So, what’s bothering Drake now?
He may be one of the biggest rappers in the game, but as we all know, the man always finds a reason to be sad. For the most part, that vulnerable streak has worked out for him: He may be the unhappiest Canadian in the world, but he’s also responsible for some of the best pop music moments of the past decade.
With the gloomy Views, however, Drake seems to be losing some of his momentum. One of the most striking things about the album is its size: 20 tracks over 81 minutes. That makes it the rapper’s longest yet (narrowly eclipsing 2011’s Take Care). The runtime itself isn’t the problem, though—it’s that Drake doesn’t do too much to justify it. Views should be exhilarating, but too often, it feels exhausting.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of treasure to be found here. “U With Me?,” for instance, is a quiet stunner. As ever, Drake excels at cleverly worded tales of modern love, universal sentiments related in hyper-current terms: “On some DMX s—/I group DM my exes,” he says at the top. Later: “I wanna know how much time you spent on them paragraphs… all that grey in our conversation history.” The “grey” isn’t just storminess—it’s also the color of received iPhone texts. As the first line indicates, the song borrows generously from the work of rapper DMX, which at first sounds pretty goofy but actually makes a lot of sense when you remember how dark and paranoid that dude’s music was. “U With Me” climaxes in grand fashion on the final verse, when Drake’s voice finally breaks out of its guarded monotone and starts rising up with emotion. The song, co-produced by Kanye West, is legit spine tingling.
Views doesn’t reach those kinds of heights too often, but there’s still a lot to like. “Feel No Ways” operates on throwback vibes, with Drake’s sad rhymes (“I had to let go of us to show myself what I could do”) gliding over a rapidfire drumbeat and shimmering production. Think of it as a soulful descendant of Nothing Was the Same’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
The good-time feels continue on “Weston Road Flow,” a nostalgic jaunt down memory lane. Built around a warm Mary J. Blige sample, Drizzy catalogs how much his life has changed since his rougher days as a Toronto youth: “I used to hit the corner store to get to Tahiti Treat/Now the talk of the corner store is that I’m TBE, the best ever.” He even makes a Vince Carter reference, who once represented the height of Toronto excellence.
Similarly, the sumptuous “9” also takes a long hard look at how far Drake has come—and how he’s brought his hometown up with him. “I turn the six upside down, it’s a nine now/I made a decision last night that I would die for it,” he says. “MJ in every way, I just don’t fade away.”
At times, Drake even seems capable of having some genuine fun. On “Child’s Play,” with a bouncy beat and playful lyrics, Drake argues with a former lover in the most amusing way possible: “Why you gotta right with me at Cheesecake/You know I love to go there/Say I’m actin’ light skin, I can’t take you nowhere/This a place for families that drive Camrys and go to Disney.” If that doesn’t slap a smile on your face, you’re probably one of Drake’s exes.
But Views doesn’t spent its entire runtime on that contemplative emo tip. A healthy portion of the album tries to recreate both the woozy world of his Future collaboration What a Time to Be Alive and the boastful defiance of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. It doesn’t always work. “Hype” is a dreary enemy-hunting boast; where “Energy” slayed, this one just stabs. The dirty “Grammy” brings back Future but has almost none of the spirit found on their shared album. “Still Here” is better than either of those songs, a strong brag-heavy that remains likable but never lit.
Here’s the thing about a lot of Drake songs: they can take a while to really sink in. When “Hotline Bling” (which appears on Views) was first released, it seemed like a pleasant throwaway track, not a pop-culture phenomenon that will go down as one of Drake’s biggest mainstream successes. “Started From the Bottom” took a minute to take off, too. A few songs on Views also have that kind of sneaky-hit potential: The dancehall-inflected “One Dance” is already a certified smash (and deservedly so), while “Too Good,” featuring Rihanna and a summery island breeze, could easily groove its way into the charts. “Pop Style” sheds its earlier Kanye West and Jay Z cameos but still carries serious club potential. “Controlla” was better when it had the help of dancehall maestro Popcaan, but the final version is still a highlight.
But taken as a whole, Views is a weird one for Drake—vague, a little aimless, and at least a few songs too long. And it’s saddled with big ambitions: anytime an artist says an album is based on the seasons of the year, that should send up a red flag. Drake still remains a master at producing low-key mesmerizing rap, but the Views are slightly less breathtaking here.