Views by Drake - Album Review
Arguably one of the most anticipated album releases of the year, Drake's fourth studio album Views is Drake at his finest. His distinctive crooning, smooth style that many R&B and hip-hop artists have emulated, is fully matured and refined to near perfection. So far, Drake's discography sequentially paints the growth of Drake as an artist.
Thank Me Later reflected the braggadocio and aspirations of a newcomer who was more widely known as that-actor-from-Degrassi, still naïve when it comes to fame, industry, or women. Take Care, released by the time the public accepted Drake as a rapper and Drake began to come into his own (leading to disputes within Young Money), unsurprisingly also marks the solidification of the nascent Drake persona of emotional vulnerability and loneliness-driven introspection, which in turn drives his music. If Nothing Was The Same was Drake's contemplation of existential despair triggered by the nausea of fame and greatness, Views demonstrates that Drake has clenched an understanding from the mires of his inner exploration— or more accurately, accepted his identity as Drake, the artist.
With Kanye recently making a similar case with The Life Of Pablo, the distinctiveness of hip-hop is giving way to the holistic perspective of artistic value. Regardless of one's stance on the matter, Views is a solid, cohesive work of art, although it could have been tighter with a shorter tracklist. While 40 brings flawless production to the table, Drake overall fails to deliver commensurate lyrics. Standout verses do exist, and the storytelling, especially on Stwo-produced Weston RoadFlows, is masterful, but the source material - himself - does not change. From a great artists we naturally expect more. High hopes were mounted upon Drake's shoulders to change the course of hip-hop, but he didn't quite "turn the six upside down" as he brags in 9.
Unfortunately, Drake perfects his craft but fails to improve upon it. He does what he does best, whether in the form of desperate and dejected R&B musings (Fire & Desire, With You, Redemption, Faithful), Take Care style storytelling (U With Me?, Views, Weston Road Flows), pop hits (Pop Style, Controlla, One Dance, Too Good), or hip-hop bangers (Hype, Grammys), and the album does not feel stale in the slightest. If his next productions follow the same trend, however, his brand of sound is bound to tire the listener. Sure, Monet had a phase of repeatedly drawing the same haystacks, but we know him for more works than just the haystacks. Drake needs to break from his own haystacks, but his unique situation makes it hard. Drake has effectively created his own subgenre, and its drawback is that it makes it that much more difficult for him to escape the bubble. His recent adoption of dancehall elements did refresh the soundscape (Controlla, One Dance), but Drake's caution with novelty is telling with his exclusion of rising Jamaican star Popcaan from the track Controlla, muting the dancehall voice from his music much to the chagrin of his fans.
Likewise, much of the features on his albums are either meant to complement his voice (Future, Rihanna) or to be relatively subdued next to him. For most, getting both Kanye and Jay-Z features in a song means juicing as much out of them as possible, but Jay-Z only got to rap two lines before Drake ended up cutting The Throne feature altogether from the final version of Pop Style. The wariness that oozes in his music - whether it is regarding his status or relationships with women - appears to bleed into his production itself, conferring authenticity but further trapping Drake within his own bubble. Drake is a defeated tragic hero: despite his efforts to escape his problems, he is inevitably drawn to them.
Drake's featuring decisions also aligns with his objectifying tendencies. His utility-driven worldview makes every choice and person as means to his end, and he is sorely disappointed when events or people do not satisfy his purposes. The assumption that others share his mindset contributes to his paranoia best described by DMX's intro to U With Me?: "What these bitches want from a ni**a?"
The opening track, Keep the Family Close, illustrates the issue perfectly. Drake projects his needs unto a person who ultimately leaves him as their paths diverge from Drake's changing status. His perception of the person is distorted, as he "always saw you for what you could've been", not attempting to seeing their true self or considering their own needs. Their departure is interpreted as a betrayal as the person fails to empathize with him. "How you supposed to figure out what I'm going through / You can't even figure out what's going on with you", Drake complains; whether the song is about a friend or a past lover, Drake knows deep down that it is his own fame and insecurity that separates him from others, but refuses to admit it directly. On the track Feel No Ways, Drake admits to a girl "I had to let go of us to show myself what I could do", and sacrifices relationship for the sake of his ambitions. In a stroke of hypocrisy, he condemns her for reacting negatively, another indicator of his egocentric worldview.
The artist isn't malicious or intentional in his misogyny and objectification. They are a tragic price of stardom, and have turned the hopeless romantic of the Thank Me Later days convinced that "I bet if I give all my love / Then nothing's gonna tear us apart" into a cynic who must continuously ask "Is you wit' me or what?" on U With Me?. Despite the dangerous undertones of Drake's messages, his genuine desire to seek redemption and normalcy draws us to his narrative. After all, we do experience the late night needs and regrets of Hotline Bling ourselves, and therefore Drake's own distress and failures resonate within us. Moping is cathartic. It doesn't solve anything, though.
This is the source of Drake's crisis: he seeks empathy, and emulates it through emotional effulgence, yet he lacks empathy towards others. He refuses to resolve the conflict by finding empathy within himself, instead invoking upon higher purpose to shield him from his turbulent thoughts while he continues his soul-draining search for indefinite trust and empathy. On 9, the rapper declares his vision as "just to show the city what it takes to be alive for it", tying his artistry into the greater collective good, such as cultivating up-and-coming talents through OVO and changing Toronto's music scene. But it sounds more as though Drake is relying upon his craft for his own sustenance; without it, his established world, his sacrifice of Aubrey Graham, falls apart. He thinks he is on the path towards self-actualization, but his efforts are futile as long as he continues to neglect the prerequisite bottom rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs: esteem, love, and belonging. The unresolved element is strikingly apparent in Views, and even though it is a source of Drake's artistry there is an unavoidable, stagnant air hovering over it.
In many regards, Drake is akin to Florentino Ariza, the morally ambiguous protagonist of Love In The Time of Cholera. Both are born madly in love with the concept of love, only for love to reject them. Florentino Ariza, in reaction to his rejection, ventures upon a fifty-year affair of giving himself to women - irreparably ruining some lives in the process - while suppressing the issue externally through laboring to rise from rags to riches. But throughout it all his heart is fixated upon the woman of his dreams. Drake is similarly disillusioned and pursues fleeting fancies to satiate his immediate need for intimacy, focusing on his career as not only as a passion but also as a diversion. But through it all he has his eyes upon one person, refusing to let go of the prospects of true love. He may condescend to women throughout the rest of the album, but in Fire & Desire, presumably dedicated to Nicki, his latest date Rihanna, or another ideal "real ass woman", he is still willing to entertain a healthy, positive relationship where "I figure out you, you figure out me". In the core of it all, Drake is a hopeful skeptic who doubts the possibility of, yet still counts on salvation through love. However, this is a theme that he has dwelled upon for too long; unresolved, the only other subject matter he successfully ventures into is the inauthentic trope of flaunting captured in What A Time To Be Alive. The time has come for Drake to evolve.
Is Views a great album? Absolutely. Could Drake have done better? Absolutely. But is breaking the mold to Drake also a murder upon his ego, effectively killing his persona that has driven and personified his music? Perhaps. And as a painfully self-aware artist admitting "I made a career of reminiscin'" while staring down upon his legacy atop the CN Tower, Drake will have to one day descend and confront his demons, either to burn in flames or survive the trial to come forth as gold. I do hope for the latter.
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