It should never be surprising that the sort of R&B that burns up the charts and draws chatter at youth hubs like Twitter is the kind that adolescents identify with. And that’s what “Marvins Room,” in all its various incarnations, is.
The original “Marvins Room,” released by Drake in early June, is all semi-lucid, pseudo-pensive “sleep with me” plea to an ex who Drizzy insists “can do better.” It’s a drunk dial set to music (Drake starts with rosé and moves on to XO) that includes what sounds like an actual drunk dial, and it’s a doozy—mostly because of producer Noah “40” Shebib, whose woozy, liquid production that sounds very much like the voices in the head of a lover wondering where it all went wrong.
Drake being Drake, though, the obligatory rapped verse complicates matters. “I think I’m addicted to naked pictures/ And sittin’ talkin’ ’bout bitches that we almost had” makes the song less remorseful and more repugnant; a line about “makin’ monsters outta the women I sponsor” does nothing for Drake’s reputation as a feminist. Really, women smartly soaking Drake for his money makes them monsters?
And then the familiar drone of the former Jimmy Brooks whining about fame kicks in, and what could have been a promising hip-hop twist on Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” that dudes could lie about bumping while also lying about being over past paramours devolves into the same old “Woe is money and women” from the guy whose relationship with women is probably best summed up by “I hate callin’ the women bitches, but the bitches love it.”
Ex-teenpopper JoJo’s starmaking take is much better, and aimed right at wronged women. She addresses it to an ex-man, but acknowledges fault (“She’s not crazy like me/ I bet you like that”) and drops a killer reminder early on: “And when you’re in her/ I know I’m in your head.” This is the badass breakup song for the high-school girl who thinks “Rolling In the Deep” is too stodgy.
There’s an enjoyable glee to JoJo’s confidence in her mattress magic (“Baby, I’m the best, so you can’t do better” works a lot better than Drake’s player-hating ways), but her “Marvins Room” just seems franker and, consequently, more compelling than Drake’s: calling her ex’s friends “fucking idiots” and sending a sext “to remind you what you givin’ up” is the prelude to the second instance of the hook, in which JoJo really sells the “She’s not CRAZY like me” bit.
And hearing her actually sing on one of 40’s limpid beats also makes one wonder what will happen when 40 moves from producing for an above-average singer/rapper to producing for top-flight crooners. (“Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)” has faults, but the smooth groove ain’t one.)
And finally we have Chris Brown. If Drake approximates the sensitive dude and JoJo the jilted gal, Breezy’s full-on “Step away from my chick” makes him the thug who gives hugs only because he thinks he should. Brown misses the sex (“Givin’ them backshots”), but seems more interested in telling the “hater” off and promising to make things better with cunnilingus than figuring out what was wrong.
Brown ceding time to Kevin McCall, all stiff upper lip and “She see the real in me, and the bitch in you” put-downs, reveals as much or more about Breezy as Brown’s own time on the track: calling a rival for a woman’s affection a “mannequin” and drawing bright lines between his “real” and the other dude’s “weak” is turning the sinister “You can do better” that could plausibly be friendly advice into the “I can do better” that blinds so many exes. (This is, of course, at odds with Brown’s ode to stepping out with an ex, “She Ain’t You.”)
Besides, if Brown could do better, wouldn’t he have been able to avoid getting squished by Drake dropping a hazy clip for the original track? This is the equivalent of the high school bully getting the girl stolen and pouting. Then again, bullies need music, too.