I used to think Drake was whack. I never watched Degrassi; during his come-up, I looked the other way. I couldn’t empathize with the rambling, narcissistic babbling of such a moody, deeply corny individual. Couldn’t grasp the hype. But over the last year–culminating with the release of his exceptionally good double LP, Views–my perspective has shifted radically, so much so that I’m still bugging out about it.
Last year’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was an exciting and industrious album because it was heavier, harder and darker than anything he’d ever released. But where that record felt like an aggravated moment fleshed-out and built up over 68 minutes, Views sounds meditative and whole, like a lifetime in review. Pre-Too Late Drake was a utilitarian pop star that appeared to engage with hip-hop simply because it was the clearest route to success. He was too eager to satisfy a sound that would sell, too willing to disregard his own creative impulses. Or maybe he just wasn’t as good at making music as he is now. The fact remains, Drake has changed. He’s just had the most successful year of his life, and he’s still churning out bangers–like “4pm In Calabasas” from earlier this month.
Drake has enough charisma and conviction to fill the shoes of any given hip-hop superstar. But that’s not necessarily what he’s best at. On Views opener “Keep The Family Close,” Toronto’s breakout producer Maneesh cultivates cold winds and old school orchestral strings to accompany Drake’s vocals, as soft and inviting as the massive fur coats he dons. His lines are candid and conversational but they’re delivered like a one-on-one confessional. He’s spilling his heart while preserving his swag, and that’s a damn hard thing to do.
Producers like Maneesh (who also tackled “Views” and the sizzling, Majid Al Maskati-featuring, soul interlude “Summers Over”), nineteen85 and Jordan Ullman supplied Drake with a diverse range of fresh, exciting, sometimes anachronistic sounds that makes Views such a phenomenal record from start to finish. He was smart to tack “Hotline Bling” on to the tail-end of Views. Smarter still to include most of his more pop-sensible radio hits on the album’s B-side. Lyrically and musically, Views is about duality, opposition, the two extremes that make up Drake’s pop star persona. The record plays out like a film, as his anxieties over mortality, family and physical momentum are resolved in conjunction with a string of dancehall-inspired summer jams.
Drake has been pushing the Marvin Gaye comparison since 2011, and it never jelled with me. It’s one of the reasons I substantiated hating him. But after my first listen of Views, something clicked. It made me think of Marvin Gaye’s 1981 album, In Our Lifetime–a superbly funky feat of R&B split into two distinct parts. The A-side was pointedly gospel, marked by spiritual devotionals like “Praise” and “Life Is For Learning,” while the B-side was overtly sexual, less about faith and more about dancing and drug-induced fits of paranoia (i.e. “Ego Tripping Out”). The album art featured two Marvin Gayes–one depicted as a devil, another as an angel, feeding tensions with their mournful stares–floating above an exploding cityscape.
Drake turns 30 this October. You can hear the years catching up to him on tracks like “Hype,” “Still Here,” and the Mary J.-sampling “Weston Road Flows.” He’s matured. His derpy, inherently cheesy personality is now strictly confined to neon-lit music videos and late-night television appearances (which are quickly becoming less cringeworthy and more hilarious). On Views, his humor is sharp (“Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake/ You know I love to go there”) and self-effacing (“On some DMX shit/ I group DM my exes”), but he’s also grown more solemn (“I made a decision last night I would die for it/ Just to show the city what it takes to be alive for it”) and plagued by “thoughts too deep to go work them out with a therapist.” Neither side of Drake feels fictive or constructed, a facet of popular music that’s become all too commonplace (*cough* Lemonade *cough*).
I return most frequently to tracks like “Feel No Ways” and “Too Good,” Drake’s fourth collaboration with Rihanna. These are R&B dance tracks with a slower, more sober integrity, marked by their provoking emotional themes and a powerful sense of restraint. Songs I keep in silent rotation and sing to myself whenever I need to feel happy or sad or simply moved. I can appreciate the more vulnerable Views cuts like “Redemption,” but those sentiments sometimes feel a little too real, too close to the universal experience of loving someone who doesn’t love you back. That’s what this record is really about–heartbreak and the eventual growth that follows.
Drake’s 20-track, 81-minute long magnum opus, Views, has been chilling at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 Chart for six weeks (the most recent five were consecutive), and the record’s single “One Dance” has stayed No. 1 on Hot 100 for just as long. Sure, this is an independent music blog. Fuck the charts, right? Yeah. Totally. But when a incredibly dope piece of music is accepted by the world with such unanimous enthusiasm, it means something truly good is happening.
Stream Views via Spotify below.