Drake and 21 Savage’s Album ‘Her Loss’ Is Full of Slick Subliminals, Shocking Bars and Great Beats
After a one week delay and a non-rollout rollout marked by fake appearances on NPR Tiny Desk, Vogue, and the Howard Stern Show, Drake and 21 Savage’s Her Loss has arrived.
Drake, inevitably, uses the proximity to Zone 6’s own Savage to lean into the sounds of contemporary Atlanta rap. At times, his cadences undeniably borrow from Young Thug and Playboi Carti. (“Jumbotron Shit Poppin,” especially offers a hearty dose of Playboi Carti, with Drake proclaiming “I’ma die lit” and “I’m a real vamp,” and even creeping his way up into a baby voice for certain ad-libs, over co-production from Carti collaborator F1lthy.) 21 is the anchor here. His precise, controlled flows make him the straight man for this particular double act.
The album is light on features—the only credited guest is Travis Scott on the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer “Pussy & Millions”—while production is handled by a mix of longtime collaborators like Metro Boomin and Noah “40” Shebib, as well as southern rap standouts Go Grizzly and Tay Keith. All in all, the album is a swerve back to the norm following Honestly, Nevermind, his surprisingly fun, house music-indebted summertime album. Her Loss is filled with darker-tinged beats, slow tempos, and bars with the occasional croon that define a typical Drake release.
But unlike last year’s staid Certified Lover Boy, on first listen Her Loss finds Drake sounding energized, for better or worse. Fans have been reacting to some shock-bait lyrics, parsing the meaning of others, and debating which track hits hardest. Here are all the early talking points, and surprising moments to listen for, including Drake’s slights towards Megan Thee Stallion, Kanye West, and D.R.A.M., as well as Lil Yachty’s key role in its creation, and 21’s excellent rapping on “3AM in Glenwood.”
Controversy around Drake’s “Stallion” bar has dominated early discourse.
In the first few hours since Her Loss came out, much of the online conversation has hinged around Drake’s first verse on “Circo Loco,” where he throws out an inflammatory line, “This bitch lie ’bout getting shots, but she still a stallion,” that seems to reference Megan Thee Stallion’s August 2020 alleged shooting.
Considering he pluralizes “shots,” there’s there’s some plausible deniability that it’s just a derisive line about BBLs, but Drake is too smart and too aware of the zeitgeist to feign ignorance at how that lyric would be taken, especially in a climate where DaBaby recently caught flack for a crass dig at Megan on his song “Boogeyman.” Drake is also a rapper perfectly capable of clever wordplay, so a double entendre that works as an ass-injection joke and a Megan reference is well within his skillset.
Shortly after the album’s midnight release, Megan responded to the line as well as the trend of male rappers downplaying what happened to her. “Stop using my shooting for clout, bitch ass n-ggas! Since when [the fuck] is it cool to joke [about] women getting shot!” she tweeted. “Ready to boycott bout shoes and clothes but dogpile on a Black woman when she say one of y’all homeboys abused her.”
She followed up with a reference to the assault trial against accused assailant Tory Lanez, which is scheduled to take place between late November and early December. Mainstream rappers initially seemed hesitant to work with Lanez following the incident with Megan, but since then he’s made music with Kodak Black, A Boogie wit Da Hoodie, and DaBaby. Drake and Tory have had their issues on and off wax before, but they’ve since squashed their beef: Tory was an opener for Drake’s European Assasination Vacation tour and the pair are frequently seen playing basketball together (including post-Megan shooting).
On “Circo Loco,” Drake repeatedly uses the Toronto slang term “Crodie,” which hasn’t been a regular part of his vernacular, but is a favorite of fellow Canadian Lanez. He even used it on his controversial song “Money Over Fallouts” where he said Megan’s team was trying to “frame” him for the shooting.
Drake doubles down on his trademark pettiness.
Listen, with a title like Her Loss, it was pretty evident that this album would see Drake and 21 being gleefully petty and toxic. It’s hardly a new development—Drake and Future pioneered toxic melodic rap/R&B years ago on projects like More Life and *Hndrxx—*but it worked then because they imbued it with a real sense of pathos and self-loathing. As the trend has grown increasingly more mainstream (think DVSN’s “If I Get Caught”) the level of personal insight has diminished while the dismissiveness has increased.
Drake indulges in, and even ratchets up, his pettiness levels to new heights (or lows, depending on your perspective). One of the early lines to gain attention is from his first Her Loss solo track, “BackOutsideBoyz”: “She a ten but she tryin’ to rap, it’s good on mute.” (Despite the lyric’s all-purpose vagueness, the internet has decided that it’s specifically directed towards viral Bronx rapper Ice Spice, whom Drake praised and invited to OVO Fest, and then promptly unfollowed on social media.) And there can be no ambiguity towards the dig at (“rumored”) ex-paramour Serena Williams’ husband on the album standout “Middle of the Ocean”: “Sidebar, Serena, your husband a groupie/He claim we don’t got a problem but/No, boo, it is like you comin’ for sushi.” (Alexis Ohanian and Serena have since cheekily responded, as has Ice Spice.)
As intended, these lines have social media buzzing, but the toxic persona is starting to feel a little trite, as it isn’t balanced by much meaningful depth or incisive self-examination There’s no bar as revealing as can be found on a classic Drake track like “How Bout Now,” where his bitterness is inspired by the great lengths he went to for an ungrateful ex: “Remember when you had to take the bar exam, I drove in the snow for you? / You probably don’t remember half the shit a n-ggaa did for you.”
That said, at its best moments, the intersection between 21’s caustic street rap and Drake’s wounded romantic persona can be thrilling. “Spin Bout U” is a strange record, built around a slowed-to-a-crawl sample of B.G.O.T.I.’s “Give Me Your Lov’n,” and featuring the rappers offering to kill over their respective love interests. It gifts us an especially terrific, earnest verse from 21, “Fuck your main page, what’s your Finsta? I wanna know the real you / You started dancing to pay your tuition, girl, I wanna know what you been through.”
Drake offers a messy array of political commentary.
Throughout his career, Drake’s music has usually been pretty insular: it’s about his exes, his friends and enemies, his hometown. So the rare moments in which he decides to comment on the state of the world at large can be jarring. First on “BackOutsideBoyz,” he offers some jokey lines about a lack of interest in politics: “Who the president? I never voted once / If I did, I would vote Teanna Trump.” (In light of this porn-star endorsement, it’s worth noting that Drake not only went out of his way to bring up porn in his fake Howard Stern interview, but also drummed up hype for the album last night with a series of anime porn screenshots on his Instagram stories.)
But later, on “Spin Bout U,” he shares his thoughts on the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States. “Damn, just turned on the news and seen that men who never got pussy in school / Are makin’ laws about what women can do/I gotta protect ya,” a hilarious display of allyship from a guy who just a few tracks earlier rapped “Blow a half a million on you hoes, I’m a feminist.”
Drake is ready to dig up the hatchet on several beefs.
Following the Megan Thee Stallion lyrics on “Circo Loco,” Drake continues to go scorched earth by claiming that his highly publicized truce with Kanye West wasn’t genuine. “Linking with the opps, bitch, I did that shit for J. Prince / Bitch, I did it for the mob ties,” he raps, referencing the peace agreement, brokered by Houston hip-hop power player J. Prince last December, that led to a detente between the two stars. (If you want to really go Galaxy Brain with the jab, it’s worth noting he did so over a Daft Punk sample, and one of his target’s most successful songs is the Daft Punk-indebted “Stronger.”) Drake and Kanye seemed to commemorate that truce by performing together at a Los Angeles concert to raise awareness of Larry Hoover’s incarceration, but evidently the peace wasn’t built to last.
West responded to the bars on Twitter, writing, “Enough already. I done gave this man his flowers multiple times. Let’s really see who [our] real [opps] are in this music game. Imagine all the rappers on the same side and everyone cleaning up each other’s contracts…Love Drake.”
Drake also has some blink-and-you’ll-miss-them lines for the GOOD Music member he’s had the most direct beef with, sending a pretty undeniable shot at Pusha T during “On BS.” “You ain’t banned from ’round here, n-gga, come get off your show/Savage said you pussy and he hit it on the nose/But that border opеn, why you actin’ like it’s closed?” Earlier this year, while discussing his past issues with Drake during an episode of Drink Champs, Pusha T told host N.O.R.E. that he’s banned from performing in Canada; it’s long been implied by Drake and others that the hometown hero holds a lot of sway over border regulation, usually lending a helping hand to rap peers who would otherwise be turned away from entering the country. (In May, Drake and close friend Chubbs seemed to dispute Pusha’s claims on Instagram.)
When some Pusha-related subliminals popped up in a Drake verse this past spring, the Virginia MC told GQ he was over the beef and would not indulge it, even if Drake should goad him. “Never engaging. Never. I can’t. Bro, I’ve been here. I’ve seen how it goes. It’s been too long, too many people been called,” he said, referencing claims that Drake asked J. Prince to intercede on his behalf back in 2018.
And finally, Drake also alludes to long-simmering tension between himself and D.R.A.M. over the similarities between his hit “Hotline Bling” and the latter’s “Cha Cha.” “I feel like my record got jacked,” D.R.A.M. told Billboard several years ago. Here, Drake alludes to an actual physical altercation that took place between the two by rapping, “Tried to bring the dram[a] to me, he ain’t know how we cha-cha slide.” D.R.A.M. responded in a shockingly forthcoming social media post, saying that he did get beat up by Drake’s bodyguards five years ago, and calling Drake out for not doing it one-on-one. This isn’t the first time Drake has seemingly confirmed rumors of his squad beating up industry peers he’s had issues with; on 2019’s “War,” he rapped, “Feds wanna tap up man and wire up man like Chubbs did Detail.”
Besides Drake and 21, the heaviest hand on the album belongs to Lil Yachty.
The latter half of 2022 has been terrific for one Miles Parks McCollum. Not only did he score the highest-charting solo hit of his career with the viral smash “Poland,” but he clearly played a significant role in the crafting of Her Loss.
Yachty’s voice can be heard doing ad-libs on “BackOutsideBoyz,” while he’s credited as either a co-producer or co-writer on “Jumbotron Shit Poppin,” “Pussy & Millions,” and multiple other songs. (The singer and rapper previously contributed to the writing of the 2019 City Girls hit “Act Up,” though the exact breadth of his role is a matter of dispute.)
Yachty has a history of working with fellow Atlanta native 21 and is frequently seen hanging out with Drake, so it makes sense that he’d be involved in their joint album. He also stated on his Instagram that he chose the striking portrait of Qui Yasuka that serves as the album’s cover art. “I chose this cover because this photo is so raw. So authentic. Not fabricated. Suki can and will only be Suki,” he wrote. He also shouted out fashion designer Aris Tatalovich, who played a role in the project, although the photo was actually shot by Paris Aden.
21 takes over timestamp duties to great success.
Drake’s discography is littered with “timestamp” songs, tracks where he forgoes hooks and any pop sensibilities to do some of his best shit-talking and straightforward rapping. The series began with 2010’s “9AM in Dallas” and the latest installment was last year’s “7AM on Bridle Path” (which for all intents and purposes, is basically a Kanye diss track).
When Drake unveiled the Her Loss tracklist Thursday afternoon, “3AM on Glenwood” primed fans for a new addition to the series. But upon actually listening to the album, it became evident the two had one last troll up their sleeves: The song is actually a solo 21 Savage track. While it would’ve been great to hear a new timestamp from Drake, 21 acquits himself nicely as a guest-star, forcefully rapping atop a beat from longtime OVO producers OZ and Noah “40” Shebib.
Like Drake’s entries in the series, “3AM on Glenwood” is nostalgic, but it harkens back to the grim details of 21’s childhood in Atlanta’s Zone 6. “Can’t believe they killed Skinny, I really growed up with him / I’ma leave a lot of n-ggas s covered in roses for him,” he raps pointedly early in the song, vowing revenge for a deceased friend while also lamenting that they cannot share in Savage claiming one of music’s biggest honors–a Grammy award.
21 is not a traditionally expressive rapper, often opting for a horror movie villain’s chilling blankness, but he sounds weary here. He raps about lost and incarcerated loved ones, his own struggles with PTSD, and how he’s had to develop a steel-tough exterior just to make his way through life. “3AM on Glenwood” is the best song on Her Loss, and a reminder of 21’s prodigious gifts on an album where he too often plays the sidekick.
First and foremost, it’s a Drake album
Drake’s previous collaborative project, What a Time to Be Alive with Future, sees the Canadian playing a willing participant in his cohort’s universe: from soundscape to producers, it feels like a Future album. Her Loss, by comparison, scans as a Drake album featuring 21. The Atlanta rapper’s presence is keenly felt and his contributions are electric, but across the first few listens, it’s hardly a 50-50 situation. (For instance, of the 16 total tracks there are four Drake solos to Savage’s one.) Drake’s clearly having fun here, and that occasionally yields inspired results (and lots of trolling), but it would’ve been nice to hear a little more of 21’s influence—starting the album off with a spoken intro from his cousin and dynamic rapper Young Nudy, without actually giving Nudy a verse on the project, is a cruel tease.
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