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Drake’s ‘Scary Hours 2’ EP puts a big target on his forthcoming album ‘Certified Lover Boy’

The three-song EP is the Toronto superstar’s most charged-up project in years

Five years ago, on “Weston Road Flows,” Aubrey Drake Graham revealed his exit strategy. I’m assuming everybody’s 35 and under, he opined. That’s when I plan to retire, man, it’s already funded. With the release of his latest project, the three-song Scary Hours 2, the Canada Goose, who turns 35 in October, proves the coming months will be extremely active for hip-hop’s most prolific hit-maker.

The discussion about Drake is always fascinating because so many things about him are true all at once. Yes, his albums live at the top of the charts as if they’re the only ones with the gate code. Yes, his run of smash singles became anthems in nearly any place where music is played, from festivals and concerts to bars and day parties. And, yes, he’s been one of music’s most analyzed, debated and critiqued superstars, perhaps fairly and unfairly, since So Far Gone dropped in 2009.

Starting with Gone, Drake has released 14 projects (albums, mixtapes, EPs) in the last 12 years — all of them creating its own ecosystem of excitement and criticism, aka The Drake Experience. In only two of those years, 2012 and 2014, did he not release a project. Yet, thanks to albums such as Take Care and Nothing Was The Same released in 2011 and 2013, respectively, and a dizzying amount of features, it was hard to notice the difference. By any objective measure, Drake is one of the most accomplished and consistent names hip-hop has ever seen.

At the same time, though, some are detecting a sense of complacency. The last several projects felt as if something was missing. The hits were there — as well as the accompanying dance crazes — and so was his signature blend of raps and melodies. More Life in 2017, and even the five-time platinum Scorpion a year later, suffered from a lack of personal connection. There were moments of introspection, such as “Do Not Disturb” (an obvious nominee for his catalog’s greatest song) and “March 14” — which was partially ruined after Pusha T infamously insinuated Drake was hiding his son to protect his playboy image. Drake, it seemed, was doubling down on the hit-making and sacrificing the cohesiveness that makes an album truly generational and life-changing long after its release date. Care Package, released in 2019, was a collection of loosies that had been living on the internet in various forms for years. Dark Lane Demo Tapes in 2020 had its moments — like the festive “D4L” alongside Future and Young Thug — but largely suffered from the same ailment as its predecessor.

So, yes, the talk around Drake was simple. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying he could verbally spar with the best of them. But did he really care about it anymore? So when Drake revealed last year that a new album, Certified Lover Boy, was on the way, those questions remained. And until the album officially drops (rumored to be next month), those questions will remain.

Yet, with Scary Hours 2, there lives new hope. This is the most focused Drake has sounded in some time.

To be fair, it’s only a 12-minute collection of songs. The sample size is small. But within those 12 minutes lives everything that makes Drake Drake. On the EP’s opener, “What’s Next,” he sets the record straight almost immediately: He’s heard the talking. And even with a portfolio as decorated as his, there are still points to prove. “I’m the hot one hundo, numero uno/ This one ain’t come with a bundle,” he darted. “I’m in the Wynn, a million in chocolate chips/ And that’s just how my cookie crumble/ I put a skirt on a whip and a crown on the 6/ But there’s no need to dress up the numbers.”

That same sentiment lives on “Wants & Needs” as Drake scoffs at critics who came to praise his previous projects after they initially blasted them — “Leave me out the comments, leave me out the nonsense/ Speaking out of context, people need some content” and later “Come with a classic, they come around years later and say it’s a sleeper.” In reality, though, as entertaining as Drake is on “Wants,” Lil’ Baby steals the show with a guest verse landing with a ferocity that could knock the sand out of a punching bag.

The brightest point of Scary Hours 2 is “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” with Rick Ross. Drake and Ross’ chemistry is well-documented, including an all-time great “what if” in the joint mixtape that never was. Simply put, they’re allergic to crafting bad work together. A superb Ross opening verse, equipped with references to Tupac Shakur and Death Row Records, social distancing from informants, police and government alike, and the stressful decision of choosing between Teddy Pendergrass or Lionel Richie, sets the stage for Drake’s five-minute soliloquy.

Back in 2009, Lil Wayne claimed on “Money To Blow” that Young Money Records “would be alright if we put Drake on every hook.” Indeed, Drake hooks are the calling card of his career. Yet some of his greatest moments have come when he scratched the hook in favor of introspection. Or, as it’s dubbed on the internet, “Time Stamp Drake,” referring to records such as “9 A.M. In Dallas,” “5 A.M. In Toronto,” “6 P.M. In New York” and “4 P.M. In Calabasas.”

Drake attends the Los Angeles premiere of HBO’s Euphoria at the Cinerama Dome on June 4, 2019.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

His “Lemon Pepper” verse feels like it could have been titled “1 A.M. At Customs.” It’s everything we ask for from Drake. There’s a lot of Billy Dee Williams: The life of lavishness, like being embraced by the royal family of Dubai, bold proclamations about success and the revolving door of women he keeps. The part when he speaks of his son’s first day at school and the pride he felt in that, and follows it up by describing the attention he gets from the mothers of his son’s classmates is quintessentially Drake. But it is also believable. Beyond the boasts, lives the vulnerability in bars such as “We all grateful for Weezy, but no one more than me” because of the historical weight the line carries.

Last February, right before the world shut down, Drake offered some insight into his thought process around his next album. “I’ll probably make it more [of a] realistic offering,” he said. “Something more concise … It could be 10, 11 songs, 16. I also do a lot of different types of music, so it’s tough to make it like a seven-song album.” The seven-song album statement likely was a dig at Pusha T, whose 2018 album Daytona was seven songs — and a response to Pusha T saying he disliked artists who put 25 songs on their albums to manipulate streaming numbers (Drake’s Scorpion was 25). But Drake continued saying, “I’m having a lot of fun right now making music.”

That much is evident in this new EP. Scary Hours 2 is a fun listen. Drake sounds annoyed in pockets and invigorated in others. And in less than 24 hours, it’s already accomplished its mission to ramp up interest in Certified Lover Boy.

Scary Hours 2 feels more like a prelude than the beginning of the end. Drake could well be a man of his word, and bow out by his birthday later this year. Yet, with each new drop, that’s looking more and more like an empty promise.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.