Galileo once famously proposed a thought experiment as such: If two objects are tied to one another, one heavier than the other, what speed would they fall? Would the lighter one “slow” the heavier one and cause a longer fall? Or would the heavier one “speed up” the lighter one, resulting in a quicker fall? In reality, the objects would fall at the same speed, whether they were tied to one another or not. His point in conjuring such a scenario was to prove that some force other than weight was what determined the speed of such a fall, namely gravity. Does this principle of object-independent determining factors hold for non-physical objects too? What about when two artists of different styles join forces to create one project. Would the skills and tendencies of one lessen or work to the detriment of the other? In theorizing about the case of “Her Loss,” the crooning, melodic Drake and the gritty, cold 21 Savage combine forces to deliver a project that is something genuinely additive and cohesive. Because just as with falling objects and weight, the quality of a collaboration of two artists isn’t about whether their styles are different or not. There’s another force at work: talent.
Drake and 21 Savage’s last two projects, “Honestly, Nevermind” and “Savage Mode 2” respectively, couldn’t be more different, both in sound and intention. The former sought to provide the soundtrack for a summer filled with memories, the nostalgic backbone of a season full of sentiments positive, negative and everything in between. The latter was a hard-hitting, grimy collaboration between Houston producer Metro Boomin and 21 Savage, whose trap beats and violent, explicit subject matter conjured up the determination and cold-hearted nature of winter, if anything. The individual abilities of these two rappers were not in question when they announced their surprise collaboration weeks ago—it was whether this experiment would prove our hypothesis of success, or go up in flames.
Our first evidence for this hypothesis actually came in the form of the concluding track of “Honestly, Nevermind,” “Jimmy Cooks.” In hindsight, its inclusion was likely a harbinger of the project to come. Drake and 21 Savage effortlessly work off of one another: Drake glides over the track’s initial soulful sound with unparalleled smoothness, while 21 Savage’s commanding, decisive presence contrastingly complements this sound in the song’s grittier second half. Picking up directly where this track left off is the intro to “Her Loss,” “Rich Flex.” Mirroring its predecessor, the track features 21 Savage instead rapping over a more melodic, R&B inspired beat as Drake concludes with a far more through-gritted-teeth bar delivery. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, after all. While we knew 21 Savage was fully willing and capable of rapping the typical lines associated with this delivery, hearing Drake spit with equal villainous vigor was a welcome surprise. Drake declares, “Get a lot of love from twelve, but I don’t reciprocate/ Fifty-one division stay patrollin’ when it’s late/ 21 my addy so the knife is on the gate,” with the same blatant disregard and viciousness of his Atlantan compadre, proving within the album’s opening minutes that this Drake was a hungrier, meaner figure than the artist we had seen earlier this year.
This more aggressive attitude prevails among the album’s first few tracks. In the diabolical “Major Distribution” in which Drake details his sacrifices for success. On“On BS,”, as the title suggests, the pair enumerates what their opulent lifestyles consist of, whether it be trips to Ibiza, international business deals or spending exorbitant sums of money without consequence (if Drake’s real betting record is any indication, we know he isn’t lying on this track). With this commanding start, the collaboration seemed to be going very well—this more hard-hitting Drake meshing incredibly well with 21 Savage. However, as is the case with any scientific inquiry, there are some variables that one has to assume to be true, qualities that characterize the objects in question. Drake, ever the melodic, smooth songwriter, is never shy to a slow, relaxed beat to unveil his softer, emotional side. If tracks like the album’s intro and its other, harder cuts feel like aggressive beats catalyzing Drake’s more dastardly, arrogant persona, the more nostalgic, melancholic song of “Her Loss” works hand-in-hand with this other skill that Drake has mastered. On “Hours In Silence,” he expresses explicitly, “My confidence is low,” lamenting, “’Cause you know that you’re mine and it’s my fault/ It’s my fault, it’s my fault, for once I take accountability.” This spirit of self-reflection and honesty is undertaken by 21 Savage throughout the project as well as is an embracing of the occasional mellow reminiscence among the blatant braggadocio elsewhere on the album. On the penultimate track, he describes the toll that the killings of many close friends took on him and the way it greatly shifted his worldview, revealing the prevalence of debilitating race relations and systems of injustice within the U.S., and his place within it all. Particularly poignant, but powerful, is his assertion: “Passionate, I’m talkin’ with my hands, these ain’t gang signs.”
The album’s conclusion is a Drake solo effort, “I Guess It’s Fuck Me,” where the rapper reflects on the extremely difficult path to success that he followed, how it shaped him and the mistakes that he can’t seem to stop making. Concerning his regret at the end of a relationship, Drake does what he does perhaps better than any other rapper: He makes music for experiences and feelings that any listener can empathize with and understand. Tellingly, the last words of his last verse on the album read: “Bet you’ve never seen a thug cry/ Hit me on my hotline/ And no ma, I’m not fine… at all.” If I had to choose one song to encapsulate why I have a deep appreciation for Drake’s music, it would be this one. His ability to speak to his audience, in jest, in sadness, in triumph, in defeat, is unlike anyone in the genre. It doesn’t feel like we are listening to a music-making machine or a celebrity, but a person—a genuine fellow human. Every album, like a conversation between friends, spans a range of sentiments that only heighten our connection.
So, what confounds this experiment? What factors work against its success? Most of the time, it’s those nagging constants that, while greatly outnumbered by their positive counterparts, do appear from time to time. Drake is no stranger to a questionable bar or piece of song-writing that leaves a lot to be desired. On the outro, Drake proclaims “I’m the first ever antisocial socialite,” which could be true improbably, but is surely not a novel idea by any means. On the otherwise very solid and Lil Yachty-enhanced “BackOutisdeBoyz,” Drake proclaims “I’m an owl but I’ll never tell you who,” to collective eye-rolling and groans from listeners, perhaps accompanied by a wry smile from his diehard fans, who knew such corniness was to be expected. 21 Savage’s sexualized bars and explicit content also grows tedious after a point. While the album’s softer tracks gave the Atlantan the opportunity to showcase the heartfelt and thoughtful songwriting we know he is capable of, he often reverts to the subject matter his audience typically associates to him, the frequency of which works to the album’s detriment.
All of this is to say, in the question of how these two prolific, unstoppable forces of modern rap would react to one another, be it additive or reductive, the product is an unequivocal success in my book. Drake maintains his melodic, soft side even while embracing the villainous persona of his partner in crime. 21 Savage remains the genuine, hard-hitting rapper unafraid to expound the details of a life many of us could never fully understand the difficulty of, all while allowing his more open, introspective songwriting to shine on various tracks. The pair’s latest project is an experiment in opulence, a meshing of extroverted exploits and self-reflection that proves the quality of artists such as these cannot be taken for granted–collaboration implies cohesion, and they have it down to a science.