Drake — Views

From the 6, but Mostly About Drake

It’s funny that it took so long for Drake to dedicate an album to Toronto, because he’s been making music based on its calendar for his entire career. In a lengthy interview with Zane Lowe to commemorate the release of Views, Drake revealed that his latest album is based off Toronto’s seasons — how it flips from winter, to summer, back to winter. No in between. That climate pattern tells you all you need to know about the tone of Views: there’s summer fun, sure, but everything else is cold and withdrawn.

Drake has earned plenty of buzz for his fun, club-ready bangers, but his albums bury those tracks under ice. “Headlines” would have been a perfect album starter, but Drake instead opened Take Care with the smooth, enveloping waves of “Over My Dead Body.” Everybody remembers “Started From the Bottom” and “Worst Behavior” from Nothing Was the Same, but that album was packed with moody pieces like “Furthest Thing,” “From Time,” and “Connect.” Drake can own the dance floor with the best of them — and he proved it last year — but he’s always produced his finest, most engaging work when he retreats inward, dragging listeners into his psyche with him.

In looking at Drake’s career, it’s striking how perfectly suited he is for his time. His brand of longing, wounded rap just wasn’t possible 10 years ago. In 2008, Kanye West laid the groundwork for Drake’s entire career with 808s and Heartbreak, an album that approximates the sound of a heart slowly freezing and cracking into a thousand pieces. Revisiting the reviews now, it’s clear that people were unprepared for such honest emotional expression from a mainstream rap artist. They had no idea what was coming next: Kanye dragged the door open, and Drake stepped into stardom with Thank Me Later one year later.

Today, Drake is a megastar, and, more than any other rapper, the voice of a generation that everybody is racing to define. Aside from Kanye’s influence, he also rode a wave of disillusionment and listlessness that has swept through American culture. Barack Obama’s surge into the White House was a year-long party for young Americans, and the decade that followed was the hangover, a time of uncertainty that left a country’s worth of young people unsure whether their future would be prosperous. As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton prepare to square off for the White House, the anxiety is even more pronounced.

No artist of this generation has tapped into that anxiety more successfully then Drake, whose music is often so bleak and regretful that you could call it Hangover Rap. The pendulum swing on each of his albums — from winter to summer and back again, to borrow his words — stems from his fears of never having his emotional needs met. You could boil the narrative of Drake’s entire catalog down to one fearful question: what happens when having it all isn’t enough?

That type of anxiety manifests itself in Drake’s music through a number of contradictions. Drake is deeply loyal to his inner circle, but he responds to betrayal with merciless bite, rather than forgiveness. He loves fame and money, but he also wants girls who don’t talk to him like he’s famous. He draws endless attention from women, but the love he wants the most is on bridges he’s already burned. From how he tells it, the only thing more exhausting than being Drake is dating him. And he knows it.

On Views, Drake digs into those issues from the jump. Album opener “Keep the Family Close” starts with the rapper wailing “All of my ‘let’s just be friends’ are friends I don’t have anymore.” Two tracks later on “U With Me” he talks about DM-ing all his exes to tell them they still belong to him, a line that’s simultaneously sad, strange, and creepily possessive. Drake is back in a familiar gear from the drop; he’s jilted, angry, petty and unsettlingly obsessive. That type of attitude isn’t the stuff of platinum records, and the fact that Drake comes out ahead after 20 tracks of this type of expression is a testament to the quality of the music he uses to package his grating neediness.

Drake has established a sharp taste for beats and production, and like Kanye, the sound of his albums is, perhaps, more crucial than his flow. After a year of more hastily assembled productions — If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What a Time to Be Alive — Drake has dipped deep into his bag of beats and musical flourishes on Views. Rather than building on the broad and ambitious Nothing Was the Same, Drake has retreated to the sound he showed on Take Care: immersive, richly textured production that wraps itself around you. It’s music that’s less for at party and more for a night in — or immediately after a night out.

But don’t assume Drake has forgotten how to please a crowd. Whenever Views threatens to get dreary, Drake lightens things up mixing fun tracks. “Weston Road Flows,” is one of the album’s finest tracks. It’s a bouncing summer jam that features some of Drakes sharpest lines — expect “Been flowin’ stupid since Vince Carter was on some through the legs arm in the hoop shit” to become a memorable Drake-ism. “One Dance” and “Controlla” are basically the same song, but damn if they aren’t great despite that. And on final track “Views,” Drake drops a Kanye West style beat and spits fire over it for three minutes, closing out the album with a bang. So, it’s refreshing that as much as Drake returned to his comfort zone, he didn’t forget to push himself just enough to give Views some much needed pop.

As a rapper and vocalist, Drake has continued to grow — he’s come such a long way from his earliest releases that his nasal tone is the only through line. Views doesn’t have any “Tuscan Leather,” type tracks where he demolishes a beat and grabs your attention, but Drake has never been more in command of more styles of rap than he is now. More importantly, his singing has matured from a secret weapon to one of the best parts of his arsenal. The Weeknd is a far better singer, and Kendrick Lamar is a much better rapper, but nobody does both better than Drake right now, and on Views that versatility is on full display throughout.

At some point the full musical experience Drake offers lowers the absurdity of some of his lyrics. Views tests your patience on track two, when Drake reveals — sit down for this one — “I turned the 6 upside down, it’s a 9 now.” You laugh and shrug at the corniness, but you don’t turn the track off. Views isn’t Drake’s best album, but it’s still the sound of an artist operating at the peak of his powers. Drake has transcended genre; between his label, his tour, his persona, his commercials and his sports ties, he’s ubiquitous, and he somehow never feels uninvited.

So, it’s telling that Drake has chosen this moment to make his Toronto tribute album. Drake spent his early life shuffling between Memphis and Toronto and never totally fit in either place. He’s been desperately seeking belonging ever since, and that desire is consistent across his music, his friendships, his relationships and his home city. He waited to commemorate Toronto until he peaked as an artist because it gives him the power he craves in his relationship with the city. He celebrates Toronto as a conquering hero coming home — even the album’s artwork depicts Drake looking down on the city from the top of the CN Tower. There’s no real give and take to Drake’s relationship with Toronto. He talks about it in the same possessive, hero-complex way that he talks about his various paramours.

Rappers pay tribute to their home cities all the time, and given that we’re only four years removed from Kendrick Lamar’s astonishing Los Angeles based epic Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, Drake had a high bar to jump with Views. Kendrick characterized his relationship with Los Angeles with heartbreaking beauty. You leave that album understanding Kendrick’s deep love for a city that has been trying to destroy him since birth, and all the reasons he can’t leave it behind. Drake is operating with a far less iconic city — nobody ever called an album Straight Outta Toronto — and he’s nowhere close to the storyteller Kendrick is. So in concept, Views seemed sure to sit squarely in Kendrick’s shadow.

Drake could never pull off anything like GKMC and, to his credit, he doesn’t try. Views isn’t really even about Toronto — it’s a typical Drake album in content, but through the lens of his experience. He’s not making any kind of statement about the city in general, other than that he’s from there, he loves it, and he wants to put it on the map in the rap scene. It’s a noble idea, and it comes from a genuine place. But if he’s showing us scenes from Toronto, he needs to get his head out of the way so we can see the screen.

What to make of Views? It’s an outstanding album that definitively proves Drake has peaked as a musical stylist, if not as a storytelling rapper. He’ll never be Kendrick Lamar, an incendiary presence who seizes attention with every bar, but he seems content with not trying to be. He doesn’t define Toronto’s culture or social depth, but he captures the feel of a city that shifts from one extreme to another: winter to summer and back again. It’s 20 tracks long, but when you reach the end, you’ll want to listen again. Drake doesn’t have to be the best rapper ever. He’s achieved peak Drake-ness, and that’s probably all we could’ve hoped for anyway.

Essential Tracks: “Weston Road Flows,” “Feel No Ways,” “One Dance”


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