VIEWS was surrounded by a rare level of hype, the kind I hadn’t seen since Kanye dripped the hot wax that was G.O.O.D. Fridays on us leading up to the release of his masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There was widespread hope that Drake had finally lined the pieces up to produce his own magnum opus, “Views From The 6”. There were billboards, a Fader cover, the courtside lint roller. Fans had sensed his potential since his introduction, and Drake hadn’t been shy about his claim to the rap throne. Something big was on the horizon.
Still, Drake had been struggling with something of an identity crisis. His habit of complaining about women and relationships trended more toward the pitiful than relatable end of the spectrum, and that habit undermined his façade as a hip-hop mogul, particularly in the context of an album. Plenty of artists have successfully explored the duality of external success and internal insecurity, but there was something incompatible about the lines “you know I stay reminiscing and make-up sex is tradition” and “machine gun raps for all my niggas in the back” sharing space on the same album.
But there were legitimately exciting factors contributing to the VIEWS anticipation. There was the line of hugely popular singles Drake released, including “Back To Back” and “Hotline Bling”. There was the target of “Back To Back”, Meek Mill, and the story line of the musical David being compressed into a cube and tossed in the dumpster by the Goliath, Aubrey Graham. There were the two critically- and commercially successful mixtapes, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive. VIEWS was to be the O’Brien Trophy to cap a historic season.
But maybe Drake picked something up watching Golden State run practice at his house. The Warriors stumbled to the finish a game shy of a title, just like Drake. VIEWS parked itself at the top of the Billboard chart for twelve weeks, “One Dance” popped Drake’s solo number one single cherry, and thousands of people fresh off the annoyance of Tidal enrolled themselves in an Apple Music trial just to hear it. But still, something was missing.
Man don’t live off a de hype
Of course, VIEWS was always about the hype, and to a certain extent it was always doomed to fall short. Drake could never meet the diverging expectations for possibly the widest fan base hip-hop has ever seen, and all of the expectations were sky-high. Was VIEWS going to be an auteur album a la MBDTF, a piece of thematic singularity, paranoia against hubris, mounting tension, climax — a refined Take Care? Was it to be a vicious victory lap, an album of Drake pissing bangers on the graves of all who doubted him, a continued throttling? Or could it be a total curveball? He had begun showing an interest in dancehall and Caribbean rhythm, and he adeptly switched gears and put the steely coldness of past releases behind him with “Hotline Bling”, which in turn offered the possibility of VIEWS being a super-pop album the likes of which only Drake could bring into existence.
It ended up being a little bit of everything, so of course, no one was too pleased. He dabbled in golden-age nostalgia (“Weston Road Flows”), ultra-sultry R&B (“Fire & Desire”, “Redemption”), Uncanny Valley dancehall (“Controlla”, “One Dance”) and what I can only describe as New Wave Drake (“Feel No Ways”). The pop tracks fell flat in the way that a James Cameron film that only does $550 million falls flat.
There’s no clearer evidence than “Too Good”. Imagine Views hadn’t dropped yet and I told you about a song with these facts: Rihanna features; Drake and Rihanna are a celebrity item; and it starts getting spins at the start of summer. It has all the components of a hit that could overshadow “Hotline Bling”, yet no one I would trust with an aux cord would call it a particularly warm song, let alone give it the vaunted title of Song of the Summer ™. It’s currently floating around 20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
That’s not to say the tracks on the album aren’t individually enjoyable, but VIEWS promised to be greater than the sum of its parts, not slightly lesser than. Maybe the most painful part is that if you squint hard enough, you can see the framework of the album we all expected through the clutter. “Keep The Family Close” sets the tone for a widescreen listening experience that never culminates, “Summers Over Interlude” suggests a soulfulness that isn’t present, and “Views” is a victory lap of a closer for an album that didn’t accomplish much. Dreams of Drake the Picasso, Drake the Matisse, lay shattered at the feet of “9”, where the big reveal is Drake is turning the 6 upside-down.
So if you’re a Drake apologist like myself, where do you go from here? How do you dispute the Ace Hood fans who say Drake will never drop a classic? If you’re Drake, where do you go from here? The building blocks of a masterpiece lie in If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, a great album in its own right.
Cause you got a past and I do too, we’re perfect for each other
From top to bottom, IYRTITL is Drake’s finest release. What does IYRTITL have that VIEWS doesn’t? Most importantly, the mixtape* is thematically cohesive. Drake has totally replaced Complaining Drake with 6 God Drake, and it’s much appreciated. 6 God Drake is a response to an overwhelming atmosphere of danger, real or perceived, and he is revealed through tense lyrics, a calm delivery, and a series of chords that never feel fully resolved. In the chorus of the first track on the tape he claims “if I die, I’m a legend”. The delivery is full of bravado, the emphasis on “I’m a legend”. But the threat of death is very real.
The 6 God concept allowed Drake to believably inhabit a persona that makes peeks offered into the life of Aubrey Graham striking juxtapositions rather than eye-rolling meme generators. “Star67” is a clear exhibit of that duality. We see the way 6 God conducts business; he has to be as volatile as the Cash Money executives that are standing between him and his money (“brand new Beretta, can’t wait to let it go, walk up in my label like ‘where the check though?’”).
When the beat switches (interestingly, a concept that took off during the formative stages of the 6 God persona), we get a glimpse of Aubrey Graham before he needed 6 God, back when just becoming Drake would be enough (“I was on TV makin’ fifty racks a year, after helpin’ mama out the shit would disappear, I am not a man, I can’t do this on my own, so I started askin’ them if they would put me on”).
The overlapping personas 6 God, Drake, and Aubrey Graham fuel the primary theme behind the album; contradictory feelings about death, both literal and figurative. He wavers between “if I die, I’m a legend” and “I’m afraid that I’m a die before I get where I’m going”, “I’ve always been me, I guess I know myself” and “I’m all over the place, I can’t sit in one place…still findin’ myself”. It’s hard to tell if he’s more concerned about being shot or just losing the real him, whoever that may be.
In the end, it’s really not important to the listener whether Drake’s life is actually in danger or not (I mean, I care, I’m not a dick). In fact, it may be even more interesting if the fear of death is based more in paranoia than reality. What matters is that there is finally an interesting internal dynamic for Drake that isn’t him pouting at a collection of women who have hurt his heart.
Why would I say all these things to have you feeling a way?
VIEWS is mostly devoid of a dynamic that interesting, but I think Drake can find it again. I’m not arguing that VIEWS should have been IYRTITL, The Movie, nor do I think he has to be contemplating mortality to be interesting. I do think that Drake the Picasso can harness that creative energy again and create something more interesting than either release. Drake has always shown he can make great singles, whether they top the chart or not, and hopefully the commercial success of VIEWS and “One Dance” alleviate that particular strain of anxiety.
If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late showed the man can mix an album’s worth of songs into a widescreen story. The lukewarm reception for VIEWS shows I’m not the only one who thinks so. Drake has a masterpiece in him yet, and I’m betting that album is going to appear when we least expect it. Maybe he just needs a real friend to push him in the right direction.