Art by Adam Mignanelli
With Drake's new album 'VIEWS' fresh on our minds, we've gathered together a team of writers and thinkers from the 6, the US, and the UK to chomp into the hour-and-a-half long opus to talk about whether or not the 6 God did his city justice. Is the biggest rap album of the year also the best? Is it even really a rap album? How well does it represent Toronto? How good are the one-liners? We dig into all this and more below.
Drake's Battle with Himself, by Kyle Kramer
Look at Drake up there, perched on the CN Tower, looking out at something. Perhaps he's scoping out the next C-list Toronto rapper to decide to carry out a grudge against, or maybe it's, like, a chance to set a target on the back of a club owner who didn't let him play there once in 2008. Maybe he's sizing up the line at the Cheesecake Factory, where sales of late are no doubt through the roof. Perhaps he's just trying to catch a view of his legacy, to see where it might be headed.
Drake's not even 30—although by his math he's only got until 35 until he becomes irrelevant—but he's already, by the chart numbers, among the most successful rappers of all time, on the verge of being even more successful than that, within the echelon of single-named pop deities and the Beatles. He quips that most rappers with a deal “probably couldn't make a greatest hits,” but it's really about himself. (Isn't it always?) And he's right: His greatest hits will be unforgettable. Still, there's a world in which that greatest hits is already more or less complete, in which the songs we remember Drake for forever are “Started from the Bottom” and “Hotline Bling,” and another in which, roughly seven years into his career, Drake is just hitting the period in which the greatest of his hits are yet to be made.
VIEWS feels like an album conservatively designed for either eventuality. On one hand it's a tidy career summation, Take Care Part Two, a victory lap for the city of Toronto, and the most refined version yet of 40's signature sound, that underwater chipmunk soul that shaped this entire decade of R&B. You've got “Redemption” and “U With Me?,” songs that capture the best of Drake's navel-gazing appeal, that remind us there's no rapper better at describing the psychological burdens of staring at a phone screen. On the other it's a glimpse at the global musical future Drake has it in his power to create, one in which the sound of hip-hop is steered ever-closer to its cousins in Caribbean dancehall and West African pop.
Unfortunately, Views seems content with neither, more interested in fighting its insular battles and scoring easy points just when the stakes are highest. The choice is an interesting gesture in itself: For a pop star in Drake's place to drop an album that is so obsessively about presenting himself as a guy from Toronto, sometimes at the expense of the overall work, is a unique move. (Consider the anti-geography of his closest contemporary, Taylor Swift.) But it's not the path to the most rewarding album, no matter how great it is that Drake took his big huge signature breakout crossover moment to put a cult hero like Future on a song to talk about how he'd rather have a gallon of cough syrup than go to the Met Gala.
I appreciate that moment, and I appreciate Drake indulging his more niche interests to a point. As disjointed as the moment in question sounds, I'm happy that there will be kids who discover UGK because Drake pasted in a Pimp C verse. Yet it all feels just a touch self-serving. A bolder star might give us more moments like “With You,” the PARTYNEXTDOOR collaboration that floats off toward a more ecumenical pop future, or dancehall homages “Controlla” and “Too Good,” which could unite the world under the banner of dance. (Although can we talk about removing Popcaan from the former only to quote and sample him on the latter? What the hell!) Or perhaps a rap banger.
Drake loves to rap about rap's flamboyant glory days, the “Hype Williams, ‘Big Pimpin'” era, but he can't quite strike the magic of a “Big Pimpin'” type of single, the sort of song that makes you feel like a million bucks rather than just reminding you that Drake has a million bucks. When Drake goes into his boasting shout-rap mode, he always seems most set on settling the score with somebody—and, while it's not generally clear who the somebody is, in every case it feels like he's punching down. The de facto bangers and throwback meditations—“Hype,” “Still Here,” “9,” “Pop Style,” “Weston Road Flows,” “Views,” etc.—feel like boring retreads that should be beneath Drake's stature at this point. If he really wants to be like Jay, he should try that old trick of only giving his enemies half a bar.
Because I do feel like there's a singular Drake vision out there, one that can turn the line “why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake / you know I love to go there” into a shout-along moment of triumph. We could have a petty banger! The reason we loved songs like “0-100” wasn't that they came after people, it was that they found flashes of unexpectedly universal feeling in those specifics. Here—and Drake admitted as much in the Beats 1 interview that introduced the album Thursday night—the focus is on Drake himself, which is not a star move. Stars are universal. Maybe it's an unfair standard to expect this album to be a classic, but when you make it out to play that self-mythologizing role, you're asking to be judged on that rubric. VIEWS is already a success. There will be some good entries for the greatest hits. But at the end of the day it's just another Drake album.
Kyle Kramer is an editor at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.
Drake Is Draking, by Craig Jenkins
“I made a career off reminiscing,” Drake says on “U With Me?,” a warm DMX homage from his new album VIEWS. It is the most sage confession of an album full of downcast personal reflection. Here is a rapper and singer whose introduction to much of the world was the 2009 mixtape So Far Gone, which saw the budding Toronto mogul pouring out his feelings over an expertly chosen platter of Tears for Fears, Missy Elliott, and DJ Screw instrumentals. Take Care, his highly regarded sophomore album, would derive as much of its kick from friend and producer Noah “40” Shebib’s worshipful interpolations of Jon B., SWV, and Juvenile songs as from the artist’s own pining for a string of girlfriends he didn’t find capable of withstanding the heat of his stardom. Since 2013, a major focus for Drake has been the upkeep of OVO Sound, a label increasingly populated by hard sell man-out-of-time R&B acts like the soulful house duo Majid Jordan, of “Hold On, We’re Going Home” fame, and dvsn, another duo whose sultry “Too Deep” shares 40’s love of Ginuwine’s “So Anxious.” Nostalgia is Drake’s business, and business is good.
All of these threads weave through VIEWS. The lust for girls Drake doesn’t keep up with anymore surges through “Keep the Family Close” and “Redemption.” The ghosts of bygone hip-hop and R&B classics fills “U With Me?” and “Weston Road Flows.” The reverent R&B sidemen pop up on “Faithful,” “With You,” and “Summer’s Over Interlude.” What sets VIEWS apart from the rest of the catalog is that it is the first Drake release to find the artist reflecting back on his own music as well. The wind in VIEWS’s sails is the genre-hopping sprawl and confessional sadness of Take Care. At first pass, it revealed a depth and pliability in his songwriting few believed possible after the stilted commercialism of his debut Thank Me Later. In the wake of the tighter raps, length, and sequencing of 2013’s Nothing Was the Same and the restless exploration and despotic solitude of last winter’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, VIEWS’s lack of focus feels loose and light-headed.
Over the last year, Drake and 40’s disorienting mix of screwed pacing and chipmunk R&B sample chops has become so popular that younger artists are scoring big singles and albums of their own making reasonable facsimiles on the cheap. Bryson Tiller and Tory Lanez have rubbed elbows with Drake on the radio with hits like “Don’t” and “Say It” that owe their livelihood to the OVO framework, and if you drop the needle on any given stretch of Drake’s Beats 1 radio show OVO Sound, you’re likely to hear reverent impressions from hungry young Toronto locals. If You’re Reading This smartly darted outside of the fort for help with production and resulted in a gratifyingly slower and darker offering, but VIEWS needed either to prove why Drake and 40 are the indispensable masters of the Toronto sound or else to break out of the box and forge new ground. It attempts a little of both, and the tug-of-war between peak Drake self-sorrowful sap and upbeat, out of character pop confections very nearly pulls the album apart.
VIEWS is not without highlights (“Fire & Desire,” “Redemption,” “Feel No Ways,” “Faithful”) or brilliant conventions (see: dalliances with dancehall, afrobeat, ‘70s soul, and electronic music), and much of it is very good. But it feels like Drake consciously crafting a Drake album, ticking off all the expected subject matter, producers, and guests that anyone tracking the artist and his inner circle would expect. The OVO machine is too efficient. This isn’t necessarily a bad spot; there are artists who would kill for the capacity to create albums harnessing the dense sonics of any given OVO release. But just four proper studio albums in, Drake is losing the power to shock and the drive to brashly switch gears. For better or worse, it took Jay Z seven turns at bat before a whiff of formula snuck in, and Kanye West is still finding creative ways to ditch our ideas of what he’s capable of at each turn of the bend. Views’ shrewd attempt to synthesize the quintessential Drake album begs the question: Is this as good as it gets?
Craig Jenkins is a contributing editor to Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.
Drake's Sticking to What Drake Knows Best, by Lauren Nostro
Over the last ten years, I’ve found myself escaping to Toronto. The drive from my hometown in Buffalo is stunning. When Drake released Comeback Season in 2007, I had just moved to Toronto to start college. When I left in 2009, he released So Far Gone. Over the years, his projects narrated a drive I’d make most frequently on Friday nights. At best, it’s a little over an hour. At worst, you’re stuck right outside of Etobicoke on the QEW, one straight road that winds past Niagara Falls, crawls up Lake Ontario, and eventually spits you out right at the Air Canada Centre. Every other weekend, it was a place I’d escape from only to escape back to and on those Friday nights. And my soundtrack—between when you pass the glass condos on Lake Shore Blvd. driving straight up the skyline—has always been the intro tracks to Drake’s projects.
There’s been a lot of debate over the last few years over what makes the “Toronto sound.” And there are a lot of possibilities of what contributes to it. You can focus on the multi-cultural population of Toronto and how that plays a role in its music; the same people crying over whether or not Drake is trying to sound a way could use a crash course in the Caribbean cultures of the 6. But there’s a distinct sound—one that at its greatest simplicity can be described as atmospheric, lush, and perfect for late night drives under the skyline—that’s played a role in developing what the “Toronto sound” is, and ideally we’ve heard at its best on the Drake’s album intros.
On VIEWS, Drake kicks things off with a track titled “Keep the Family Close,” an incredible name for a track that’s more about trust issues than it is about his city—at least in light of “Weston Road Flows,” which lands at track six. And for an album dedicated to his city—as many of his projects have been, but this one far more specifically—its intro track is lacking that late night driving music that’s so beautifully kicked off his former projects. Most recently, it was the Whitney Houston-sampling “Tuscan Leather,” produced by 40, on Nothing Was the Same. Its expansive and exuberant production is a soundtrack for that drive into the 6, one that’s both overwhelming and at the same time, incredibly comforting. Then there was “Over My Dead Body” on Take Care, a plaintive intro track that, like “Tuscan Leather,” lays down the groundwork for what to expect on the album, from Drake and for the listener.
For an album that’s focused on his love for his city—one where people really debated whether or not he sat on the fucking CN Tower in the middle of a dreary day to shoot the cover—its kick off should be “Weston Road Flows.” Produced by Noah "40" Shebib, with contributions from 23-year-old French artist Stwo, who recently moved to Toronto to work extensively with 40, this is pinnacle Drake—reminiscing on his life in the 6, over dreary, atmospheric production. There’s a sample of “Mary's Joint,” off of Mary J. Blige’s My Life, and an interpolation from “Money Can't Buy Me Happiness” by Toronto rapper Jelleestone. If you look at that photoshopped Drake album cover, what you hear isn’t “Keep The Family Close,” it’s “Weston Road Flows,” a song that so perfectly outlines what this album is, and strives to be, about.
We already know the common criticisms of Drake—the simpy lyrics; his appeal to younger men who consider the friend-zone a real place and who lament over the one girl in eighth grade who rejected him. You’ll hear that at times on songs like “U With Me?” with lines like “I group DM my exes / I told them they belong to me, that goes on for forever,” or a personal favorite: “Three dots, you thinking of a reaction still / While you’re typin’ make sure to tell me what type of games are bein’ played.” But Drake is an impeccable storyteller, one whose latest album is a true testament to finding, and riding, a specific sound. His sound is comforting at times, it’s cinematic, and for as much as some may make fun of him for appealing to a certain demo of people, especially men, there’s no doubt we’ve all felt something to some song, on some project. That’s the Drake sound. VIEWS could've been far stronger—sequence-wise—in narrating the story of the city that he wanted to tell. Maybe the solution is to go backwards: Start at “Views” (“Hotline Bling” is a “bonus”) and work through the album backwards. ”Keep the Family Close” would be an incredible outro track. Or start with “Weston Road Flows”—the peak of “peak Drake sound” on VIEWS. Because for an album that finds Drake sticking to what Drake knows best, so should its sequence.
Lauren Nostro is a writer based in New York. Follow her on Twitter.
I Still Really Love Drake, by Jabbari Weekes
“I’m more worried about consistency. I’m more worried about bodies of work,” said Drake in a 2013 interview explaining his relationship with Kendrick Lamar, who had, weeks before, dropped the now infamous “Control” verse. “I’m talking about hit records, and I'm basically talking about one guy who’s up every night thinking about how to get better, how to do things bigger, and that's Kanye West… That’s my guy I aspire to surpass. Consistency, it's been one album. Consistency is you need more than one album. It's time to show and prove.” Though the statement predates the release of Drake’s newest album by several years it’s one that I think accurately surmises Mr. Graham’s career. That is, this idea of being consistent. Being steadfast in a singular idea and pattern of behaviour. And also why VIEWS, an otherwise good album, feels like a letdown.
Consistency is one of Drake’s greatest strengths. Since the phenomenon that was So Far Gone till now, Drake has adhered to introspective stories about his relationships, his success growing to newfound heights, and the city he loves: Toronto. With each successive album he reliably dials into each of those themes with more clarity and detail: a once unnamed ex-lover becomes “Courtney from Hooters on Peach Street.” The anxiety of being young and successful becomes “Please do not speak to me like I'm that Drake from four years ago. I'm at a higher place.” And shout outs to Toronto become “I take Eglinton to 401 East / And exit at Markham Road in the East End.” It’s not a bad thing. Drake has become the sappy rapper/singer we reliably turn to for a specific feeling and story.
VIEWS was made out to be something more, though, an album that was not only a love letter to the city—our city—but, according to the man himself, strayed from his usual “night-driving” sound to fully embrace local West Indian and African influences. “I love dancehall flows, especially as of late,” he told The Fader. “I pretty much won’t even rap on a beat unless it’s got some magic element of new tempo or new pocket, where I hear myself and feel like I’ve stumbled upon something new… I’m praying that 40 has a beat, so that I can do something new that I’ve never done before.” That sentiment exists in songs like “One Dance” and “Controlla,” which help make up the summer section of the album he makes reference to in his Zane Lowe interview. My personal favorites, “Summers Over Interlude” and “Child’s Play”—barring a line or two about being light skinned and Cheesecake—feel most representative of the direction the album could’ve gone in. Utilizing a sample of New Orleans bounce artist HaSizzle’s “Rode That Dick Like a Soldier,” and Drake’s usual petty indulgence, “Child’s Play” worms through 40’s slow churning and cold production with a looped up sample that feels like a song you can simultaneously twerk and cry to in slow motion. There’s a sweet spot hit here that’s never revisited before Drake falls on his laurels.
Instead of a leap forward, Drake has created a power circle of his previous project’s best moments and thrown it into a blender. You have Take Care-lite soap opera moments and telephone call samples in the first half. The aggressive huff and puff cadences of IYRTITL on songs like “Hype” and “Still Here” show up, and “Grammys” has to be a leftover from What a Time to Be Alive. All of this while still continuing his penchant for R&B makeovers of classic rap songs a la “Practice” and “Wu-Tang Forever,” with the DMX-interpolated “U With Me?” I enjoy it still, because I enjoy the music Drake puts out but the glimpses and possibilities of something great are covered by the familiar. It’s hard not to imagine Drake was onto something new but the risk-averse side feared isolating fans who fiend for new quotables. He’s too calculated, too singularly focused on his audience. He knows their moves and how they’ll react but with that clairvoyance comes comfort. As “Redemption” tellingly states, “Tryna satisfy everybody / It's like they can't get enough / Until enough is enough / And then it's too much.” I’ve begun to reach that point with Drake. And it’s all the more frustrating considering his peers like a Kendrick, Kanye, hell Beyonce have made it a point this year and the last to subvert expectations.
In the face of all this, I still love this album. There’s no stronger reaction I’ve had to any song this year than to “Weston Road Flows,” not for the obvious Toronto reference but that Mary J. Blige sample. While the song utilizes “Mary’s Joint,” it recalls a not-too-long-ago point in time when Blige wore local outlet Too Black Guys’ jersey in her 1992 video for “Real Love.” The Toronto cosign, small in retrospect and before my time, was a significant moment for the city. It instilled a sense of hometown pride seen very rarely at the time. I’d be hard pressed to believe Drake isn’t aware of it and eager to recapture the same feeling with VIEWS. It’s a shame, then, that the two-year hype he curated ended up creating an inflated version of this album that he couldn’t or refused to live up to.
Jabbari Weekes is the editor of Noisey Canada. Follow him on Twitter.
Welcome to Drake's Toronto, by Amani Bin Shikhan
VIEWS is sooooooo Toronto it almost hurts. My favorite thing about Drake on his latest, highly anticipated offering is that he doesn't make the obvious references to his city—Toronto, T. Dot, the (contested, Jimmy Prime-coined) 6. He, instead, references Jelleestone. Glenn Lewis. The memory of Fluid Lounge. I mean, it makes sense since so much of his narrative echoes the existential crises of the artists who came before him: money can't buy him happiness, but he's happiest when he can buy what he want, get high when he want, any time that he want. He doesn’t hesitate to remind us of the fiasco of last summer with Meek, a moment that solidified him as a hometown hero to the new generation.
Drake doesn’t paint a picture of Toronto, he paints a picture of his Toronto, the one he ran through with the woes before woes were cool or had bottle service, before his meticulously brushed waves grew to the skin-tanned-hair-long curls we know to be The Boy's signature post-vacation look. He turned his birthday into a lifestyle. He even has Gyalcast’s own Jamz on the intro, channeling every bod girl raised—not influenced by, but really born and bred—in the city. “I’m not afraid of no gyal-heart man, and I’m not afraid of no cyattie, and I’m not afraid of no waste yute neither… Say feh,” she challenges in Jamaican patois before the city turns on its head from the slow, strangely somber opener to a slick-mouthed Drake. It’s the duality of man.
In his exclusive interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, Drake says the theme of VIEWS is the haphazard, ever-changing weather in Toronto. Conceptually, that rings true: the wooshing sound of wind, small talk about the frigid air, a chuckle before dropping “one a dem ones,” a phrase said by every Toronto man, ever, trying to waste your time once the sun finally peeks out after the snow and ice. He gives one of the most Drake-ish lines on “Redemption” when he blurts out, “You really gon’ spend the winter with another nigga?” before naming off all the supposed indiscretions done to him by exes. (Shouts to Ericka, a real-life Joanne the Scammer. Teach a masterclass.)
The sequencing quickly shifts to happier tracks about new flings and heat-of-the-moment promises, to more fun dance songs like “Controlla” and “One Dance.” The Popcaan, Kyla, and Wizkid features here are a direct conversation from Drake to his fans (and probably friends) across the African diaspora. He sees the different waves of music and culture from communities in Toronto, sure, but also from the other places he frequents. Drake loves London and seems to really understand the mashup of subcultures that exists there, including celebrated genres like Afrobeat and funky house. Wizkid was and still is considered a superstar among Africans across the continent and diaspora well before a cosign on the remix of “Ojuelegba.” He wants us to know that he sees us the same way we see him. I just wish he’d left Popcaan on “Controlla” and maybe not said, “Cock up yuh bumpa, siddung pon it,” but is he even Drake if he doesn't make you cringe once in a while?
Now, moreso than any other point in his career barring the release of If You're Reading This, Drake doesn’t seem too concerned with non-local opinion. It doesn't matter if you laughed when he mimicked Hassan’s hurried chant with “TOP 5, TOP 5, TOP 5!” Or if you know what or where Jane and Weston or Kennedy Road are. It's no secret that the Toronto music scene is buzzing, and the shoutouts and alliances made by Aubrey are scrutinized more than ever. “Roy outta here like NASA,” he says on “Hype,” but who really knows? OVO seems to be on the cusp of something great, collaborative and mysterious as fuck, Woods being the only member not featured on Views. Recent signees dvsn and Majid of Majid Jordan lend beautiful additions to the album, on “Faithful” and “Summer’s Over Interlude” respectively. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s impact is clear throughout the album, especially so on the joint effort, “With You” and the quick Auto Tuned run he croons on “U With Me?”
It’s interesting, though, to note the multiple times on the record that Drake hints at being done with handouts, with his kindness being taken for obligation. He could be referencing any number of people, the list growing as quickly as his paranoia. Rumours circle in Toronto, the GTA and beyond: what is the situation between Tory Lanez, self-proclaimed New Toronto frontrunner, and OVO? What of the Mo-G drama? What really happens in Toronto? What happened with Makonnen? Drake operates on a need-to-know basis. The only unwavering fact? 6 God watching, or whatever.
Amani Bin Shikhan is a writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.
Is Drake the Rap Game Freddie Mercury?, by Ryan Bassil
Views was meant to be about Toronto. That’s how Drake positioned the record when he announced it back in August 2014, when it was originally called Views from the 6, a reference to the phone number one would dial if they were attempting to to coax Aubrey Graham into some late-night pillow talk on his landline. In the two years since then, the album’s been set-up as a love-letter of sorts to the singing-rapper's hometown; its cover art featured a miniature sized Drizzy sitting atop the city’s famous CN tower; sessions for the album took place in a custom-built Torontonian studio; in interviews, most specifically a cover-feature for The Fader’s 100th issue, Drake has spoken about Views as if it were a celebrated ode to his roots.
In many ways, the record was set-up as though it would be Drake’s Illmatic, his Boy in Da Corner, or his good kid, m.A.A.d city, echoing the locational backdrop of three records which captured the spirit of New York, London, and LA specifically. So, then, it feels like a missed opportunity that this record, like so many others in Drake’s career, is rooted in his lamentations for former lovers wherein there appears to be no geographical importance. The album’s opening track “Keep the Family Close” is indebted to all of Drake’s “let’s just be friends” that are “friends [he] doesn’t have anymore.” On “Faithful,” he’s asking a woman to “do the things we say on texts.” “This year for Christmas I just want apologies,” he begs on “Redemption.” An immature fall-out at the Cheesecake Factory is the bedrock of his concern on “Child Play.” These lyrics are weaker than previous efforts, but fans who crave a new Drake album seasoned with phrases they can attach to their Instagram bio will find that Views provides them in abundance.
That said, the first song on the album that’s rooted in the quintessential Drake bounce—a feeling he’s instilled in previous album openers like “Tuscan Leather” and “Over My Body,” which has the unique quality of making your outfit feel on point and your pockets a little richer—is the one that references Toronto the most. That track (which unfortunately doesn’t arrive until six songs into Views) is called “Weston Road Flows,” and it sees Drake reflecting on his past in his hometown, referencing former Toronto Raptor Vince Carter, the city’s Metro transit system, and a now-defunct nightclub called Fluid. Elsewhere, the city’s London on the Esplanade makes it on to the Kanye West produced “U With Me?,” an elder statesmen of Torontonian rap JD Era is called out on the album’s title track, and “9” returns to a reference about the area’s phone number codes as Drake states “I turn the 6 upside down, it's a 9 now.” Yet these references feel scarce. For an album supposedly about Toronto, it’s hard not to feel short-changed. In many ways, VIEWS would have been a more fitting title for last year’s If You’re Reading This, and vice versa, because last year’s effort gave some sense of the city in tracks like “6 God” or the infamous “running through the 6 with my woes” line in “Know Yourself.” Instead, VIEWS recapitulates Take Care: it’s a collection of songs about women that happens to have been made in Toronto, rather than a detailed and nuanced sketch of the semantics that the city is made on.
Then again, Drake was never going to be that artist. His primary weapon is the one-liner, rather than the lavish portrait. The album keeps its ode-to-the-city promise in the production, which is provided primarily by long-time Drake collaborator Noah "40" Shebib alongside Nineteen85, Boi-1da, and Southside. It’s here that Toronto firmly places itself into rap’s aural tapestry, building on the warped R&B of fellow Canadians the Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR, dvsn, and earlier Drake releases, with tinges of vaporwave, funky house, and dancehall. This sound, which shifts throughout the album, is its biggest triumph. In the same way that Cash Money leveraged New Orleans into rap history, or the Dungeon Family grew Atlanta’s profile, Views ultimately cements the Torontonian aesthetic into cultural history. Given that Drake is an outsider by proxy of being from Canada and the similarities he shares in a now blossoming relationship with Skepta—who hopes to achieve a similar feat for London with his upcoming album Konnichiwa—perhaps that’s the achievement Drake was hoping for all along. Maybe this album wasn’t meant to tell the story of Toronto, it was meant to sound like it. In doing so, it’s validated the city in the process.
All in all, VIEWS isn’t a career-defining album. Because Drake hasn’t ever been great at albums, has he? He’s still yet to record his Dark Fantasy, his To Pimp a Butterfly, his Blueprint, or his All Eyez on Me. Perhaps he never will. Drizzy had a real chance to create something meaningful with Views, but in the process he’s proved he’s not quite there when it comes to creating a conceptually led, career-defining album. Again, maybe he never will be. Instead, it’s likely that Drake’s career will be defined by his greatest hits, which will feature tracks from this record like “Hotline Bling,” “Controlla,” and “One Dance” alongside all the stand-outs from his previous records, starting with “Fancy” right up to “Know Yourself.” He’s the rap version of Queen: 10/10 singles, but a collection of albums that always slightly miss the mark.
Ryan Bassil is an associate editor for Noisey UK. Follow him on Twitter.
** VIEWS Isn't the Album We Hoped For, But That's a Good Thing, by Emma Garland**
On first, second, and even 12th impression, VIEWS is devastatingly underwhelming. My initial feelings were: Yes, I can definitely cry in the bath to this, but what else?
To call VIEWS a slow burner would be a massive understatement. Considering it’s a 20-track body of work creeping towards an hour and a half in length, you’d be forgiven for spending your first listen clock watching and the second skipping through trying to find the “moments.” But the more time you spend with it the more evident it is that VIEWS is made a victim of two things: the climate in which it was released, and the fact that it’s not at all the album we were expecting.
The first 30 seconds is literally just wind and helicopter noises, setting us up for a level of drama that simply isn't there. Its opening gambit “Keep the Family Close” feels like a bid for a future Bond theme, especially when coupled with the accompanying booklet full of portraits of Drake (surveying his city from a high rise building, standing outside a mansion in furs holding a dog on a leash, sitting pensive in the backseat of a car…) that feel more like adverts for Call of Duty or a very expensive whiskey. There’s also the matter of the lyrics, some of which take his penchant for heavy-handed similes and cramming fifteen pop culture references into every track beyond a lovable quirk and straight in the bin with Kanye's anal bleach. Should we be concerned that lesser established rappers like Stormzy, for example, have more fire emoji moments in four minutes than Drake does in over 80?
I guess the answer depends on what you come to Drake for in the first place. Over the last seven years, he has presented himself as a sultan of sentiment, the king of comebacks, a human meme, and both cornered the market and set the benchmark on all of those achievements. Nowadays it’s easy to think of Drake as the sum of easily digestible parts: minimal earworm loops, one-liner catchphrases, and the defining melodic half-shout that sounds like he’s trying to woo somebody on the other side of the street. This is the stuff that lends itself to collective memory, because the payoff is so immediate, but it’s also fairly recent and forgetful of the fact that every single one of Drake’s albums has required, at the very least, a lot of patience.
An underwhelming combination of lyrical dross and orchestral pomp though it may be, “Keep the Family Close” is entirely in keeping with how Drake has historically introduced his albums: From to “Fireworks” to “Over My Dead Body” to “Tuscan Leather,” he’s never been one to come out swinging. The only difference now is that he’s spent the last twelve months positing himself as the world’s largest source of sharable content, and Views has very little to offer by way of instant gratification. For anyone whose lasting impression of Drake is the shot-firing aggressor of If You’re Reading This—the one who gunned for his enemies and bodied Meek Mill all the way to the Grammys—VIEWS will be sorely disappointing. Drake is guilty of setting his own astronomical expectations, and it's not as though he's not delivering quality. It does feel as though he has been building himself up to one conclusion and arrived at another.
Focus on what we've been given, though, and VIEWS brings a lot to the table. It treads meditatively—focused but not unhinged, diverse but not incoherent—all slow tempos, soft organs, and lustrous vocals draped over rich soundscapes. Flirting with drill, dancehall, afrobeats, grime, and UK funky, what VIEWS lacks in lyrical sentiment, it makes up for in musical experimentation and production. It's like the minimal nuance of If You’re Reading This has bloomed into the more fleshed-out format of Take Care. Yes, the arc is a hot mess, and the tracklist feels like it was thrown together at five to midnight on Thursday, with “Hotline Bling” tagged onto the end as a safety net. And when it comes to collaborations—those that made it (Wizkid, Kyla, Future) and those that didn’t (Kanye West, Jay Z, Popcaan)—there are many questions that have been raised and avoided. But overall Views feels like the work of an artist who has successfully reclaimed a public perception of himself that was beginning to spiral out of his control.
From his reputation as the rapper most likely to cry after climaxing to the lint roller incident, Drake the human has been as much a source of entertainment as Drake the artist, if not more. “Hotline Bling” tipped the scales to a point where even Donald Trump was in on the joke. The VIEWS artwork was barely out for two minutes before people started photoshopping a lonely Drake on top of burgers and Nicki Minaj’s cleavage, but he reclaimed that pretty rapidly too, inserting himself into photos of all the album’s featured artists and sharing them on Instagram. What VIEWS does, perhaps crucially, is pull Drake back from a precipice where he was in danger of becoming too predictable, too ridiculous, too self-aware without enough substance.
Drake is still sad, Drake is still the lone wolf struck dumb by the lack of loyalty from women he has rejected, and Drake will talk about redemption a lot because it makes him sound good. As far as his evolution is concerned, VIEWS doesn't deviate far from blueprint other than the fact that it skews more in favour of singing. He's described it himself as his best vocal performance to date, which, if he's beginning to make that shift, might explain the half-arsed bars. Sonically, VIEWS aims high and often falls flat, as 20-track albums will do, but at least Drake remains the virtually unclassifiable artist he always has been. It may not be the album we were hoping for, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Emma Garland is an assistant editor for Noisey UK. Follow her on Twitter.