By: Sam Fleming
Drake is one of the few legitimate pop stars to come out of hip-hop. Already joining the ranks of rappers such as Eminem and Kanye West, he has had the quickest rise to fame and critical acclaim in recent memory.
With this fame has come scrutiny and labels. He is often referred to as being fake and is thought of as soft by rap fans and insiders alike. Drake dropped the mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in early 2015 to fight these labels. The mixtape caught people off guard. It was a stark departure from the sentimental style he established previously. Proclaiming he didn’t care about haters, Drake stressed that more was more to come on his upcoming album, Views. But, that just wasn’t the case.
Although the mixtape dispelled some of the critique, he faced more significant allegations. Meek Mill has accused him of using ghostwriters; an accusation that spread like wildfire.
Through all of this, Drake continued to promote Views. He mentioned the album in almost every verse and public appearance, making it one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2016. There was mystery surrounding the project. Would Drake use the album to fight the ghostwriting allegations? Would he attempt to prove he legitimately earned his spot in hip-hop? Everyone wanted to know how he would respond to his critics.
This build up and public anticipation helps explain, in part, View’s averageness and poor reception. Drake is one of the latest rappers to fall victim to his own vicious hype cycle. A cycle that so overshadows an album, that it kills any chance for fans to enjoy it. This contrasts with many surprise releases in the past few weeks (for example Beyoncé, James Blake and Radiohead) who gave their audience very little insight into their album’s creation and let their fans discover the album themselves.
Views is not a bad album. It’s certainly not Drake’s best, but for Views to live up to expectations, it would have to be nearly perfect. At times Views seems like Drake is attempting to craft a newer version of his 2011 hit album Take Care. But Drake is now in a different place and no matter how hard he tries he will never be able to get his old sound back. Where he seemed loose and comfortable on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, on Views he feels overproduced and trying too hard.
The album is a mixed-bag of uninspired, boring tracks and great, chill jams. The album is at its best when Drake is rapping or singing simple melodies. His voice is not interesting enough to carry full instrumental suites, for example, the opening track “Keep the Family Close.” His crooning sounds whiny and uninterested and is certainly not expressive enough to be centerpiece of any song. Tracks like “Feel No Ways” suit him much better, where the beat can carry his voice as he sings along.
Views excels when it stays uptempo. Drake does not have many more “Marvin’s Room” type songs left in him, although it often seems seems to be what he is going for. Tracks like “Faithful” and “Keep the Family Close” never pick up enough steam to be engaging. Although the track “One Dance” has little interesting lyrical content and jumbled production, it is uptempo, catchy and bright making a perfect hit.
Finally, what makes Views worth going back to, is that it shows Drake’s internal struggle with his corniness: Should he embrace it or fight it? Half the album is spent bragging about how he can have any girl in the world, with lyrics like “her gram too popping to fuck her” and the other half lamenting relationships that fell apart “I gave your nickname to someone else/I know you’re seeing someone that loves you.” This contrast becomes increasingly clear as the album progresses. It’s as if he is stuck between wanting to make a softer album like Take Care, or a hard hitting one like If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Alternating between aggressive bars and singsongy reminiscing, Drake often finds himself lost.
Views shows us that the hype cycle built around albums helps nobody. It pressures the artist and over-excites the listener. Building hype only works if you can manage to come through with a near-perfect project. Unfortunately with Views, Drake got nowhere close.
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