Drake – Views
Released April 29th, 2016 on OVO Sound/Young Money Records
In Canada, we have this odd and lamentable tendency to eat our own. I think it comes from the Scottish roots of the country. We tend to see showboating or fame as putting on airs, or being pretentious. For your average Scot farmer tilling his field somewhere around London, or for the average Irish fisherman off of the coast of Newfoundland, or, you know, an Albertan, something like the entertainment industry and it’s star-power fame-driven system would seem as alien as the surface of Mars. It’s all right to play an instrument or put on a show, but to arrogantly stride across the country, let alone the globe, and declare yourself to be a star? Now you’re getting too big for your britches and the knives are coming out. It’s deeply ingrained in us. Witness the Polaris ceremony where Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life won the Prize, and Metric tweeted “Wow! Pop-core takes the Polaris Prize! Surprise!”. Witness the backlash against Nickelback when they take their staid post-grunge sound global, to great success. Witness the grumbling about Arcade Fire not being “Canadian enough” because the Butlers hail from Texas.
Somehow, though, Drake has managed to sidestep all of that. Perhaps it’s because he was so big, so quickly, that the usual forces that align to bring the crab back down to the bottom of the bucket were overwhelmed and outflanked. It was hard to take seriously at first, after all: Canadian TV actor, from Degrassi no less, becomes rapper. Oh boy we all said, this is going to be deliciously awful. He got signed to Young Money, the same label as the then-white-hot Lil’ Wayne, but the Canadian entertainment media didn’t take Canadian hip hop seriously enough to really take notice. Who can blame them? Despite a brief period of respectability in the Nineties with Rascalz, Kardinal Offishall, and maybe Choclair, the topography of Canadian hip hop is remarkably flat. Among preachy heads like K-OS, goofy white boys like Classified and Buck 65 (okay, okay, and Tom Green), and bullshit hybrid acts like Swollen Members and Project Wyze, there was very little to recommend the scene to anyone. I once drank with Baby Blue Sound Crew in a dorm in a tiny satellite campus of Laurier in Brantford. That’s how non-glamorous Canadian hip hop was back in the day.
Then So Far Gone came out and we were suddenly credible as a place where rappers could come from.
So Far Gone was a revelation, still one of the best mixtapes I’ve ever heard. I went into it extremely suspicious and came out of it a convert. Since then, of course, the globe has accepted Drake as conqueror. How many tracks in the Top 40 has he been on since Thank Me Later first dropped? The global Spotify chart has “One Dance”, from Views, as the most-streamed track on Earth right now. Before that was Rihanna’s “Work”, featuring Drake. And so on. When he turned his free mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, into an actual album to be paid for he set sales records. When he got into a bizarre hip-hop beef with Philly also-ran Meek Mill, he somehow managed to not only come out on top but got his beef track nominated for a Grammy. The Canadian crabs never had a chance because, despite the man’s steady repping for his hometown of Toronto, he was never solely ours, but belonged to the world at large.
Still, Views keeps him rooted in the home country. The cover should be an indication of this, over and above anything else. That’s the CN Tower Drizzy’s sitting on top of, the iconic symbol of Toronto’s waterfront skyline; he mentions Kennedy Road within moments on the opening track, “Keep Your Family Close”, and “Weston Road Flows” warrants a track all on its own (a standout one, at that). Originally the album was to be titled Views From The 6, after Drake’s pushed nickname for the city (whether it refers to the area codes – 416 and 647 – or the original six boroughs is up to the individual), the 6 got dropped but not forgotten.
All of this is simply to say that Drake’s ascendancy to the top of the global pop pantheon is a little odd, from a Canadian perspective, but is also not surprising when you take the time to listen. Drake isn’t a traditional rapper – although lately he’s been edging closer on certain tracks – but is a hybrid of rap and R&B. He referred to himself as a “singing nigga’ on “Back 2 Back” and Views is very much a singing type of album, albeit one where he manages to flow back and forth between singing and rapping in a seemingly effortless fashion. If you heard “Hotline Bling” – and don’t lie, we all know you did – then you’ve got the basic template for the album. Glacial production courtesy of 40 and boi1da, Drake’s by-now signature flow, and some experimentation with style. There’s more of a faintly Carribean vibe running through the album – another tribute to the city of Toronto – and it shows up most strongly on “With You” (another PARTYNEXTDOOR production), “Controlla” (which conjures up a sort of depressed dancehall thing), “One Dance” (currently the most-streamed track on Earth according to Spotify), and “Too Good”, which has Rihanna on the hook and will be the next song your grandmother will be singing at Christmas. “Hotline Bling” has an odd cha-cha thing going on, so it manages to fit in quite well with everything else.
While this is all great stuff that pushes Drake’s envelope forward while still maintaining his basic structural integrity, there’s a couple of problems with Views. The first is the overall lack of the haunting, harrowing Drake that featured so heavily on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. On that mixtape-cum-album, Drake was running through the 6 with his woes. On Views, it’s only “Hype”, “Grammys”, and “Pop Style” that resurrect this slightly more hardcore Drake. “Pop Style” was released before the album to mixed reaction; this new version cuts out many of the guest verses and fits in much better on the tracklist. What we’re presented on Views is a Drake that’s much the same as we’ve always seen on tracks like “Hold On We’re Going Home”: singing about his exes and his nostalgia for them over top-notch production. In the rap/R&B balance, Views is very much an R&B album. This would be perfectly fine – it’s the Drake we’ve all come to know, after all – but for the fact that Views is 20 songs and it should really only be 15 at maximum. It’s a testament of sorts to the strength of the songs that’s it’s hard to say precisely what should be cut. Do you cut the harder tracks and leave a spotless R&B album that puts even old-school Usher to shame? Do you snip out a track like “Grammys”, which is a fine song but is obviously a left-over from Drake and Future’s collaboration album? What about “Fire & Desire”? “Child’s Play”? “Redemption”? All great tracks, but one of them should go if you’re going to edit the album. This is almost assuredly why the album is 20 tracks long, because when you’re a superstar at Drake’s level if you don’t want to drop a song, no one is going to force you to do it. It’s an inescapable conclusion, however, that Views is just too long. It might have been more palatable if it had been released as two separate albums, as opposed to the oppressive monolith that it turned out to be.
“Oppressive” is hyperbole, of course, and despite the fact that it wears out its welcome even near it’s very strong finish Views is a solid behemoth of an album. Even if it can’t be properly listened to in one sitting, it will get listened to in spurts all summer long (all summer sixteen) and more tracks will be spun off to grace the charts and contemporary radio stations around the world. Drake is a crab that has escaped the bucket, even if he hasn’t escaped his romantic past.
[Views is currently an iTunes exclusive]
And The Rest…
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The Last Shadow Puppets
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