Drake Rapping About Drake Is Still Fascinating
All hail the best confessional rapper alive.
All photos courtesy of OVO Sound
The problem with Views—the recently abbreviated title of Drake's fourth official studio album—is that the buildup has been so monumental. In an era when monolithic pop albums seem to drop from the sky, Views has finally been released into the world, but only after a surprise mixtape, summer-defining singles like "Hotline Bling," the beef with Meek Mill that launched a thousand memes (and one Grammy-nominated song), and a joint mixtape with one of the most critically lauded rappers in recent memory that also doubled as his first major release under a massive contract with arguably the world's largest technology company. Ever since Drake's third album, Nothing Was the Same, was released in 2013, Drake has become an unavoidable and constant fixture of American music and culture.
As Views arrived late last week, it was accompanied by an interview with Drake on a special episode of OVO Sound Radio, conducted by Apple Radio's Kiwi-accented mouthpiece, Zane Lowe. The interview wasn't as much as a journalistic endeavor as it was an extended promotion of the Drake-controlled image and his ideas, a clearing of the air of anything associated with Drake that hasn't been Drake-approved. He mentioned several times that he doesn't want to "shamelessly plug," despite the obvious fact that everyone listening to the program was someone who was probably paying for Apple Music in order to access all of this Drake content. About the music, Drake only seemed to have one specific thought: "I hope it opens people's minds."
Even the publicity juggernaut that is the combined force of Drake's OVO operation and Apple Music can lose inertia in the face of unforeseen circumstances. Views was already due out in the early half of a year that has seen releases from three artists that can match/surpass him in profile: Rihanna, Kanye West, and the April 23 release of Beyoncé's Lemonade (more on this in a second). Compounding these events, the very recent and sudden death of Prince, a virtuosic artist always ahead of his time and much more willing to explore gender than nearly any other modern male music icon, casts Drake's fragile masculinity in an unflattering light. What's more, the eternally beloved Queen B had already produced an album more ambitious in execution, more political, and with more at stake emotionally than any Drake project likely would or could. To top it all off, Drake in all his masculine posturing is exactly the kind of man she's in contention with throughout Lemonade, the sort to use "love like a weapon."
This can all be true, but it doesn't mean that Views should be dismissed as shallow. Drake's main obsessions may seem surface-level, but it's worth noting the very personal way he relates to women, money, fame, vulnerability, and bravado that connects to something larger, and surprisingly resonant—a Drake concert is one of the most diverse events you may ever attend. At the recent "Drake Debate" at Greene Naftali Gallery in Manhattan, cultural critic Judnick Mayard said that "black women want to be Drake," an echo of writer Hannah Giorgis's BuzzFeed essay "Drake Belongs to Black Women." Poet Jenny Zhang described Drake's expression of feelings as "aspirational." Mayard, Giorgios, and Zhang were returning to one of the main tenets of his success: Drake as mirror.
Despite inspiring such strong reactions from critics and fans alike, Drake has never been an artist who creates for an immediate reaction. His music is often made to his own exacting preferences, as he notes near the end of a 2015 interview with the Fader, in a way that tends to grow on you and change with multiple listens. The release of Viewshas already produced reviews from several traditional outlets, gotten the roundtable treatment, and been impulsively reviewed, but I wouldn't put much stock in anything produced from one or two listens. It's easy to try and trim away the perceived fat of a long album, but Drake made the album he wanted to make, not necessarily the one that would be the most commercially viable.
Drake remarked in his Lowe interview that the album is divided by the seasons in Toronto—winter to summer and winter again. This demarcation is clear throughout this 19-track album (the 20th track is the summer banger "Hotline Bling"). The first ten are brooding and layered with dissonant strings, while tracks 11 through 16 tap into the musical style inspired by the Caribbean, North Africa, and their diasporas before returning to some harsher reflections in the last few tracks. Drake's usual suspects are still here, his OVO stable of artists like PartyNextDoor, Majiid Jordan, and newcomers DVSN along with Future, Rihanna, and Jeremih. That the album manages to hold through all this is a credit to the direction of Drake's longtime producer, Noah "40" Shebib. Views is easily Drake's most stylistically varied album, and 40 does the best he can trying to keep the thread. The album has a discordant edge to it, almost experimental seeming in its lack of ambition or bombast, and it's great to see how they both worked to improve upon the formerly leaked song "Views from the 6," which is now titled "You with Me."
The songs of Views are all, undeniably, Drake songs. This may seem like an obvious thing to say, but it's part of what makes Drake such a singular and popular artist. The constantly revisited themes of family, women, jealousy, and money are all filtered through Drake's all-consuming ego. Toronto, the fabled 6 that has so transfixed Drake over the last few years, is not a geographic location or a community made up of various groups and races. "The City" that populates his songs is the distilled experiences of life, the Toronto that only truly exists to him, filtered through his singular vision and broadcast out to the world along with incantations of every woman that didn't check back with him. Sonically and narratively, the album is relentlessly immersed in Drake (the man, the artist). The goofy charm and bristling sensitivity, bordering on unacceptable masculine behavior, are still at work on Views. It's been five years since the revelatory vulnerability of Take Care, and the tone has only changed in that it has settled in. As he says on the closing track of Views, "If I was you, I would hate me too."
At the end of their interview, Drake told Lowe that things are really going to start to change when he finishes the house he's building in Toronto. He called it "his life's work," which is tongue in cheek, to say the least. The house Drake has truly built, and continues to build, is his success at making the deeply personal nearly universal.
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