On “Rich Flex,” the opening track of Drake and 21 Savage’s new album, Her Loss, Drake has an innocuous request. “21, can you do something for me?” It’s an ironic sentiment since Drake is the one holding 21 back throughout the project, relegating him more often than not to being a hype man for Drake’s livestreams, rather than a rapper on equal footing.
This isn’t 21’s fault. He’s proven more than capable of going toe to toe with some of the best rappers in the game, including previous collaborations with Drake. 2016’s underrated loosie “Sneakin” showed the duo had a natural chemistry, with 21’s dead-eyed violent threats combining with mafioso Drake to give the pairing a consigliere/underboss-type connection. This kinship continued on standout tracks like “Jimmy Cooks” and “Knife Talk,” two of the better mainstream rap songs of the 2020s. So in theory, this album should work, bringing out the Shaq and Kobe energy it promised. But for some reason, it feels more like that strange 2005 Lakers team where Kobe took 20 shots a game and Caron Butler scored when he could.
As a collaboration, it’s a misfire. But if you remove the notion of it being a tandem affair, it’s simply a decent Drake album—no growth, no new ideas, the same toxic king anthems he’s been peddling for years. But complaining about Drake’s content is like being surprised your Jumbo slice doesn’t hit the same when you’re sober. What did you expect?
For the most part, Her Loss gives fans exactly what they’ve come to expect and clamor for. There’s the quintessential reflective Drake flow employed on “Middle of the Ocean,” bringing back the moments when Drake rode around at “4 p.m. in Calabasas” and “5 a.m. in Toronto.” Then you have the club banger destined for licensing use whenever the NBA on ESPN hits a commercial break (“BackOutsideBoyz”). He also gives fans the manipulative gaslighting anthem disguised as a feels song (“Hours in Silence”). The ingredients are all here, but that doesn’t mean they gel.
If it had been billed solely as a Drake album, Her Loss would have been more palatable. But this is supposed to be the rebirth of Collab Drake, the same artist who brought us classics sparring with legendary rappers like Lil Wayne and Future. Instead, Drake’s efforts with 21 Savage mute the Atlanta icon’s abilities.
Sometimes, when Drake lets 21 steer the Bugatti, the results are fun and impressive. Take the woozy trap banger “On BS.” Drake and 21 bob and weave through each other’s verses, showcasing precision and timing as they trade flexes: “Popped an Adderall, I feel like I can lift a tree up / Seen too many cameras, so I never lift my ski up / I jump on your song and make you sound like you the feature / I jump on your song and make a label think they need ya, for real.”
With its sinister distorted keys, the Metro Boomin-produced “More M’s” sounds like a lost bonus track from the Savage Mode series, as Drake is brought to the monotone dark side. 21 shows off his versatility on “3AM on Glenwood,” his version of Drake’s past “AM/PM” series. “Took some real n****s from me, I could kill the whole world and I still won’t be even / I be thinkin’ ‘bout my brothers while I’m shoppin’ in Neiman’s,” he raps solemnly, wishing he could share his success with the ones he’s lost.
These moments are too few and far between. More often, Drake is either telling 21 to stand on the sidelines or throwing him off-target passes in transition. “Circo Loco” has been criticized for the Megan Thee Stallion diss, but its worst crime is butchering Daft Punk’s classic “One More Time.” “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” sounds confused and muddled, with Drake speeding up his vocals and losing the smoothness he’s much more well-equipped for. It sounds like Drake trying to make Whole Lotta Red, which no one needs or asked for. The Travis Scott-assisted “Pussy & Millions” fails to make good on its star billing, putting 21 in an awkward situation where he tries to rap like Scott, but he can’t pull off the lack of humanity Scott excels at.
The best moments come when the duo find a balance and Drake falls back on his crate-digging prowess. “Spin Bout U,” featuring a heavenly sample of B.G.O.T.I.’s “Give Me Your Lov-N,” allows 21 to show off his romantic, melodic sensibilities while Drake croons about protecting women from creepy politicians. The track lets 21 expand his range, while also putting Drake in a spot of comfort, allowing both artists to shine.
Sadly, there’s not enough of this to go around, making Her Loss another disposable Drake project that will fade away in a few weeks—one that could have been so much more.
Josh Svetz is Reviews Editor/Content Coordinator at HipHopDX, with bylines at Passion Of The Weiss, SPIN and Pitchfork. You can find him trying to revive the word “swag” and arguing about Roscoe Dash’s impact on modern music on Twitter and Instagram.