Though there are a few more cringeworthy lyrics and a bit less cohesion than usual for Drake, "VIEWS" is still an album that only he could make.
It felt like the hot takes on VIEWS started coming in before the album even dropped. Drake's trajectory hit a definite peak last year with the impeccably-curated If You're Reading This It's Too Late, his triumphant Meek Mill beef, OVO Sound Radio, and "Hotline Bling"-- regardless of where you think all that music ranks in his overall discography, it catapulted him to the top dog position he'd been gunning for his whole career. What A Time To Be Alive was still warmly received, but even then, a few weeks after "Hotline Bling" hit the radio, you could feel the wheels of Drizzy's hype starting to slow just slightly. Whether you chalk it up to short attention spans, the fact that he sounded like he was playing catch-up to Future on the mixtape, or music fans' need for narratives and arcs, you could tell he'd be in a precarious position when it came time to release his next album. In hip hop, like in sports, momentum is a pretty palpable force.
All of Drake's pre-album singles were big events online ("Controlla," "Pop Style," and "One Dance" are easily the most-viewed songs on HNHH in the past few months), and it's looking like "One Dance" will even be The Boy's first number one single in the US. That's not necessarily momentum though-- that's pop stardom. That's the reason why Adele's worst-reviewed album was also her highest-selling, and the reason why Eminem is still one of the best-selling rappers in the country despite peaking over a decade ago. It seems like Drake always knew he was headed to the top, and although it was a struggle to get there, he maintained of-the-moment hipness throughout the climb. As soon as you reach the summit though, getting that zeitgeist back becomes a much tougher task.
VIEWS is markedly different than Drake's last two solo releases, which in the wake of the scattered-but-brilliant Take Care, were both amazingly-curated collections of sounds, flows, and moods. Drake debuted as a rapper/singer who could do any style he wanted to with varying degrees of awkwardness, but in recent year's he'd crystallized his vision, knowing exactly when to sing softly about girls and rap ferociously about his foes. Many have compared this new project to Take Care, and in the context of Drake's discography, it's not all that far off. Both are 80+ minutes (whereas IYRTITL and Nothing Was The Same both hover around 60), both have sequencing issues, and neither conforms to a single, or even a handful of moods. It's hard to tell whether this is a confident or a self-conscious move-- on Take Care, Drizzy was almost certainly running the gamut just to show us he could, but after laying down two effortless-sounding blueprints for the "vibes curation" so many newer artists' albums strive for, it's hard not to diagnose him with a mild case of doing-too-much on VIEWS.
That much is clear, even from the start of "Keep The Family Close," a live instrumentation-bolstered slice of pomp that conjures "Earned It"-style visions of the singer stepping onstage for the first night of a Vegas residency. As cool and Sinatra-esque as Drake sounds while high-stepping over orchestral stabs, defining and distilling the zeitgeist seems like the last thing he's trying to do, which is exactly what the blurry nighttime stylings of NWTS and the icy trap of IYRTITL did. "9" and "Feel No Ways," two other early tracks, are also decidedly retro affairs, mining mid-'00s electropop and late-'00s chillwave for both of their '80s-inspired flavors. Drake's so big and influential that these could very well become dominant sounds in hip hop in the next year (and I hope they do!), but whereas his curation on the last two albums involved skillfully picking and choosing little aspects of hypermodern styles and flows to create a sound that perfectly fit the musical climates in which they were released, a good deal of VIEWS is made up of samples and sounds from bygone, even uncool, eras. Drake-as-lounge-lizard or Drake-as-Miami-Vice-character aren't what we're used to from a guy who's been known to outsource writing duties to young rappers with hotter flows. In some ways, VIEWS is Drake's sandals-with-socks album.
More "dad vibes" are supplied by Nineteen85, a guy who, prior to VIEWS, had only done two NWTS tracks for Drake. Like his work on "Hold On, We're Going Home" and dvsn's excellent album, the OVO producer looks to past eras, namely '90s R&B, on tracks like "Faithful" and "Child's Play." Even the album's somewhat surprising Caribbean tint on "Controlla," "One Dance," and "Too Good" read more Tommy Bahama than Mixpak, and are among Drake's most adult-friendly material yet. If you don't believe me, blend up a batch of Daiquiris for your parents and put these tracks on when the weather's nice. Drake hasn't gone full Jimmy Buffett or anything-- these songs definitely have more attention to detail than your average "world music" pastiche-- but especially following his coolest, most it-guy year to date, it comes as a surprise that so much of Drake's new material seems like it'd appeal to older demographics.
So far, we've only covered about half of the music on VIEWS, and none of the lyrics. Why? Because the album's remaining content is much more typically Drake than the out-of-character moments I've described above. The rest of VIEWS consists of versions of Drake we've already heard, from the shit-talking, status-obsessor on "Hype," to the punchline rapper/soulful beat combo on "Weston Road Flows," to the spiteful womanizer on "U With Me?". The quality of these is more hit-or-miss than it is on the album's more adventurous moments, and most of the blame rests on the lyrics department. From baffling ("Turn the six upside down, it's a nine now") to corny ("On some DMX shit, I group DM my exes") to petty (“Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake? You know I love to go there”), this is where Drake truly reverts to his Take Care self, sounding less confident than ever-- or perhaps it's blind confidence that led him to believe that these were dope bars?
VIEWS is the sound of Drake loosening his belt and letting his gut hang out. (Yes, I know he's in better physical shape than ever, but for the sake of the metaphor, hear me out for a second.) He's sounded toned, mean, and lean in the past few years, trimming himself and his styles down to racing weight to beat his competition up that hill to superstardom. Reaching that goal last year, he's allowed himself to let go a bit-- maybe not focusing on signing the most relevant hot artists, maybe not attempting to remain cutting-edge at all times. His legacy's already impeccable to the point where anyone that mentions hip hop from 2010-2015 has to mention him, as he's done more to define the genre's course than anyone in that time period. He was furtively looking over his shoulder on IYRTITL, defending his spot, and he's still got choice words for his rivals on VIEWS, but it's more in that post-Blueprint Jay Z way, snickering at the thought of anyone even coming close to toppling him. His bars are looser, but they sound more honest-- maybe he even wrote the majority of them himself! His beats are more free-wheeling and fun. All of this perfectly lends itself to the over-the-hill narrative critics and fans are currently pushing, and though that may be a good description of what's happening on VIEWS, I think it's a much more awesome proposition than most people are making it out to be. Drake could still very easily double back and pick up his genre-revolutionizing game where he left off, but for now, he seems okay with a little aimless sprawl, a little bit of extra fat around his waistline.