It’s been nearly two years since Drake first announced plans for his fourth LP. In that time, he’s released a slew of Soundcloud loosies, gone platinum off of a mixtape, won a rap beef with memes and recreationally become faux fluent in Jamaican patois. To say the stakes were high for the release of Views is something of an understatement. For an artist pathologically prone to calling himself the best rapper alive, a ghostwriting scandal and the glaring lack of certifiable classics to his name put a lot of pressure on Drake’s shoulders for this release. It doesn’t help that Beyoncé dropped the most ambitious and transcendent project of her career less than a week before Views, creating a difficult to avoid contrast between her newfound depth and his persistent shallowness.
Does The Boy deliver? It depends on what you want from a man who is undoubtedly one of the most important icons in the current pop landscape. If, like a slew of his most loyal stans, you’re content with another solid Drake album of noirish late night text fodder, you’re in luck. Views delivers the Drake Aesthetic in spades. But it’s a sprawling, overlong album only intermittently interested in aspiring to much more than the perfection of a style. Sonically, it’s innovative and infectious, but thematically, it leaves a great deal to be desired. If you expect anything more than the bare minimum of brand maintenance from your faves, prepare to be disappointed.
That’s not to say Views is a complete failure. With production kept almost entirely in house, the OVO Sound is stronger than it’s ever been, with each of Drake’s closest beat makers tweaking their individual approaches under the deliberate curation of Noah “40” Shebib. In Views, 40 presents his most refined soundscapes yet, scoring the movie of Drake’s life with appalling ease. Everyone from stalwart speaker knocker Boi-1da to newcomer Maneesh performs well in their role, fine tuning a style that’s been successful for six years now, without letting it became a parody of itself. It’s arguably the most cinematic a Drake album has ever sounded, but we’ve seen this film before and we already know how it ends.
Views opens with Drake opining on his dwindling social circle from inside a Douglas Sirk movie, with swirling, thunderous production backing up his existential melodrama on “Keep The Family Close.” The track seems to dramatize the emotional fallout from years of trading solely in transactional intimacy. Here, Drake, a man who literally lives in the California mansion equivalent of The Lost Boys’ Neverland clubhouse, feels truly isolated. It’s as if he’s finally boxed himself into a corner by exponentially narrowing the crack in the door he used to let people in through. With how hard he makes confiding in someone sound, it’s no wonder he’s turned his audience into his therapist.
On “9,” an ode to his hometown, he says of his fans “They give me loyalty and I don’t gotta pay for it.” He’s earned that devotion, arguably, through the same dedication to false transparency that’s formed the shaky foundation of his other relationships. Not since Childish Gambino’s homesick paeon to Atlanta STN MTN has a rapper so emphatically put on for his city, but Drake doesn’t sound any more comfortable there than he does in Los Angeles. He paints The 6 as some sort of post-apocalyptic version of The Warriors where rival gangs battle for supremacy and nothing is what it seems. Coming from a man who once referenced Game of Thrones on wax to explain the music industry to his mother, this flair for the hyperbolic should be no surprise. But for once his “me against the world” narrative doesn’t sound like a self-fulfilling humble brag.
He seems to be truly lost at times. A boy king regretting taking the throne so young, so easily. On closing track “Views” he claims that the paranoia begat his arrogance, but perhaps it’s the other way around. Drake, finally at the level he’s spent the last half decade climbing to, comes off like that guy who conned his way into a promotion and can’t stand the new responsibilities it comes with. Sure, the new parking spot is nice, but now he’s gotta worry about someone on the third floor keying his car.
Outside of these haunting moments of disquieting solitude, much of the album hews too closely to the expected Drake milieu. Every track rehashes the same tiresome subject matter cycle. Either he’s complaining about his women or his haters or his hating women or emasculating his haters until they’re as inconsequential to him as women. There’s constant references to taking “sides.” You’re either for him or against him. Little room is left to explore the copious reasons one might want to stand anywhere other than right next to Drake.
There’s a moment where Drake says he’s getting straight to the point but that line is on the album’s nineteenth track, which is the exact moment you begin to wonder if he’s too insulated to realize his own hubris. There aren’t any bad songs on Views, per se, but there’s an argument that even some of the more enjoyable tracks, like PARTYNEXTDOOR and Rihanna collabs “With You” and “Too Good,” would have been better suited for either of those featured artists instead of as B-sides here. Is he hoarding unexceptional tracks so he doesn’t have to share them with the fakes he spends the rest of the album running down?
The real issue is the man behind the curtain. After six years of only being able to tell stories where he’s the protagonist, how much more of Drake is there left to explore? He’s still got the charisma and wit that made us love him in the first place, but the formula here begins to wear thin. The punchlines are more groan worthy than they’ve been since Thank Me Later. His own authorial voice has to be bounced around regionally appropriated flows from more inventive lyricists. When the craft stagnates, it becomes all the more difficult to separate Drake the performer from Drake the author stand-in who manipulates women and becomes venomous when they stray from his influence.
On Lemonade, Beyoncé weaves a complex narrative, drawing from various sources in multiple mediums to tell an aspirational tale to uplift black women, but with Views, Drake continues to be largely concerned with the only subject matter he seems to understand, himself. Based on the memes, Lemonade might be reduced to an exercise in petty vengeance, but for Drake, being petty is all he has left. How many times can we reach Peak Drake before the plateau ceases to be enough? How many more toxic gaslight anthems must be spun? Why can’t Drake use his considerable talents and influence to create something good for more than trying to barter revenge sex for pantomimed affection?
It might be a few more releases before we see Drake tapping into the foreign idea of using his powers for good, but in the interim, it would be nice if he can at least be reintroduced to the concept of brevity.
Drake’s Views is available to purchase and stream right now on Apple Music and will be available on other platforms next week.