grime maven Skepta to shine on "Skepta Interlude."

Drake has traversed between varying sounds throughout his discography, flirting with house and dance as early as 2011 with the Rihanna-assisted "Take Care." The artist later delved into synth-soaked house cuts on 2013’s "Hold On, We're Going Home," foreshadowing a shift to 100-BPM electro tunes.

As Drake has ascended to icon status in the past 13 years, he’s continued to experiment with various sounds and musical subcultures, reshaping them to fit his own musical taste. But accusations of cultural appropriation began to swirl with the release of the UK funk and dancehall smash "Once Dance," despite the song featuring Afrobeat artist Wizkid, one of the biggest names in the genre.

Drake dismissed the claims in a 2019 interview with Rap Radar.

"The definition of appropriating a culture is not supporting that culture, doing songs with people who are deeply rooted in that culture, giving opportunity to people who are in that culture, that’s not appropriating," he said. "Any time I embark on one of those journeys, I ensure that I'm not only paying all due respect verbally but like I make a point to give opportunity to people that I respect."

Following the success of More Life, Drake's 2018 effort, Scorpion, was a further declaration of his genre-hopping prowess. Songs like the stadium-filling "God’s Plan," sorrowful "Jaded," and the eerily soothing Michael Jackson collab on "Don’t Matter To Me” evenly split the double-sided album into R&B and rap tracks.

Between the 2020 mixtape Dark Lane Demo Tapes and his 2021 studio album Certified Lover Boy, Drake continued to exercise his range, releasing Atlanta trap anthems, brooding R&B songs, and Afrobeat and UK drill records. He developed a formula that generated massive streaming numbers, as his lyrics and songs like "Toosie Slide" and “Way 2 Sexy” became the subject of TikTok videos and Instagram captions. Still, Drake's sound had grown increasingly redundant and the artist was in need of a creative audible. From that standpoint, Honestly, Nevermind delivered.

The album is by far the biggest sonic leap Drake has taken in his nearly 15-year career. Like Kanye’s Yeezus, Drake’s latest effort adopts a sound untouched by hip-hop acts of his caliber while dividing his allies and skeptics. Honestly, Nevermind's dive into house and dance music — both sonically and in its use of producers — further fueled a sense of confusion among rap fans who are unaware of the queer, Black history and influence of the two genres.

The creative detour has birthed lengthy Twitter debates and memes of the highest virality, with folks giving their take on the success or failure of Drake’s artistic pivot. Since its release, Honestly, Nevermind has largely received mixed reviews, with an assemblage of fans either praising or mocking Drizzy’s genre shift.

Publications have been split on the album, with Pitchfork’s Alphonse Pierre writing, "It’s light and breezy, and the songs flow right into each other like a DJ mix, not unlike 2017’s More Life." While the album should work, Pierre opined that Honestly, Nevermind "feels a little empty for one glaring reason: Drake’s writing lacks its former zest." Other music critics have applauded the massive departure, with Rolling Stone Senior Editor Jeff Ihaza writing that Drake created "a collection of blissful dance tunes constructed for embrace and abandon." Honestly, Nevermind, Ihaza continued, is Drake leaping beyond his peers for a "refreshing sign of what’s to come." 

Drizzy appears unbothered by the criticism that’s come with the new release. "It's all good if you don't get it yet. It's all good. That's what we do. That's what we do," Drake said during the album's release party, per Complex.

Honestly, Nevermind is projected to sell between 210,000-230,000 album-equivalent units based on early projections by HitsDailyDouble. And according to Billboard, the album has broken the record for most first-day streams by a dance album on Apple Music, only taking one hour to achieve the feat.

Whether it alienates his listeners or draws in a new legion of fans, Honestly, Nevermind signifies Drake’s willingness to take creative risks and, like Kanye, allow those artistic pursuits to grow in favor over time and inspire other mainstream hip-hop acts to explore the depths of hip-house.

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Ladies Antebellum And Gaga, Jeff Beck, David Frost, John Legend Win Three GRAMMYs Each

Arcade Fire wins Album Of The Year; Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(To view a list of 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards winners, click here.)

The evening began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, but by the time the last of the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards was handed out on Feb. 13, several other singers and bands looked something like royalty. Foremost among them was Lady Antebellum, who walked away with three trophies while the group members earned two more each for songwriting categories.

Lady Antebellum at the GRAMMYs

 

During a show memorable for its range of fully fueled performances, the country superstars sang a pitch-perfect medley of tunes that ended with a quiet rendition of the song that launched them, "Need You Now," and shortly afterward collected the Song Of The Year GRAMMY for it (along with co-writer Josh Kear, with whom they also took Best Country Song). But there was plenty more to come for the trio. They also took home the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for Need You Now. Accepting that award, lead singer Charles Kelley said, "This song has completely flipped our world upside down." By the time Lady Antebellum stood up to collect a trophy for Record Of The Year for "Need You Now," they were in disbelief, and possibly discombobulated: "Oh my gosh, we're so stunned we started walking the wrong direction," said singer Hillary Scott breathlessly.

Also racking up awards was Lady Gaga, who claimed three: Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video for "Bad Romance." Never one to miss the chance to make an entrance, she hatched herself onstage from a giant opaque egg. That was a riff on her new single, "Born This Way," and perhaps her bared shoulders, which sprouted a pair of pointy elbows, were too. Her dancers and outfit gave off a Cleopatra vibe, but Gaga can't be stopped from seeming ultra-modern, and her performance of "Born This Way" reflected that; it was a warp-speed whirlwind.

Lady Gaga at the GRAMMYs



 

In keeping with that same modernist — or maybe futurist — spirit, she accepted her award for Best Pop Vocal Album in black body armor. But Gaga also proved she can be an old-fashioned girl with a soft side. In an emotional acceptance speech for that award, she surprised the audience by thanking Whitney Houston: "I imagined she was singing…because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. Whitney, I imagined you."

Leading the nominees with 10 nods revolving around Recovery, an album that detailed his struggles with addiction but also reestablished him as a rap force to be reckoned with, Eminem took home trophies for Best Rap Album — a triumph over rivals including Jay-Z, Drake and B.o.B — and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Not Afraid." Onstage, his swagger proved undiminished.

A flame-haired Rihanna opened Eminem's performance with a searching rendition of their duet "Love The Way You Lie," but it was Slim Shady who came out blazing, spitting the lyrics to that song before raging into "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and singer Skylar Grey; Adam Levine from Maroon 5 handled piano duty.

Closing the show and likely lifting the Sunday-night spirits of indie kids everywhere was the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who won the Album Of The Year GRAMMY for The Suburbs and, before the night's final performance, turned in a frothy and fierce rendition of the rocking "Month Of May."

Arcade Fire at the GRAMMYs

 

Other multiple winners for the evening included classical music producer David Frost, legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck and R&B artist John Legend, who each earned three awards. Among those who won two each were alternative rock band the Black Keys, jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, urban/alternative group the Roots, Keith Urban, and gospel singer BeBe Winans.

And in a bit of surprise, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over teen phenom Justin Bieber, as well Canadian rapper Drake, and adventurist rock outfits Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons.

Esperanza Spalding at the GRAMMYs

 

The show also featured a few firsts, including a first-time ever GRAMMY performance by Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, who helped pay tribute to fallen R&B singer Solomon Burke.

But if there was also a constant, it was the annual, high-profile celebration of music that the GRAMMYs represent, and the 53rd GRAMMYs fit the bill once again, with performances, pairings and awards presentations that were full of pleasant musical surprises.
 

Click below for more GRAMMY content:

GRAMMY  liveblog
GRAMMY quotebook
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GRAMMY Week videos

 

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Jay Z Tops 56th GRAMMY Nominations With Nine

Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams earn seven nods each; other top nominees include Daft Punk, Drake, Lorde, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

Nominations for the 56th GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected one of the most diverse years with the Album Of The Year category alone representing the rap, pop, country and dance/electronica genres, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. Once again, nominations in select categories for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live from Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.

Jay Z tops the nominations with nine; Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams each garner seven nods; Drake and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig are up for five awards.

"This year's nominations reflect the talented community of music makers who represent some of the highest levels of excellence and artistry of the year in their respective fields," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "Once again, The Academy's awards process and its voting membership have produced an impressive list of nominations across various genres promising music fans a spectacular show filled with stellar performances and unique 'GRAMMY Moments.' We are off to a great start and look forward to GRAMMY Sunday as Music's Biggest Night takes the stage."

Following are the nominations in the General Field categories: 

Album Of The Year:
The Blessed Unrest — Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City — Kendrick Lamar
The Heist — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red — Taylor Swift

Record Of The Year:
"Get Lucky" — Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons
"Royals" — Lorde
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines" — Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams

Song Of The Year:
"Just Give Me A Reason" — Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar" — Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals" — Joel Little & Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love" — Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)

Best New Artist:
James Blake
Kendrick Lamar
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Kacey Musgraves
Ed Sheeran

Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:

For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Brave" by Sara Bareilles; "Royals" by Lorde; "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars; "Roar" by Katy Perry; and "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake.

The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams; "Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink Featuring Nate Ruess; "Stay" by Rihanna Featuring Mikky Ekko; "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams; and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake & Jay Z.

For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Random Access Memories by Daft Punk; Settle by Disclosure; 18 Months by Calvin Harris; Atmosphere by Kaskade; and A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights.

The Best Rock Performance nominees are "Always Alright" by Alabama Shakes; "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" by David Bowie; "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons; "Kashmir (Live)" by Led Zeppelin; "My God Is The Sun" by Queens Of The Stone Age; and "I'm Shakin'" by Jack White.

For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case; Trouble Will Find Me by The National; Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails; Lonerism by Tame Impala; Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend.

The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Power Trip" by J.Cole Featuring Miguel; "Part II (On The Run)" by Jay Z Featuring Beyoncé; "Holy Grail" by Jay Z Featuring Justin Timberlake; "Now Or Never" by Kendrick Lamar Featuring Mary J. Blige; and "Remember You" by Wiz Khalifa Featuring The Weeknd.

For Best Rap Album, the nominees are Nothing Was The Same by Drake; Magna Carta…Holy Grail by Jay Z; Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar; The Heist by Macklemore  & Ryan Lewis; and Yeezus by Kanye West.

The Best Country Album nominees are Night Train by Jason Aldean; Two Lanes Of Freedom by Tim McGraw; Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves; Based On A True Story by Blake Shelton; and Red by Taylor Swift.

The nominees for Best Americana Album are Old Yellow Moon by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell; Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell; Buddy And Jim by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale; One True Vine by Mavis Staples; and Songbook by Allen Toussaint.

This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Rob Cavallo, Dr. Luke, Ariel Rechtshaid, Jeff Tweedy, and Pharrell Williams.

This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 22,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 11 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 8, 2014, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 56th GRAMMY telecast.

The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held Jan. 26, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, and Louis J. Horvitz is director.

For updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook

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Best Pop Duo/Group Performance: Meet The 59th GRAMMY Nominees

Go inside this year's nominations with photos, video, facts, and more

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

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Kanye West Leads BET Awards Nods

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Kanye West Leads BET Awards Nods
Nominations for the 2012 BET Awards were announced yesterday with Kanye West in the lead with seven nominations, including Video of the Year for "Ns In Paris" and "Otis" with Jay-Z, and Video Director of the Year. Beyoncé followed with six nominations, including Best Female R&B Artist and Video of the Year for "Countdown" and "Love On Top." Also receiving multiple nominations were Chris Brown, J. Cole, Drake, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne. The awards will take place July 1 in Los Angeles. (5/23)