Near the end of last year’s surprise mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake talks to his mother about her ex-husband, his father, the Memphis musician who heats up Instagram with his moustachioed adventures.
“Show him some love,” the rapper tells his mother on ‘You & The 6’, accepting that his father made mistakes that can’t be easily repaired, but that it’s time to let go and move onward. They’re rich, successful and everyone knows time (and Canadian dollars) heals all wounds. “I’m content with this story,” he beatifically admits. At the song’s closing, an orchestra soars above Boi-1da’s warm instrumental and a sample of 2009’s ‘The Calm’, a track recorded back when the younger Drake got drunk off alcohol he couldn’t afford and was paralysed by the personal chaos his career could cause him. 2015’s strings surge and surge, leaving 2009’s drunken panic in the past. It’s the closing of a chapter in Drake’s career: the family’s struggle symbolically put to rest.
Each Drake album concerns itself with a narrative, usually around an uneasy relationship with fame, squandered relationships, and being the local boy done good. Yet on Views, having closed the book on his family issues, a clear narrative is missing, leaving him in a type of creative stasis. Views is intended as a snapshot of his Toronto hometown shifting through the seasons, affecting his moods – effective because Drake’s music is largely mood music, a high-definition mix of ‘90s R&B, international club sonics and post-Kanye rap confessionals culminating in a glimmering, sophisticated sparseness. Talking to Zane Lowe last week, he described the album as going from “winter to summer and back to winter again”, a process that “creates a different person”. Views aims to be some type of zen cycle, until you hit play and realise there are few maxims to be found.
Without the family issues to sort through, he’s coaxed himself into beavering away at Drakeisms concerning failed relationships.
Drake started as a weak rapper before developing into a nimble, direct MC who could conceivably live up to his boast of riding ‘Tuscan Leather’ for an hour. When Meek Mill claimed that Quentin Miller was ghostwriting for Drake, it didn’t necessarily negate his best performances on IYRTITL, but did leave the listener wondering, what if? Perhaps that could explain the sheer wealth of faceplant-worthy lines on Views, from ‘Pop Style’s already infamous “got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum” and ‘Weston Road Flow’s “I get green like Earth Day” through to the title track’s wealth of bricks: “Far-fetched like I threw that shit a hundred meters”; “Staple in the game / all my papers together” ; “My wifey is a spice like I’m David Beckham”. While the below-par wordplay could be seen as a sign that Drake’s ghostwriters are no longer his woes, the sheer bloat of the album severely exposes his limitations as a rapper.
His skills as a songwriter have largely let him down on Views as well. Without the family issues to sort through, he’s coaxed himself back into beavering away at Drakeisms concerning failed attempts at relationships. Many of these feel barely sketched in, like his cliched anecdotes of fame making beaus uneasy (‘U With Me?’), lazy dedications to “real-ass women” (‘Fire & Desire’) and references to previously mentioned exes (‘Redemption’) that feel like a hastily applied footnote.
Despite these diminishing returns, Drake benefits from his inner circle nudging him towards new sounds, like the highlife guitars on Rihanna collaboration ‘Too Good’, UK funky on ‘One Dance’ and psychedelic soul with Majid Al Maskati’s solo cut ‘Summer’s Over (Interlude)’. Opener ‘Keep the Family Close’ allows Drake to indulge his Vegas fantasies with a surprising move towards John Barry-esque grandeur, but it’s where we begin to hear him relish in incredibly clunky metaphors. When he’s not doing that, he’s saying his exes “belong to me and that goes on forever” (worrying) or ceding the floor to formless cameos melded in his own image (PARTYNEXTDOOR, dvsn).
Without the storylines from his past that drive his previous albums, his focus flags and his precision flails.
Views is not without its charms, brief though they may be. Future’s presence on ‘Grammy’ is his best verse since the DS2 victory lap ran out of steam, and Majid Jordan’s Jordan Ullman gives ‘Feel No Ways’ a sinewy funk missing from the surroundings. But one intriguing moment on the record uncovers its wider problems: When the late Pimp C of Southern rap duo UGK appears on ‘Faithful’ (alongside dvsn’s meandering cameo), it’s a dissonant moment, and not just for the sense of unease a posthumous verse creates. His final line is a tribute to his UGK partner: “I don’t fuck with nobody in this shit but Bun [B]”. As Pimp’s torn-velvet drawl paying tribute to rap’s most enduring brotherhood gives way to Drake’s hook about a woman he can’t have, it becomes obvious how hollow Views is. Striking Kanye West and Jay Z from the album version of ‘Pop Style’ and relegating Popcaan to a sample on ‘Too Good’ after his star turn on the earlier version of ‘Controlla’ only adds to this emptiness and breeds more of Drake’s self-centered pettiness.
The album’s much-parodied cover, showing a photoshopped Drake perched atop Toronto’s CN Tower, portrays him as the anointed hero surveying his kingdom. But without the storylines from his past that drive his previous albums and some of his finest music – from tributes to his mother on ‘Look What You’ve Done’ and ‘You & The Six’ to ruminating on fame and old flames on ‘Fear’ and ‘From Time’ – his focus flags and his precision flails. This more combative Drake becomes a lonely giant.
All this means Views is the first real disappointment from one of hip-hop’s best Big Album artists. His previous three records felt like episodic dispatches from their author’s ongoing struggle to juggle his personal life with rap stardom. But with the chapter on his family issues closed, he offers a musical shrug. With nothing potent to write about, Drake ends his fourth studio album on a knowingly defensive streak (“If I was you I wouldn’t like me either”) and the sound of a blizzard. The frozen sonics lead back to the album’s opening effects and the ironically titled first track, a disregarded lesson for its performer: ‘Keep the Family Close’.