On his new album, Drake returns to what he knows best
Released April 29th 2016 via Young Money
Drake: The man, the myth, the meme. After months of cryptic Instagram captions, ambiguous billboards and ‘#VIEWS’ pop up shops surfacing in cities across North America, the 6 God’s album is finally here.
‘VIEWS’ sounds like the end result to an eventful year which shook, but ultimately cemented the Canadian’s position as the most relevant artist in Hip-Hop. Let’s quickly re-cap the year which confirmed Drake’s transformation from a rising, cross-over star to a full-blown music magnate whose sales now compete with the likes of Adele and Taylor Swift:
First came the surprise mixtape—If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late—and its commercial success; at one point, all 17 tracks held a place on the Billboard top 50. As summer arrived, he overcame potentially fatal allegations of ghost-writing from Philly rapper Meek Mill through a well-orchestrated and well-executed smear campaign which broke the internet. Two diss tracks (one of which was nominated for a Grammy), thousands of memes and an OVO fest later, Drake emerged unscathed and stronger than ever. The Meek Mill feud was important ultimately because it elevated him to the holy position he’s at today; and from this sanctuary he released a string of hits which would become the soundtrack to our seasons. ‘Hotline Bling’, despite having been effortlessly recorded in a hotel room in London, earned him the best solo sales of his career, ‘Work’ with Rihanna has become the biggest single of 2016, and the lead single from VIEWS, ‘One Dance’, is looking to become his first solo number one single.
So, in the aftermath of last year’s hits being played to death in clubs and on the radio, VIEWS sonically feels like what it ultimately is for Drake, a return from Calabasas to Toronto, from summer to winter, hot to cold. Last year’s string of successful singles were produced by the likes of Boi-1da and Metro Boomin, but with VIEWS, we return, with a few exceptions, to the cohesive sound we expect from a Drake album; dark synths, bitter lyrics and cold drums executively produced by long-time consigliere 40.
In the exclusive interview Drake gave to Zane Lowe hours before VIEWS was released, he commented that the sonic arc the album takes is intended to represent the change of seasons in Toronto. The first few tracks are wintry, crisp and bitter, the middle is much more colourful and playful, whilst the end of the album returns to the frosty feels Drake & 40 have mastered over the years in ‘Fire & Desire’ and ‘Views’.
The Bond-esque ‘Keep the Family Close’ is an interesting introduction, foreshadowing unprecedented styles of production which pop up throughout the album. It serves as a reminder that, after a year of braggadocios hits, Drake is still at his most authentic when singing a bitter ballad about lost love(s). If the introduction felt unfamiliar, then the next two tracks make up for it. On ‘9’, we get Drake at his self-pitying, paranoid best, with lines like “I can’t sleep these days unless I take one / If they don’t have a story these days they’ll make one”. This effortlessly transitions to ‘U With me?’, a classic Drake letter-to-his-ex with a classy nod to DMX.
Then, we feel the first hints of spring with ‘Feel No Ways’. Other critics have heralded this track to be a follow-up to 2013’s ‘Hold on We’re Going Home’, but I think that’s missing the mark; it’s too unique a song to be a part-two of anything Drake has done before. Although co-produced by Majid Jordan’s Jordan Ullman, the production on ‘Feel No Ways’ is much more left-field and disjointed (could a snare drum get more 80s?), yet still manages to blend Drake’s woozy vocals in with ease, making it one of the stand-out tracks on the album.
Tracks like ‘Hype’, ‘Still Here’ and ‘Grammys’ aren’t quite consistent with the somber tones of the rest of the album, yet it’s easy to see why they’re on there. These tracks wouldn’t have gone a miss on either What a Time To Be Alive or If You’re Reading This Its Too Late, but their careful placing on the record serves the purpose of reminding us that the aggressive Drake from last year is hear to stay. He’s solidifying his status as the go-to-guy for the turn-up, ‘12am-in-the-club’ moments just as much as he is for the more brooding, ‘4am-in-an-Uber’ moments.
On ‘Hype’, he tellingly raps “Views already a classic”. One gets the impression that Drake is now at a point where he can drop a project and its inevitable success is already predetermined. He knows that he can play Toronto’s multiculturalism to his advantage. On VIEWS, he takes alien genres like Afro-pop, Jamaican Dancehall or UK funky (the sound which carries the middle section of VIEWS), and injects them into the American mainstream with ease. This, combined with a growing confidence in his Patois and Creole, are signs of a nostalgia for the Toronto Drake grew up in, the Toronto of the early noughties which saw Jamaican-Canadian artists like Kardinal Offishall top the charts.
Whilst he is looking to his home city for new sounds, he is also looking to use them for chart success elsewhere. Previous albums see him using beats and flows that cater to American, English-speaking consumers—the only market Hip-Hop has ever seen success in—but tracks like ‘One Dance’, ‘With you’, ‘Controlla’ and ‘Too Good’ show Drake to be looking beyond the Trap market in North America to more dance-centric music markets across the globe, from Europe to the Caribbean. These songs represent the summery section on the album, and serve as the best microcosm of how, on VIEWS, Drake has completed his transition from cautious trend-follower to ambitious trend-setter.
If anything, VIEWS does seem to lack the meme-rable Drake moments we got with ‘Started from the Bottom’ and ‘Know Yourself’. None of the new tracks on the album are cultural anthems. But that’s fine. VIEWS is more personal. It’s a better portrait of the Toronto Drake grew up in than of the Toronto he’s helped to create. It feels more like a set of diary entries than a fresh batch of anthems for the city. VIEWS shows less of Drake enjoying success and more of him enduring it. It’s lonely at the top, as the album cover suggests.