“Teenage Fever” by Drake (OVO Sound/Cash Money/Young Money/Republic, 2017)
Drake’s music is all about bringing back what he once presumed dead. And if his own writings to exhume a tomb was not enough, the beats which he rides have consistently made up for his shortcomings. By now, the Drake sound is clearly defined: overseen by Noah “40” Shebib, the bummer of a production all focuses on emptiness. The ghastly theme music haunts like a grudge, just like its author.
“Teenage Fever,” from More Life, sounds no different than the typical Drake laments. Produced by Hagler, the bumpy beat tumbles upon itself with its house sounds so oddly shaped. The singer is no less sloppy, hungover from his feelings in a room empty like Marvin’s. But of course, there’s that chilly sample rising from underneath, a voice heard on no other Drake record: “If you had my love and if you had my trust, would you comfort me?” sings the pitched-down ghost of Jennifer Lopez, brought from her 1999 single, “If You Had My Love.”
Drake has tried to communicate with the dead a lot since So Far Gone, his breakthrough mixtape that defined his whole sound. While many women of his past go unnamed, he addressed the literal dead by their first and last whenever he sought credence. “Uptown” wished for the blessing of Houston’s DJ Screw as he paid homage by turning the speed real slow. “The Motto” did the same but through the bass of Bay Area hyphy to hopefully get a word from the deceased Mac Dre. His music at times felt like a Ouija board, with his scene-specific sounds and samples as the medium. But he never achieved his ultimate goal to talk to Aaliyah, whose whole aesthetic crafted with Timbaland and Missy Elliott is the blueprint to Drake and 40’s.
His closest to a breakthrough was “Take Care,” a single lifting Jamie xx’s remix of Gil-Scott Heron’s “I’ll Take Care of U” wholesale. The song was not originally supposed to be a dialog between the living and the deceased, but Heron’s voice floats like a specter around the piano-led hymn in retrospect of his passing not long after the song was released.
This introduces, then, Rihanna as the medium with her singing the late legend’s words in place of him. She plays a special case as she’s also Drake’s former flame off the record. She’s not the only woman entangled in his love life invited to duet with him; if Nicki Minaj’s “Moment 4 Life” cannot be a contender, she still has “Make Me Proud.” But Rihanna’s definitely the only one who has been both Drake’s real-life lover and sample — a true medium between the dead and alive in Drake’s world.
Until “Teenage Fever,” of course. Though, this is the other way around: a sample from a piece of music by Drake’s past love. (Let’s not worry about the legitimacy of their relationship for a second here.) Drake converses with the past like he’s talking to a vision. The woman isn’t really there, neither the unnamed ex or J. Lo herself, but it’s real enough for him to spew his issues at the ghost. In this way, “Teenage Fever” might be the purest Drake song thus far: a record that captures a ghost of his past love, on and off the record, in an eternal loop.