A For All The Dogs by Drake Review
In December 2022, New York jewelry designer Alex Moss revealed Drake’s latest commissioned piece: a white gold necklace embedded with 42 engagement-ring-quality diamonds, “for all the times he thought about it but never did it.” He has since clarified in several interviews that this was “a conceptual art piece,” or at the very least “a joke.”
The punchline seems obvious: whereas other men might avoid commitment due to the financial obligations, Drake can afford a ring for each girl he even considered -- which there are a lot of. The joke has the potential to land three ways: is Drake clowning on the girls he never saw through? Is Drake clowning other guys whose problems are not relatable to him? Or is Drake clowning himself for repeating the cycle so many times?
The joke ultimately does not need to pick a final stance, because we are all entitled to our perceptions of Drake, and the necklace has enough ambiguity that these perceptions may exist in different minds simultaneously. On For All The Dogs, the whole album is eerily aware of these different versions of Drake, and seems determined on delivering something for each of them. But Drake must either expect us to be impatient, or else have unlimited patience, as the result is an album that, in typical Drake fashion, contradicts itself readily. Drake is open to whatever perception of him you may have, with the caveat that, no matter what it is, it will be proven wrong.
Despite its attempts, this album is not a dialogue. On the first single from the album, 'Slime You Out' with SZA, Drake seems to be open to starting up a dialogue after the accusations of misogyny rolled in after the release of Her Loss. But by the end of the song, he wonders “why I even listen to you.” Even if the dialogue that the song wishes for, between Drake’s views of women and SZA’s view of men, ultimately falls on unlistening ears, it is not the only attempted dialogue on the album.
Like every Drake album, FATD facilitates and exists as part of an ongoing dialogue between Drake and the internet. Just as Her Loss seemed to evolve from the negative response towards the meditative and vulnerable attempt at a house album that was Honestly, Nevermind in favor of its 'Bound 2'-esque final detour 'Jimmy Cooks (feat. 21 Savage),' the first seven songs of FATD seem to be a response to the positive feedback from way-too-online misogynists and rap Twitter commenters towards the way Drake portrayed himself on Her Loss.
On these initial tracks, Drake is at his most braggadocious and resentful, caught up in grudges and trying to prove he’s way above the things he’s currently talking about. He sells this in some places, like on 'First Person Shooter,' where he and J. Cole both weigh in on the discussion of their place as rap GOATs. Through charismatic and complimentary verses, J. Cole depicts the discussion as a serious matter of aesthetic merit with metaphorical halls and trophies, while Drake depicts it as a rhetorical game you play with girls over dinner so you can boost your ego. However, on others, such as 'Fear of Heights' and 'Daylight,' Drake’s choice to engage with these now aged conversations (his infatuation with Rihanna and his suspected involvement in the killing of XXXTentacion, respectively) doesn’t seem to present resolved feelings, but guilt and estrangement. It doesn’t help that, in the former, he’s opening up a new can of potential misogynistic hate upon another female artist (like he did with Megan Thee Stallion on Her Loss), and in the latter, possibly involving his infant son in dissing the person he (maybe) killed, by using him to reference a meme from 2019 involving X’s son Gekyume starting a rap career as an infant.
But when we look past the first seven songs, Drake seems to be at odds with the style and persona he depicts earlier in the album. When Drake says on 'All The Parties' that he wishes he could “End all the dissing deceased friends”, does he not see the irony of 'Daylight'? Or is it localized only to the particular trend between Toronto drill rappers? Similarly, when Drake talks about not being “man enough to tell you you was wrong/man enough to not put it in a song/for the world to sing along”, does he forget the last two songs he rapped on? None of the things that Drake says on this album are outside of the possibilities that Drake would say them, but never before have they been so extremely polarized and so close together.
To give a positive reading, FATD is not willing to accept that any Drake is the “real Drake” unquestioningly. Drake may “feel like I’m bi ‘cause you’re one of the guys” on 'Members Only,' while he’s accusing rappers of being “on no hetero vibe” on '8am in Charlotte'. He’s telling girls that they’re “lucky that I don’t take back what was given” on 'Slime You Out,' but he’s also telling them they “might just get that G-wagon out of me, please drag it out of me” on 'Rich Baby Daddy'. It’s not that the lines necessarily contradict, only that they seem temporally disjunct; as if we’re not only being told the story out of order, but that the story has no order. That in each song we merely catch Drake within the cycles of these relationships, not sure if he’s really trying to communicate anything or if he’s just trying to hold our attention.
The album is at its best when we catch Drake at moments in this cycle that it feels like we shouldn't be allowed to be present for '7969 Santa,' which bridges between the first run of Her Loss-type tracks and the remainder of the album, is an absolute standout for this reason. Drake is depicted in a state of complete paranoia, in a dreamlike, Lynchian melding of reality and delusion: “Who the f- is that it’s a disguise? You ain’t who I thought I recognize”, he raps over chilling synths and AI-separated Chief Keef vocal stems; it’s one of Drake’s most uncanny songs, though it doesn’t quite beat out 'Can I' (a serious frontrunner Drake’s best song btw, don’t @ me). Drake has become transfixed by dissatisfaction, and he finds it everywhere he looks.
If '7969' feels like we’re inside Drake’s head, 'Away From Home' feels like we’re in therapy with him. The song seems to be shaping up into one of Drake’s signature songs where he recounts how hard he grinded during his come-up as a sort of flex, until he sings: “this don’t feel like home anymore, it’s just wall, doors and floors that only I can afford. Remember when it used to mean more?”. From then on, the repetitions of “I remember” and “how could I forget?” no longer ring even remotely as flexes, but tinged with nostalgia and regret, as if these memories were not just formative but in some sense traumatic.
The Drake who “started from the bottom” is not here. He isn’t anywhere, how could he be? Contradictions unfold successively in time; they cannot exist simultaneously in space. The only time you can truly catch a glimpse of the “real” Drake is when he slips from tangibility; not when the contradiction is resolved, but when it reveals itself as something that cannot really exist.