It may have been three years since Drake’s last official album, but by no means has Mr. Aubrey Graham faded from the spotlight since then. In Feb. 2015, he dropped “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” a mixtape disguised as an album that went on to be the highest-selling hip-hop release of the year. Last August, he eviscerated Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill in what felt like rap’s first post-Twitter beef between genre heavyweights. And, for good measure, Drizzy teamed up with co-conspirator Future to release the surprise album “What a Time to Be Alive” in Sept. 2015.While juggling feuds and completing unexpected projects, Drake was also generating buzz regarding his upcoming album, “Views From the 6.” Now, after a rollout process and marketing strategy that seemed rather by-the-book in the wake of Kanye West’s frenetic indecisiveness leading up to “The Life of Pablo’s” release, Drake’s fourth studio album has finally arrived, with the only last-minute change being the shortening of its title to the more concise “Views.” With Drake, now 29, seemingly fully in his prime, the common expectation has been that “Views” would be the frequent crooner and occasional rapper’s magnum opus, the perfect middle ground between an experimental, evolving sound and the reminiscent, ultra-personal style that Drake has trademarked; the instant classic that many argue he has yet to produce. So, does he deliver?
Well, no. This album isn’t really any of those things. It’s a repetitive, sloppy, and disappointingly unambitious effort that was made out to be an ode to, or soundtrack for, the city of Toronto, but is really a relentlessly self-obsessed exploration of one man’s struggle with betrayal, dishonesty, and commitment. Sound like anything you’ve heard before from Drake? It should.
One of “Views” most unforgivable sins is that it is both unfocused and very long. Creating a 20-track album implies that Drake has something important to say, a clear message to deliver, but please, don’t hold your breath. He opens the album with “Keep the Family Close,” a five-minute ballad that offers nothing new vocally or musically after the first couple minutes. “Redemption” is another song that is far too dull and unchanging to drag on for five minutes and 34 seconds. It’s like Drake wants us to think he’s crafting this groundbreaking, epic meditation on his innermost conflicts, but “Views” is frustratingly bereft of substance. He has never exactly been Kendrick Lamar in terms of thematic cohesion and continuity on his albums, but “Views” is directionless and meandering, even by Drake standards.
Lyrically, “Views” is flat-out lazy and often whiny (“How do you not check on me when things go wrong?” he complains on “Keep the Family Close”), and Drake seems to have reserved his bursts of energy for some of the most unabashedly cheesy lines in recent memory (“Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum”…really?). Drake has always connected to listeners by displaying a softness and vulnerability rarely found in hypermasculine hip-hop culture, and because of this he’s been given a generously long leash when it comes to shameless schmaltz and over-the-top sentimentality. But “Views” finds him scrounging for punchlines at the bottom of his lyrical wastebin, offering a plethora of facepalm-worthy lines (“This year for Christmas I just want apologies”).
The extended four to five minute length of many tracks also might indicate that Drake intends to tread into new territory production-wise, but that’s not the case either. Executive producer 40, Drake’s right-hand man, has his fingerprints all over “Views,” employing his signature subtle synths, chopped up soul samples, and overall emptiness that feels like the audio equivalent of floating around outer space searching for a rope to grab onto. This sound may provide the ideal landscape for Drake’s voice, allowing him room to shine while also creating a mysterious, unsettling mood to match his musings, but “Views’” production ultimately sticks too closely to the blueprint upon which Drake rose to prominence, and does so with too many mixed results.
“Views” isn’t all misfires. “Fire & Desire” is a subtle ballad that finds Drake succumbing to a woman’s alluring ways. His subdued vocals and a slow-burning beat make for one of the only real instances of raw emotion and tension among the album’s R&B numbers. Also, and I never thought I’d say this, Drake’s detour into tropical, reggae-influenced dancehall jams might produce the album’s best moments. He discovered a niche pop subgenre with “Hotline Bling” last year, and while the similar-sounding songs on “Views” don’t quite recapture its infectious bounce, they come close. “Controlla,” “One Dance,” and the Rihanna-assisted “Too Good” are all fun and catchy, and possess a breezy feel that adequately masks Drake’s accelerating disinterest in refined songwriting.
Still, three upbeat island funk excursions can’t excuse the 81-minute album’s frequent slips into complacency. In a recent interview with radio DJ Zane Lowe, Drake declared that on “Views,” he “finally told everybody how I’m actually feeling.” He may be proud of this record, but it compromises his versatility and constructs an uncomfortably narrow-minded sonic world. The album might be called “Views,” but there is no multitude of perspectives, no diverse array of voices and opinions. “View” would be a more accurate title.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Photo courtesy of Cash Money-OVO-Sound-Young Money Entertainment