Reviewer: Henry Boon
Released: 29th April 2016
Label: OVO Sound
Such is the culture around Drake these days that as quickly as he can become a web omnipresence, he can be turned upon. A glance at a longer than average track-list, a half-listen to a few opening tracks, or one too many self-indulgent lines, is enough to break Drake, just as one hook can shoot him skywards. To expect the same audience who had turned the ‘Views’ artwork into a meme within minutes to sit down and listen to 20 tracks of Drake’s inner workings is a big ask, but this is the critical mind-set Drake has curated around himself. It’s now both his greatest ally and worst enemy.
It’s been a while since Drake has been able to exist successfully in the context of a whole album, rather than in dissected snippets and pull quotes. So massive are his singles - and so cleverly constructed are his albums and mixtapes for a generation with a famously short attention span - that the times when he operates on a wider scale and creates for himself, rather than for the internet and the charts, take some getting used to. Drawling, half-sung half-spoken tracks - with the monotonous filtered drum beats producer Noah “40” Shebib has made his name on - suddenly pander in the wake of the big hooks and choruses the likes of ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘One Dance’ bring to the table. But there’s still merit to the more introverted moments.
Drake, like the Alfred Hitchcock of rap, is a master of suspense. Forget for a second the tired Drake stereotypes; the wonderfully terrible puns (“and my wifey a spice like David Beckham”), the moping self-pity juxtaposed with the over-glamorous bragging and of course, the inevitable “internet reactions”. None of these things are accidental, and the way Drake uses his own mockery to his advantage is nothing short of genius.
All that aside, the thing Drake does best lies not in lyrics or in self-promotion, but in delivery. Nobody toys with a beat quite like Drake; he drops in and out of time effortlessly, rapping and singing slightly behind the tempo before charging forward in the blink of an eye, switching between almost unintelligible speed and steady droning with ease. Take ‘Still Here’ - a ‘Views’ highlight. Stretching words to fit his purpose, Drake can cram in lines that are way too long, or elongate those that are too short, to fit into places they have no earthly business being. The result turns a relatively simple track into something so much more interesting. This is what Drake does best. It works on a wider scale in the context of the album too. He toys with delivering what the people want, and when he finally does, it’s so well built up that it’s all the more rewarding.
Exactly what this reward might be varies from person to person. Whether it’s the venomous raps that sometimes make up whole tracks like title track ‘Views’ and ‘Pop Style’ without pause, the dancefloor filling ‘With You’ and ‘One Dance’, the emotional almost-ballads like ‘U With Me,’ or even just the guest spots (“don’t you see RiRi right next to me?”), it doesn’t really matter. Everyone has something they like about Drake, and ‘Views’ delivers on all promises, packaged up in a sprawling showcase of everything Drake is capable of.
‘Views’ is far from perfect. Yes, at times it does drag a little and - though clever and often charming - the content isn’t particularly inspiring. But that’s not who Drake is and it never will be; he’s arrogant, self-obsessed and a little bit goofy. With ‘Views’, though, Drake’s experimenting with his limits and his audience. It’s not always perfect but it’s Drake laid bare. To draw a comparison, ‘Views’ feels more like ‘Take Care’ than it does anything since.
‘Take Care’ was some of Drake’s best work precisely because huge chunks of it had very little commercial appeal, ‘Views’ tramps over similar territory. For an album that’s already so iconic the title became an abbreviation in and of itself even before its release, Drake’s earned himself a little wiggle room to make the album he wants to make.
If it’s hits you’re after, you can probably cut ‘Views’ down to a handful of bangers, but as a showcase of Drake as so much more than just a dancefloor filling meme machine then it’s here, in an all-encompassing album format that he really shines. You just have to work for it.
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