For a successful multiplatinum artist, especially one for whom success arrives relatively early, their 3rd or 4th studio release often serves as a watershed. It’s at or near that juncture that fans can expect an album that either declares something artists just discovered intrinsically, or they’ll divulge deeply personal information they believe the public should know (and will reward them with gangbuster record sales). It becomes the sort of career-defining fodder that years later leads to conversations in which fans will remember it was the moment when ‘I just knew he/she was the real thing.’
If music lovers were expecting that from Views—Drake’s fourth album that features the Canadian export, confessional lyricist, and unlikely avatar of modern day hip hop—then it’s probably best to prepare yourself for disappointment.
To paraphrase Paula Deen. Drake is who he is, and he’s not changing.
In his latest effort, Drake revels in all his emo-glory, doing more than he’s ever done to solidify his image as a cross between the ebullient Miami-rapper Pitbull and a gender-reversed Mary J. Blige. Serious times may call for serious and socially conscious rap, but Champagne Papi will have none of that, thank you very much.
All of which is not to suggest that the rapper’s fun-loving self-obsession and trail of failed relationships doesn’t come with its own virtues. The world is certainly a heavy place nowadays, and music serves multiple purposes in grim times. It can function as both a mirror to reflect turbulent times, the soundtrack for good and bad memories, or a vehicle of escapism. In Views Drake appears to settle on the latter, creating a work that one reviewer at Pitchfork branded a “suffocating echo chamber of self,” comparing Drake to a rap version of Tony Soprano.
That said, there’s something refreshing in downloading an album, and knowing what to expect. In a world where pop stars are wont to dress themselves in faux-feminism and spilling their tea—er, I mean lemonade; or pepper their songs with a heavy-handed social justice agenda. In a way, that can be a breath of fresh air at a time when music has grown stale and pretentious. It’s also worth noting that Drake is one of the most productive artists in the music game. Not content to rest on his laurels, Views comes barely a year since his surprise release If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late and just months after What a Time to Be Alive with Future. At this rate he might rival the late Prince for his ability to churn out successive albums and hits.
Views hardly breaks new ground, but there’s just enough to keep you entertained and singing along for fun. Drakes alchemical ability to weave together solid beats and catchy lyrics is evident from the start.
“Keep the Family Close,” the album’s atmospheric first track, features the rapper doing what he does best: Wailing about people in his life who’ve let him down and portraying himself as overtaken by events in his own morality play.
Believe it or not, most of it actually works. Views is hardly perfect, but gems like “Hype” feature Drake doing what contemporary rappers do best, which is bragging about all the money they stack (“Look what I’ve done in my life; I had to count it and count it again to make sure the money was right”). Drake also indulges his fondness for 1990s golden era-hip hop in “U With Me?”—which cribs a line from DMX’s 1998 hit “Hows it Goin Down” but with a more romantic twist. “Redemption” is a sober break-up song that finds Drake at his most insufferably brooding, contemplating his navel as he waxes poetic about (yet another) failed relationship. At least in this one, he sounds modestly remorseful and is willing to shoulder some of the responsibility.
It’s hard to argue with the thesis that Drake is way too in his feelings and it may well be he’s coming dangerously close to running out of gas creatively. Still, that critique lacks the proper context. In a lot of ways, Drake mimics hip-hop’s golden era in style if not substance. Much of what came of the genre during those days was indeed freighted with messages of social issues, but it was also good clean (well, sometimes dirty) fun.
At least for the moment, Drake’s formula appears to be working: after just a few days, Views is outselling Beyonce’s Lemonade album, which has been out for nearly two weeks. The upshot is that the rapper appears comfortable enough with his style to not feel possessed to engage in wholesale reinvention. Don’t expect Drake to become the ersatz Black Panther issuing a homily about society’s ills. If you covet that sort of thing, there’s always Kendrick Lamar and J-Cole—both of whom do it quite well, it should be said.
No, Drake’s brand of rap represents the triumph of the Alpha nerd, geeky yet masculine, socially awkward but desirable enough to have left a lengthy trail of would-be relationships in his wake. Views is light on substance, but good enough to be satisfying.
Bearded scribe for CNBC by day, crime-fighting couch potato by night. Gym rat in between, and movie junkie on alternate weekends. Former Reuters and Dow Jones/WSJ reporter. Also a contributor at TheGrio.com