On Friday, November 4, 21 Savage and Drake unleashed a collaborative studio album, Her Loss. The 16-track album marks 21 Savage’s first full-length release since 2020’s collaborative effort with Metro Boomin, Savage Mode II. For Drake, however, this is his third in the span of 13 months. A welcomed return following September 2021’s Certified Lover Boy and his polarizing house foray, Honestly, Nevermind.

While Honestly, Nevermind easily became Drake’s most divisive studio album in his arsenal, countless fans appreciated the closer, “Jimmy Cooks.” When it came time for an official video treatment for the song, the “Knife Talk” collaborators announced their collaborative album. Shortly thereafter, they began an unorthodox album rollout. A parody Vogue magazine cover, a mock NPR Tiny Desk performance, and a fake Howard Stern popped up on timelines. Meanwhile, a conversation about misinformation and Hip-Hop artists’ relationship with the media can be pulled from the antic-driven rollout. Their doctored Howard Stern interview actually provides some context for their joint project. 

Similar to how Kendrick Lamar creatively stitched one of 2Pac’s rare interviews with his own questions to form an imaginative and speculative conversation on To Pimp A Butterfly, Drake and 21 Savage used a previous Howard Stern interview to create a seemingly real back-and-forth, albeit for a much more salacious conversation about porn preferences. In their fake Howard Stern interview, the host asks the duo, “And what about love? I mean, could you ever commit to one woman, be married?” 21 Savage quickly replies yes. However, Drake sidesteps the comedic nature of his previous porn commentary. “I don’t know. Hopefully, I’ll find somebody,” he admits with a serious and somewhat defeated demeanor.

That brief moment of vulnerability foreshadows the tragic plot twist of Her Loss. Due to the interview’s facade and the hype surrounding a seemingly epic “Bro’s Night Out,” it was easy to overlook. 

ATLANTA, GA – OCTOBER 22: 21 Savage and Drake attend 21 Savage’s Freaknik22: The Sequel at Underground Atlanta on October 22, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia.(Photo by Prince Williams/ GettyImages)

Then, after a one-week delay, Her Loss finally arrived. The record stirred a considerable amount of controversy upon its release. Drake’s alleged jab at Megan Thee Stallion on “Circo Loco” overshadowed the news cycle when it dropped. Then, there’s the overwhelming disparity between Drake and 21’s presence on the album. It’s enough information to leave a bad taste in your mouth before pressing play on Her Loss. Still, the heavily meme’d “Rich Flex” would have made you question the album’s validity without hearing about the petty jabs.

“21, can you do somethin’ for me?” will probably go down as the strangest opening lines of any Drake album. Although shouting out of one’s collaborator on wax is theoretically Hip-Hop to the core, it just doesn’t work at all. Fortunately, the worst hook on Her Loss is left behind for good when 21 Savage delivers the album’s first verse. As expected, the London-born rapper is delivering on his part of the deal. 21 pumps wit and aggression into his trademark deadpan raps. However, just when 21’s verse really gets into full swing, Drake cuts him off with a juvenile and sing-songy breakdown dedicated to “All you hoes” who need to “find you someone else to call when your bank account get low.”

It’s random, intrusive, and not nearly funny enough to justify interrupting Savage’s flow. However, the awkward moment pays off once the second part of the song sets in as Drake delivers an early standout performance. Starting off with interpolations of 21 Savage’s “Red Opps” and T.I.’s “24’s,” Drake goes off on a lyrical onslaught that’s complete with clever acronym bars, some good old-fashioned number wordplay, and an electrifying sense of urgency and assertiveness. The album almost sabotages itself on its first track, but “Rich Flex” manages to still get everything in order to ensure that the listener is fully onboard for what’s to come.

During the stretch from “Major Distribution” to “BackOutsideBoyz,” it’s clear that Her Loss is far less balanced than Drake and Future’s What A Time To Be Alive. Instead, it’s more akin to Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. As a result, 21 Savage seems like a guest star on what could’ve been Drake’s eighth studio album.

With that said, even Ghostface Killah appeared on 80% of the tracks on Rae’s classic debut. 21 only appears on 75% of the joint album’s 16 tracks. Yet it still works despite the unexpected amount of Drake on Her Loss. For the record, Drake asks his collaborator to “drop some bars to my pussy ex for me” in the intro. Although the OVO artist brought his Atlanta comrade in for backup, this is really his story to tell. Still, 21 Savage is consistently great in every single one of his appearances on Her Loss. It’s evident early on through his sharp One Direction wordplay on “Major Distribution” and the infectious hook work on “On BS.”  

Drake’s first solo track of the project is “BackOutsideBoyz.” The record includes one of Lil Yachty’s many contributions to Her Loss. It’s a beast of a track, but when lined up alongside the other three solo tracks from Drake, it’s a bottom-tier entry. Nevertheless, it’s a testament to how consistently on-point Drake is throughout Her Loss as well.

Drake and 21 Savage deliver a bonafide gem with “Privileged Rappers,” equipped with a smooth beat and a perfectly penned hook. Both rappers hold their own in their individual verses, but Drake’s saucy Frank Ocean reference in the hook — “The diamonds, they hit like a rainbow, that’s ’cause the necklace a Frank (Purr)” — gives him the slight edge over his collaborator on fifth track. 21 and Drake’s chemistry continues to pump out quality tracks such as “Treacherous Twins,” and “Hours In Silence.” The latter of which is a nearly seven-minute-long song that features an extensive, toxic, and melodic verse from Drake. It feels like a spiritual successor to his spiteful outro on 2015’s “Diamonds Dancing.”

The next stretch of songs from “Circo Loco” to “Middle of the Ocean” is just as captivating. As soon as the Daft Punk-sampling beat for the former creeps in, the vibe is undeniable. Drake pops in with a clean flow fitting for the production that even dropping the overused thousand island/dressing line works. From Drake’s blind date joke to 21 Savage’s Oprah line, “Circo Loco” is overflowing with playful lines. Still, the fast-paced nature of the track makes the infamous “shots/stallion” bar — which is a choice, to say the least — rather easy to miss.

Drake’s other perceived subliminal at Meg (“Play your album, track one, ‘kay, I heard enough”) is hilariously noteworthy considering the lukewarm reception to this album’s intro. Without the apparent slights against Meg, the Daft Punk-sampled song would’ve been a prime single for summer 2023. However, the controversy will likely result in the song becoming reduced to an overlooked gem.

“Pussy & Millions” and “Broke Boys” are also immediate highlights in their own right, too. The former puts Drake’s affinity for Biggie on full display with a second reference to B.I.G on the album. It also comes loaded with a scene-stealing performance from Travis Scott — the only feature on Her Loss. On “Broke Boys,” 21 Savage almost clears Drake. However, his collaborator definitely evens the score with a hard-hitting verse that rolls in after the song’s beat switch. Drizzy delivers a ruthless jab at male rappers who brag about lifestyles that they don’t even live. “All you niggas rappin’ ’bout the bricks and the licks/ Then I hear in real life, you livin’ with your bitch,” he raps.

That line in particular makes Drake sound like a disgruntled rap vet. But it’s the following track, “Middle of the Ocean,” that kind of proves that he is. Drake gives off the aura of Jay-Z’s Blueprint III-era. It’s embodied by the influx of soul samples and the criticism aimed at the current generation of rappers. The soulful production is used to air out everything and everyone who has been pissing him off.

The former Young Money protégé wastes no time in addressing the backlash to his seventh studio album, either. “Niggas so ignorant in our hood, they bе like, ‘Why the fuck you makin’ techno?’/ I’m worldwidе and this is just another cargo jet flow, I had to let go,” he raps. It’s obvious that Honestly, Nevermind is a work that Drake is very proud of, despite the polarizing reception.

What makes “Middle of the Ocean” such a turning point on the album, however, is how Drake doesn’t hesitate to mention his aging status in Hip-Hop (“Bottle signs, club lines, should’ve come with us/We left that shit in ’09 when we was comin’ up”), or his longing to find the perfect person to be his significant other (“I send the label bills, bills, bills like the other two women/standing next to Bey, that shit was just—/Independent women is lovin’ the new appearance/Matter of time before I go net a Bey like a Paris”). He does it all while dropping exceptionally high-quality bars. 

Before the “Treacherous Twins” reunite for the final stretch, Drake drops off the Lil Yachty-influenced “Jumbotron Shit Poppin.” Drake’s autotuned and youthful performance is shockingly one of his most unexpected and vibrant sonic side missions in years. With the upbeat energy now re-established, the album transitions into “More Ms” — the most 21 Savage-esque track on Her Loss. As the 21-assisted beat tag explains, Metro Boomin does indeed go crazy on this song’s production. At the same time, 21 Savage commandeers the spotlight with a top-tier hook and menacing verse. 

The duo cut their reunion short to drop off two solo tracks to close the project, both of which feature the most vulnerable moments of Her Loss.

On “3AM On Glenwood,” 21 Savage shines on a track modeled after one of Drake’s signature combinations — a timestamp song powered by OVO 40’s production. Drake’s subtle cosign shows just how much he respects his Savage Mode collaborator. It’s the ultimate brotherly tribute, and 21 doesn’t waste his opportunity. Although it’s strange to hear 21 Savage rap over this type of sonic backdrop, he offers compelling commentary about his fallen friends and outlook on the industry.

Drake follows 21’s lead and delivers with transparency on “I Guess It’s Fuck Me.” The album’s outro summarizes a lot of the recurring themes and motifs of Her Loss — soured relationships and a toxic mistrust of women to tragic loyalty and the struggles that come from balancing one’s work and love life.

Drake repackages these thoughts into a somber, slow-burning track that’s reminiscent of a few moments on So Far Gone. There are caption-worthy quotes (“Still steppin’ like Omega Psi Phi for mine”). At other times, Drake dishes comical lines like “I’m the first evеr antisocial socialite” that make you question his perception of himself. Most importantly, there are bars that are straight-up telling. It’s these moments that illustrate the unspoken duality of Her Loss. “The devils that I recognize, most of them got pretty eyes/ Titties and some plans of just gettin’ by, that’s the way they live or die/ Easy to judge, but, girl, who am I?” Drake asks.

For an album that could easily be chopped up as a misogynistic rampage, Her Loss concludes with yet another defeated depiction of Drake. A man begging for a long-lost lover to come back and explain to him what went wrong in their relationship. Before plunging into the syrupy, desperate, and melancholic hook one last time, he raps, “Love, it’s been a long time/ Bet you never seen a thug cry/ Hit me on my hotline/ And no, ma, I’m not fine at all.”

Beneath the bravado and toxicity that runs rampant throughout Her Loss, Drake unveils the true, more painful, message of the record. It’s not her loss at all — it’s his. This 36-year-old rapper seems heartbroken and deeply afraid of ending up alone. Even with all of the industry accolades that he has achieved, Drake admits to feeling an emptiness in his life. It takes 15 tracks to paint the full picture of Her Loss. But once it does, all of the lust, aggression, and messiness can be seen as a criticism of the toxic coping mechanisms that far too many men embrace. A brilliant effort without any skips — safe for Drake’s cringy hook on “Rich Flex” — Drake and 21 Savage’s collaborative album is an incredible rap album with a subtle nuance looming beneath the surface.