Drake – Views
For Fans of: The Weeknd, Future, Nicki Minaj
Reviewer: Ryan Panny
Last year saw Aubrey Drake Graham cement his place in the popular music lexicon in staggering fashion. The details needn’t be rehashed, but the Toronto native’s monumental 2015 culminated in him boldly comparing himself to Jay-Z on his “Summer Sixteen” single, claiming, “I used to wanna be on Roc-A-Fella then I turned into Jay.” While that comparison may not be entirely appropriate, Drake does have something in common with Jay-Z circa 2003: he’s a Hip-Hop artist fully aware that he is quite possibly the biggest and most successful on the planet. The key difference, however, is that Jay-Z retired after The Black Album (albeit briefly). Drake, meanwhile, still has impossibly high expectations to contend with. His fourth studio album Views follows the critical and commercial powerhouse that was 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, a surprise retail mixtape. Originally titled Views From the 6, it has been incoming for nearly two years, and arrives at a critical juncture in the 29-year-old’s career. Despite all of his accomplishments, his place at the center of the Pop zeitgeist still somehow feels unstable, and Views has the potential to tip the scales in either direction.
The first six cuts on Views show enormous promise. “U With Me?,” which borrows its hook from early DMX anthem “How It Goin’ Down,” calls Take Care to mind as the instrumental hops off a time machine from 2011 to back Drizzy’s smooth singing/rapping transitions. For “Hype,” Drake resurrects the ice-cold delivery of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. The cinematic opener “Keep the Family Close” is a shining moment as well, with Drake’s reverb-soaked singing and some chipmunk vocals lounging in the background.
The intimate “Weston Road Flows” showcases the same conversational, syncopated flow that helped make Drake a sensation on So Far Gone. “Feel No Ways,” while it might not quite reach the lofty heights of “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” is lush R & B that wouldn’t feel too foreign with a late-80s Janet Jackson behind the mic. Not to be forgotten is “9,” which features some of the LP’s most awe-inspiring production – a swelling bottom end and 808 hi-hats round out bright, buzzing synths that wash gently over the listener like nighttime ocean waves.
But despite its muscular front end, Views quickly loses momentum and never recovers. The nosedive into monotony begins with “Redemption,” an aural Lunesta that drags unbearably. Soon after, the pace becomes lethargic. Tracks like “With You” and “Faithful,” the latter featuring a pointless posthumous verse from the late Pimp C, waltz right by without a trace of memorability. The Future-assisted “Grammys,” while likely to be a fan favorite, is conspicuously out of place. Thrust into the center of what is supposedly a cohesive and personal project, it sounds like nothing more than a B-side from Drake and Future’s collaborative What a Time to Be Alive mixtape.
Especially when it comes to his full-length studio releases, Drizzy has often felt like Hip-Hop’s Taylor Swift. A new batch of songs means more tales of indiscretions involving, in his case, the fairer sex. And part of Drake’s appeal lies in his unrelenting honesty when it comes to his relationships. But on Views, what was once refreshing, unprecedented vulnerability has become an exhausted rehashing of all-too-familiar themes. “Why do I want an independent woman to feel like she needs me?” he asks in “Redemption.” This would’ve been compelling five years ago. Elsewhere, the appropriately titled “Child’s Play” finds our protagonist hiding the keys to his Bugatti from his lover, warning her, “Don’t make me give you back to the hood,” smothering an otherwise beautifully-constructed instrumental.
Perhaps the most egregious flaw on Views is Drake’s dramatic regression as a lyricist. While ghostwriting allegations may have cast a cloud over If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, the one-time Lil’ Wayne protege has made a name for himself in part by being a skilled MC. His past projects are littered with deft wordplay, even though lyricism was never his primary focus. But from a rapping standpoint, Views features some truly cringe-inducing bars. On “Pop Style,” Drizzy refers to himself as “Chaining Tatum,” and returns to 2009 for hashtag rap, “Girl let me rock your body / Justin Timberlake.” On “Faithful” he promises a woman that he will have her “coming all summer like a season pass.” Even the title track, which begins in sharp autobiographical fashion, trails off into punchlines like, “It’s like the front of the plane / It’s all business.” Perhaps Drake has simply lost interest in trying to out-rap his peers. But a lack of passable rhymes hurts him on Views.
Amidst the murky waters of Views’ second half, however, are flashes of brilliance. “Too Good,” a duet with Rihanna, is a surefire smash. The two superstars have incredible chemistry, flawlessly matching each other’s energy and charisma. “One Dance” also features one of the album’s catchiest hooks, begging to light up dance floors around the globe. Much like 2013’s Nothing Was the Same, Views is driven by several strong singles.
Whether Drake’s artistic peak is in the rearview mirror remains to be seen, but many of the triumphs on Views are derivative of past formulas. Conversely, the LP’s dullest moments are plagued by a weary familiarity. But fresh or well-trodden terrain aside, Views is a handful of bullseyes drowned out by mediocrity. Still, Drake continues to be a compelling figure in the entertainment world. And despite the glaring shortcomings of Views, his next maneuver will surely be awaited with frenzied anticipation.