Views (released April 29, 2016)
From the looks of things, the scenery has changed for Drake.
Aubrey Graham has spent the better part of a half decade as heir apparent to rap’s throne, effortlessly cranking out radio hits by the boatload. He was energetic and brash, laughing off every shot at his sugar-coated “softness” while his name was plastered all over a half-dozen Billboard charts. He could not lose.
Lately, though, heavy is the head that covets the crown.
These days Drizzy’s in a weird spot, shaking off frienemies who nip at his heels while straining to reach skyward — he’s so close to the summit of rap he can taste it.
But it’s juuuuuuust out of reach. And that’s got Drake all up in his feelings.
Gone are the sappy days of “Marvin’s Room,” where Drake blatantly pandered to women to gain their trust. Now he’s yelling at them for running around naked in his kitchen on “U With Me” or snapping on them for driving his Bugatti to buy tampons on “Child’s Play.”
The Views have changed. Drake’s fourth LP is like a paradox, the story of a man annoyed with the trappings of fame but who still desperately craves praise.
Honestly, it’s not a bad concept for an album. Too bad he spits his verses with the enthusiasm of a 95-year-old lady reading church announcements.
But we’ll get back to that. Let’s talk about what does work.
At times, Views harkens back to the old Kanye/chop up the soul Kanye, splicing classic R&B tracks to provide new soundscapes. “Mary’s Joint” is repurposed for “Weston Road Flows,” where Drake waxes nostalgic about childhood before throwing shots at his detractors:
I got a price on my head but there’s a risk to collect it
I might be here as a vessel to teach people the lesson
Feel like they wanted me dead but couldn’t pull it together
Yeah, but here we are and it’s a new semester
And the title track, easily the best song here, samples the Winans’ “The Question Is” where his defiance is on full display: “Need y’all to know that I never needed none of y’all n****s/F*** being all buddy buddy with the opposition.” It’s a long way from Thank Me Later era, where he first noticed his idols becoming rivals.
But the album isn’t all piss n’ vinegar. Drake really finds his groove in the dancehall, recapturing his chemistry with Rihanna on “Too Good” and gliding on the infectious energy of “Controlla.” They’re among the few times Views is legitimately fun.
The rest of the album is a murky, lethargic mess, with Drake trying to justify his thug over moody production. On “Hype” he claims that “Views is already a classic” with so little enthusiasm that HE doesn’t even seem convinced (Hint: It ain’t). “With You,” a pseudo-duet with PARTYNEXTDOOR has absolutely no energy. None. Zero. “Still Here” also slinks around with nowhere to go. For whatever reason, Drizzy snatched Jay Z and Kanye from the album version of “Pop Style” and that really cripples the song. Even the album opener, “Keep the Family Close” just sounds like Drake is half-heartedly singing journal entries about his sucky family instead of channeling that frustration into a fully-formed song.
And that’s the biggest issue with Views. It’s not the message — Drake’s struggles with family, fame and relationships can be made relatable for anyone wrestling with love and life. You don’t have to be a million-dollar rapper to identify with those hurdles. The failure is in the delivery — Drake sounds like he’s literally sleepwalking through his lyrics on some tracks, and the plodding production does him no favors.
The most frustrating issue with Views is that there are several good songs here, but the listener has to wade through 20 tracks and nearly EIGHTY minutes to uncover them all. It’s like Drake was trying to make listeners feel as overwhelmed as he has felt lately.
I’ve already seen Twitter philosophers comparing Views to Beyonce’s new album for Lord knows what reason. Allow your boy to shut that down here and now: Beyonce’s album is a fully-formed story of betrayal and redemption; Drake’s story is simply frustration. Bey made lemonade from her lemons; Drake is just chewing on raw lemons, becoming more bitter with each bite.
And that’s a fine story to tell, if done well. Views lacks the focus to see it through.
Best tracks: “Views,” “Weston Road Flows,” “Controlla”
3 stars out of 5