Views is step backwards in quality, certainly, but it’s a step sideways in some ways.
At times, Drake can be an impressive rapper (class, please turn to the final verse of “Worst Behavior", where he leaps off Ma$e’s opening lines from “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” and knocks the verse out the goddamn park). At times, Drake can be a tuneful singer, and his way of inserting melodies into his raps -- not even considering his choruses -- can lead to pretty moments and/or memorable hooks. At times, Drake’s access to top-tier producers, including but not limited to his long-standing relationship with 40, Kanye West, the seemingly infallible DJ Dahi, Boi-1da, Nineteen85, can create music that’s by turns, banging, atmospheric; maybe both simultaneously.
Of course, at times, Drake’s music can be corny, most obviously on “Started From the Bottom” and “Hotline Bling", the latter tacked on to Views as a bonus track. When he raps/sings about women, it rarely seems to come from someplace genuine. The women are all unnamed; they have no qualities; we know nothing about her except that Drake wants (to fuck) her and is sad that he isn’t at the time of rapping/singing. When he raps/sings about himself, it can come off as really ham-fisted. A good example of this from earlier in his career is the empty “catch a body” threats throughout “Headlines". He corns up the otherwise indelible “Weston Road Flow” with a line about how he “Gets green like Earth day” – why? Because people actually describe jealousy like that? Or because it was an easy rhyme?
And because that’s usually the case in Drake’s biggest singles, this has led to a lot of remarks by people who couldn’t be bothered to hear Take Care or Nothing Was the Same all the way through. “Drake sucks” is the statement. He sucks because, to a lot of hip-hop folk, he’s a “singing nigga” (to quote himself). He sucks because he grew up in Thornhill. He sucks because he’s inauthentic (which has always struck me as a weird argument, given the number of canonized artists who are all inauthentic). He sucks because he namedrops Wu-Tang Clan on a song that a lot of criticisms seemed to have missed the point of. Etc.
But I think, push-to-shove, these people would eventually admit that Drake has managed to impressively find himself on the forefront of alternative R&B by absorbing Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak’s Auto-croon and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s heady melodrama and ambition into something more approachable. To wit, he’s associated with tons of alternative R&B sorts, including but not limited to Frank Ocean (who had to cancel his spot in Drake’s OVO Fest), James Blake (who didn’t cancel his spot on Drake’s OVO Fest), Tinashe, iLoveMakonnen, the Weeknd, Sampha, Jhene Aiko, Majid Jordan (whose Majid Al Maskati takes lead here on a useless if gorgeous interlude), etc. And that’s to say nothing of his relationships with mainstream R&B artists like Rihanna and Beyonce. It’s an impressive resume, whether you want to admit it or not.
And the man’s smart. Drake finds himself as this weird version of Midas, where everything he turns touches into a meme. Want evidence? You’re probably already privy to Drake’s all-white outfit, dancing alongside his white car in the white snow from the “Started From the Bottom” music video. You might have witnessed everyone wearing a “Hotline Bling”-inspired costume last Hallowe’en. You might know the “Hotline Bling” dance, maybe mocked it yourself. You might know that Drake and Madonna smooched some. You might know that Drake renamed his album at the 11th hour from Views From the 6 to just Views; something I know because it was a headline on the subway station television. Speaking of, I’ve been asked too many times why Toronto is called the 6, and whether or not Toronto is called the 6, and the like. Take it from a born-and-raised-and-lived-here-all-my-life, no one calls it the 6.
That finally brings us to his latest, and in three words, it’s a snoozefest. It’s especially disappointing because Drake’s been on the rise, artistically, since his modest debut album; Take Care saw better tunes and better beats, and then Nothing Was the Same slashed the previous album’s filler for his most rewarding and conceptually complete album yet. To say Views is a victory lap after the successes of his two mixtapes from 2015 is a lie: no victory lap in hip-hop sounds so supine and inert. The thing is 82 minutes at 19 tracks long, which will make you yearn for Nothing Was the Same under-60 minute brevity while Drake damn near yawns his way over undercooked beats. Remember: the less is more equation implies the opposite is true – that more is less.
Of course, there are standouts. How couldn’t there be, with a production roster like this? “Keep the Family Close” opens with a burst of energy from the orchestrated bombast, but even better than the easy hook at the 2:03 mark is what follows immediately – a sinister organ, a blat of horns, a bubbling bass and rising synth. A lot of songs get by through good drum programming, like “Feel No Ways” and “Too Good". The aforementioned “Weston Road Flows” sees Drake abandoning singing to just lay down some bars over the album’s most gorgeous production (reminiscent of the luscious soul and spacing that made the bulk of Nothing Was the Same), and when Drake ends the song to sing “But I’m happiest when I can buy what I want / Get high when I want” as the song dies down, it’s an incredibly touching moment from an artist who is rarely touching because it sounds like a conscious lie. Drake spent a lot of time on last year’s What a Time to Be Alive and his feature on DS2 trying to sound like Future. Here, in a single line, he captures Future’s misery perfectly.
Speaking of absorbing other influences and making them his own, a lot of these songs are influenced by Caribbean rhythms, a distinguishing factor that’s a good counter for people claiming this is merely Take Care’s sequel; it’s a step backwards in quality, certainly, but it’s a step sideways in some ways. And these rhythms help make a lot of these songs highlights by mining the same feel-good sound that made “Hotline Bling” so successful. These include “With You", “One Dance” and the second Drake-Rihanna collaboration of the year, “Too Good". (Of course, perhaps over 80 minutes of listening to Drake whine about women makes the very act of hearing women on the latter two songs automatically highlights.)
Other highlights include the disorienting bass throughout “Still Here” (another thing he’s learned from Future, though the Yeezus-inspired outro feels random to say the least); the gospel-inspired second half of “Faithful” (led by dvsn) and the fantastic sample that Maneesh, 40 and Boi-1da found for the title track. But it’s not enough, especially when we have to deal with some of Drake’s [i]laziest[/i] songs to date: nothing here other than “U With Me?” – which I’ll get to momentarily – even bothers with the multipartitism of “Marvin’s Room / Buried Alive” or “Tuscan Leather” or “Furthest Thing” or “Pound Cake”. There’s “Grammys"” which feels like a leftover from a mixtape that itself felt like a collection of leftovers. There’s “Pop Style,” previously released with Kanye West and a little bit of Jay-Z, which has this exceptional Toronto-winter feel, before you realize it goes absolutely nowhere. There’s “Child’s Play”, whose first verse has this story not worth telling about this one time Drake hid his keys from his girlfriend but she finds them; awkward silence (thank God for the propulsive beat). There’s “U With Me?” which somehow manages to be one of the most bathetic things ever despite the production roster. Sure, there’s the atmosphere, which is probably 40’s doing, and the beat-switch for the last verse has Kanye West’s fingerprints all over it. But everything feels mechanical, which begs the question of just what the other five producers on the track are supposed to be doing.
Of course, “Hotline Bling” remains a delight, and I’m sure you’ve heard it enough and have heard about it enough. Me, I’ll just write right here that the melody’s ace, the breezy beat invokes something terpsichorean deep down inside of me that I never knew existed and the awkward shift to the bridge manages to shed that awkwardness and becomes something endearing instead.
Is Views a failure? It can’t be -- the numbers say otherwise. But it’s a disappointment for an artist who’s managed to get better and better with every subsequent release up until this point.