Drake's ‘Views’ fails to live up to expectations and hype

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 4:33pm

NOSELL

OVO Records

 

‘Views’ is a concept. It was incepted by a tweet in 2014, and subsequently swelled over two years into a commercial force spanning minimalist billboards and predictable Snapchat filters. Before the album was even released, fans called it a classic based on singles “Hotline Bling” and “One Dance,” in addition to a confident assertion by Drake himself.

That confidence was on full display just prior to the album’s release, as Drake gave a rare interview with the ever-enthusiastic Zane Lowe on Apple’s Beats 1 Radio. He seemed at ease with himself, sounding more secure than ever. To add visuals to his boasts, he posted a string of meticulously staged photos throughout the release of Views — a perfectly-poised husky, a well-puffed fur coat, a Mad Men-evoking combination of suits-and-whisky.

But, as is often the case when the line that separates commercial products and albums is blurred, Views shines more brightly as an idea than an actual body of work. This is not to say that this is necessarily a bad album. The run from opening track “Keep the Family Close” to “Hype” is Drake at his very best: the production is transcendent, the vocals are (as claimed during the Zane Lowe interview) at Drake’s highest level yet and his flow feels more under-control than ever. All the classic Drake-isms are covered in this streak — catchy hooks, a love for Toronto, nostalgic reminiscing and so on.

The Kanye-produced track, “U With Me,” is a particular standout. Drake weaves between what he knows well, talking of texting mind games — “3 dots, you thinking of a reaction still” — and shade — “fuck them stories, fuck the shade they throwing.” The beat churns and claps, well in-sync with the hook and the verses, and the third verse reaches a level that seems like it should have all along, as Drake’s voice soars with anger.

It’s unfortunate, because this trend begins to fall off after only a few tracks, giving way to frustrating inconsistency. “Faithful,” the center of the album, meanders with its redundancy, an adjective that describes the rest of the album all too well. During the Zane Lowe interview Drake explained that the album moves thematically from “winter, to summer and back to winter again” to reflect Toronto weather, but that theme doesn’t feel much apparent here, nor does it justify the lack of focus that plagues these later tracks. There are Caribbean dance-hall tracks that Drake has shown an increasing interest in, first with his feature on Rihanna’s “Work” and later with standout single “One Dance.” Some, like Rihanna collaboration sequel “Too Good,” succeed, while others, like “Controlla,” feel unnecessary and almost boring. On the other hand, there are beat-heavy bangers, ranging from weak ones, like the What a Time to Be Alive continuation “Grammys,” to better ones, like “Pop Style.” If you thought these would line up along that apparent winter-summer-winter theme, you would be wrong — they vary throughout, with little sense of cohesion.

Ironically, the rapper’s release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late from last year is a far more consistent and directional work, though Drake declared it a “commercial mixtape” and apparently never thought of it as a cohesive album. Still, that release towers over this one.

Perhaps this is on account of an increasingly obvious lyrical disconnect within Drake’s music. Tracks like Too Late finale “6PM In New York” and So Far Gone closer “Fear” succeeded because of the clear-headed assessment they gave after the mistakes Drake made, both in his life and on his tracks. That unabashed venting has given him breathing space, room to explain his ups and downs, his questionably condescending view of his love interests and his goals. But Views is so harshly regressive in its tone on women that it’s more difficult than ever to forgive the borderline misogyny. Sure, he briefly acknowledges his hypocrisy on “Redemption,” questioning “Why do I want an independent woman to feel like she needs me? / I lost my way,” but more often than not the arrogance is fully internalized.

Questionable language about women is no doubt common in rap. But Drake is a special case in that he actually believes he’s the good guy here, placing the women in his life as his enemies, rather than entities as many rappers do. It’s classic nice-guy syndrome. Nowhere is this clearer than “Child’s Play,” whose namesake is all too fitting. In the first verse he claims “Momma is a saint, yes she raised me real good,” twisting this into an explanation as to why he should be even more of an asshole: “All because of her I don't do you like I should.” The complete delusion he’s cultivated is unappealing at best, and outright offensive at worst. Rapper Killer Mike may offer us some choice words on the matter: “... she raised a bunch of fuck boys, next time do better.”

Regarding the rest of the album: it varies little in tone. Those final clarity-revealing assessments like “Fear,” once prominent and forgiving in Drake’s music, are gone here. Closer “Views,” which would have once fulfilled this role, gives the listener no such satisfaction — the boasts are less enjoyable, and the man is, frankly, far less easy to sympathize with.

Does any of this really matter? Probably not. Drake is king of “meme” rap, working in “What are those?!” references and subliminal Meek Mill disses to please the masses. It’ll surely make the internet crazy. Not even a day after Views’s release and comments on Rap Genius were already filled with excited gifs and rows of fire emojis. One commenter summed up the worship well: “10/10 Album, only Real Day 1 Fans will understand & vibe to this Amazing brand new album that Drake created for our ears. #Views.” There’s no room for discussion here — Drake could have released nearly anything, anything, and still have been praised.

You could argue he deserves it. He has marketed and branded himself so well over the last few years that it would have been a surprise for this not to have happened. Some were caught off guard by the ferocity of “Back to Back” or his collaboration with trap king Future, but these moves were calculated and planned far in advance. His videos, his music, even his Instagram seem meticulously constructed to elicit the most traction possible from rap fans who describe albums in terms of “Tweetability” and determine the quality of a work by the standard of fire. And for that, Drake sits king.