Drake’s ‘Views’: Track-By-Track Album Review

Patrick Bowman | May 2, 2016 9:35 am
If the dank, claustrophobic atmosphere of Drake’s 2015 mixtape-cum-fourth album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was a fascinating and necessary detour that showcased Drake at his most insular, Views (out ) is his reinstatement as the most globally popular rapper alive. Even the album title change is telling, moving from Views From The 6 to simply Views, implying maybe a slight exhaustion with the implications of being the de facto king of Toronto (even while still repping the “6” at every turn), or maybe it’s just a symbolic move to emphasize his region-spanning appeal. Regardless, from the way the album cover instantly became a Twitter-consuming meme, to the multiple tracks that are basically “I’m sad about a girl,” to the plethora of corny-ass one liners, there’s no mistaking this as anything but a standard Drake album.

But musically, at 19 tracks (an even 20 with the bonus “Hotline Bling”), Views is a robust showcase of every Drake style, affectation and interest he’s dabbled in across his career. And while the album does feel like a big-budget confirmation of his constantly growing stature amongst not just hip-hop artists, but pop music as a whole, the bloated nature of the project means he often relies on his old tricks a little too much. There are few experiments, if any, and there’s a real sense that Drake will never venture outside his comfort zone the way Kanye, Beyoncé or Kendrick have. Regardless, the majority of the album is a blast to listen to, moving deftly between vibing late-night cuts, club-ready, dancehall-influenced R&B tracks, hip-hop bangers with angry verses and the type of emotional, limber sing-song raps that Drake basically made his career on. He might think Views is a bigger statement than that…but it’s not. Views is mostly a surface view.

But enough of the context; let’s dive in with a track-by-track review.

1. Keep The Family Close Sweeping strings, soft Drake voice and a sense of grandeur fitting for a song about his second most emo subject: loyalty among friends and family. This is basically Drake doing “Real Friends” (which was basically Kanye doing Drake), seemingly pitting life-or-death stakes on someone not getting in touch with him when he’s going through a hard time. The song and its slowly building drama, punctuated by staccato bursts of drums, is a smoldering entrance/statement of intent (or restatement of intent) that works extremely well.

2. 9 Produced by Drake’s best friend and #1 producer/business partner Noah “40” Shebib, “9” is a chilly, space synth exploration of his relationship with Toronto. As expected, Drake has the weight of the entire region on his shoulders, asserting he’d die for his city if need be. But that relationship isn’t nearly as clean cut as one would think, with Aubrey admitting “All these handouts, man it’s getting outta hand / I’mma start telling niggas ‘Get it how you can.'” Again, another slow burner to open the record, but the production asserts a very real atmosphere: It sounds and feels like a track he wrote while cruising around his hometown in the back of a limo, late at night, alone, after an existentially unfulfilling night at the club. Granted, that’s basically his default setting, but it feels much more vivid on “9.”

3. U With Me? Neat DMX sample to open the track aside, this is basically a standard model Drake song: mid-tempo, high art R&B beat, with Drizzy pensively determining whether or not his girl is loyal to him and obsessing over text messages. In the grand scheme of Views, there are a handful of songs like this…as there are on every Drake album. Save for the DMX plotline, it doesn’t leave a mark.

4. Feel No Ways And just as I was getting worried this whole album would be sleepy Drake getting sad about stuff, the refreshing and bold “Feel No Ways” hits with its tricky production. Jordan Ullman crafted the beat, which is all old school skittering hi-hats and pastel synths, sounding like a smooth R&B version of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Posse On Broadway.” This time Drake laments the fact that his woman doesn’t share his career ambitions, eventually leaving her behind to spread his wings: “I try with you / There’s more to life than sleeping in / And getting high with you / I had to let go of us to show myself what I could do.” That sounds like a nice morning, Drake! Dang man, you gotta do you, I get it, but leave some room for some Netflix and chill.

5. Hype “Hype” could have easily fit on the pop-averse If You’re Reading This…, with a grinding, no frills beat crafted by frequent collaborator Boi-1da and a seemingly more animated Drake using a tumbling, snowball flow that throws shade in the direction of anyone who’s ever come up and tried starting something. His wrath here is presumably aimed at Meek Mill. But, like Drake asserts in the chorus, he can put any haters down without much effort, and claim he’s over it before the feud even began. That’s probably his biggest asset: unflappable in the face of people repeatedly calling him out. Every time someone says Drake doesn’t really rap, I immediately think of him doing this.

6. Weston Road Flows A “back in the day” track that works for two reasons. One, even though he can be corny as hell, Drake is most comfortable and effortlessly cool when reminiscing about ANYTHING. So when he’s just working through some down-on-the-block memories, throwing some soft barbs at the haters along the way, you can’t help but smile. Two, he samples goddamn mid-90’s Mary J. Blige for the beat (“Mary’s Joint”), and the whole track just glides along without a care in the world.

7. Redemption On the other hand, when the heads get mad at Drake for not being a rapper, they point at songs like “Redemption”: slow, relatively uneventful R&B joints where a wounded Aubrey wrings his hands about his latest girl. In the grand scheme of Views, it’s a pretty forgettable track, but he does drop the pointed line “I gave your nickname to someone else.”

8. With You (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR) But just when you think Drake’s heart has turned to stone, he follows up a story about a cold war with an ex with a track featuring OVO acolyte PARTYNEXTDOOR that is pretty much the 2010s version of a New Edition love song. Not much more to it than that.

9. Faithful (feat. Pimp C and dvsn) And on the ninth song, Drake collaborated with Pimp C and it was good. Hearing the late UGK founder come busting through the wall with a verse that’s just grimy as hell (albeit too short) is the most fantastic palate cleanser. It’s only seven lines, but he signs off with this and it’s hard to care about the ensuing track, which is yet another one of Drake’s ruminations on a girl who is a bit too busy to date him: “This ain’t no motherfucking ’91 / We out here rapping for money you niggas rapping for fun / I don’t fuck with nobody in this shit but Bun.” Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the track is perfectly fine, but this one’s not about Drake.

10. Still Here A perfect amalgamation of what Drake does well: sounding cocky as hell and lame at the same time, but pulling it off like he’s the illest motherfucker alive. “Still Here” sounds like it could have been a leftover piece of What A Time To Be Alive, with Drake shit-talking in a slurry, sing-song vocal style that’s a little rougher around the edges than what he usually puts on, while 40 spins a much more trap-indebted beat than anything on Views so far.

11. Controlla This could be considered a spiritual twin to “Hotline Bling,” with a similarly airy dancehall beat that chimes and sways while Drake sings in an island-infused twang that actually works. But where’d Popcaan go?

12. One Dance (feat. Wizkid & Kyla) Island-tinged Drake song #2 hits harder than “Controlla” but still feels like it’s missing the real energy that propels the best Jamaican dancehall music. This has been out for a minute as a single, and UK funky house artist Kyla’s appearance splashes something a little different in the mix, but it ends up sounding like a Kidz Bop version of a Popcaan song.

13. Grammys (feat. Future) Now it’s Drake in hard rapper mode, working again with his partner in crime Future, taking more shots at enemies with a few choice lines (“Heard you never claimed the hood / Hear the hood claimed you” Hi, Meek!) and no misses. Pound for pound, this is probably Drake’s best verse on the album that isn’t about a girl he’s mad at/sad about/in love with, and it makes sense because when Future comes on, he comes hard, basically dismissing the fact he hasn’t won any Grammys as a minor annoyance, and reasserting his independence (“I’m cashin’ out / fuck a cosign / I wear my chain like a bow tie”) without breaking a sweat.

14. Childs Play The album highlight in terms of pure entertainment, “Childs Play” marches along to a percussive, jangly beat courtesy of 40 with some help from Metro Boomin, and has Drake at his most condescending and shitty, but also his most funny and sincere. “Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake / You know I love to go there” is already screen-printed on t-shirts somewhere, and the way he cuts down his companion’s behavior while also concisely doubling down on some deep-seated insecurities is pretty fascinating. “Child’s Play” is probably the Platonic ideal of what’s considered a “Drake Song.”

15. Pop Style Both Jay Z and Kanye West were excised on the album version of this song, which, if you’ll allow me to read way too much into this, is just a massive power move. I know it happens all the time with features from collaborators, but this was already out as a single with two of the biggest rappers alive, and then, POOF, nothing. And the thing is…the song might be better for it? The beat is the darkest and best on the record, all burping synth howls with blaring low-end bass, and Drake’s flow is even-keeled but kind of menacing. (“I can’t trust no fuckin’ body / They still out to get me cause they never got me” is a line that makes up for that Chaining Tatum clunker). If Drake can try on more beats that sound like dying stars imploding, he might get some more respect in hardcore hip-hop circles.

16. Too Good (feat. Rihanna) Unconcerned with how the tracklist looks, Drake follows up the hardest beat with the softest, and best, pop song on the record. “Too Good” is some diamond crafted beauty, another island-inflected beat that breezes by and showcases the impressively easy chemistry between Drake and Rihanna. Ostensibly a song about how both parties of a relationship feel their good will is being taken advantage of by the other, the stakes aren’t really high enough to care. Turn your brain off and just go along for the ride.

17. Summers Over Interlude So, allegedly, Drake modeled the track list of Views after Toronto’s seasons, which, okay, I don’t really buy. But if that high-concept album structure is true, and it helped create this gorgeous little proggy, heroin-soul vignette featuring OVO label signee Majid Jordan, then yeah, Toronto’s seasons. I got it.

18). Fire & Desire Remember those standard issue/disposable Drake songs I mentioned earlier? “Fire & Desire” doesn’t quite fit the bill, since I don’t think I remember Drake ever going full-on Dru Hill like this, but man, this song is just so inessential.

19. Views And now circling back to the early couplet of “Keep The Family Close” and “9,” the closer is about family and loyalty and how Drake sees those things in his (relatively) new life as a pop-rap megastar. It’s grandiose, melodramatic, sometimes incisive, mostly corny, but that beat by Maneesh is just a heartbreaker and makes the whole thing work. As someone who loved J. Dilla/mid-aughts Just Blaze/Dipset, the cruising chipmunk soul chorus of voices looping over and over got me good. And while the beat doesn’t quite match the lyrical substance, Drizzy does finish the album with a self-aware note that I truly didn’t see coming, and completely sticks the landing: “I keep it 100 like I’m running a fever / I might take a breather but I won’t ever leave you / If I was you, I wouldn’t like me either.”

Score: 3/5

Bonus round:

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