The cover art for Drake’s fourth LP, Views, shows him perched atop Toronto’s most famous landmark, the CN Tower. Cheesy photoshop aside (according to some calculations, Drake is 22 feet tall in the photo), it’s a telling portrayal of how Drake sees himself in relation not only to his home city, but the hip hop landscape as a whole. He’s on an unmatched stretch of rap excellence, from single-handedly jumpstarting the careers of The Weeknd, Migos, and iLoveMakonnen (among others) to absolutely eviscerating Meek Mill in their beef last year. He’s got his own Jordan shoe line and is the official brand ambassador of the Toronto Raptors. For my money, he’s indisputably the biggest rapper alive, and no other rapper (save for Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar) comes even close.
Because of this, Views is a decidedly individualized affair — a monolithic collection of tracks that show Drake breaking little new ground thematically or sonically. There are no bangers anywhere near the level of “0 to 100”, “Energy”, or “Forever”, and there aren’t any pop moments that hit the same highs as “Hold On, We’re Going Home” or “Hotline Bling”. Despite its inclusion on the album, “Hotline Bling” feels like a separate entity entirely; it’s been out for almost a year now, and it’s marketed as a bonus track.
Instead, Drake relies on the same OVO sound (no pun intended) that he’s made a living off of for years. Unfortunately, over the 82-minute run time for Views, Drake rarely breaks out of that sonic field. There are some Jamaican dancehall-inspired instrumentals, and some Chicago chop-up-the-soul moments, but these don’t break the mold hard enough to feel like real sonic variety. We’ve heard all of these electronic keyboards and 808 drums before. I really do like Noah “40” Shebib, Nineteen85, Boi-1da et al. as producers, but for an hour and a half it gets exhausting.
Take “Fire & Desire”, for example, which drops by at the tail end of the record. This pure 2000s rhythm and blues song is so generic that you could put any modern R&B vocalist in there (The Weeknd, Bryson Tiller, August Alsina, etc.) and the song wouldn’t be any better or worse. Other tracks like “Childs Play” and “Controlla” are so redundant that they really make me question why Drake made Views so lengthy. Taken by themselves, many of these songs are pretty smooth — Drake’s singing has improved by a ton since his debut, and the OVO production is pleasant and easygoing. But they don’t give the listener the same emotional highs that even lesser-known Drake cuts that “How Bout Now” and “The Real Her” bring.
Drake has never been a great rapper, but as he’s shown on tracks like “5AM in Toronto” and “Fuckin’ Problems”, he can spit when he needs to. That’s why it’s so dumbfounding that Drake provides some of the worst rapping not only of his career, but of any rapper I’ve heard in recent memory. Lines like “Your best day is my worst day/ I get green like Earth Day” and “I turn the 6 upside down/ It’s a 9 now” are terrible! And not even in the sappy Drake-is-so-cute-and-lovable way — they’re bad in the this-sounds-like-my-terrible-amateur-rapper-high-school-classmate way. Only on a couple tracks here (“Hype” and “Views”) does Drake provide decent flows and impressive charisma over great beats. It’s these highlights, along with the pop-oriented “Feel No Ways” and “Too Good”, that prevent Views from being a total wash.
The start of last year’s beef with Meek Mill was Meek’s accusation that Drake uses ghostwriters for his music, and doesn’t create his own art. For many, that’s a death sentence in hip hop. But Drake isn’t a rapper: he has no stake in “the game”, no credibility to his lyrics. He’s a pop star, first and foremost, and the absolutely horrible lyricism on this album makes me think that Drake tried to do a record on his own, writing verses and directing the project with little outside influence. Just like the cover art shows, Drake exhibits a lot of pride on Views. I just think if he swallowed some of that pride, he could make something great.