When Drake sardonically avowed his distracters “you don’t know what you just started” on ‘Pop Style’, the third single from his fourth studio effort, Views, one must speculate if he truly had any idea of the colossal commercial success that was fast approaching him. Released back in April, the record has continued to break records even several months after its premier. In the United States alone, it has attained over 1 billion streams, is already certified double-platinum, and has spent 6 consecutive weeks at number one (11 weeks in total) the Billboard 200. The album’s lead single, ‘Hotline Bling’, a minimalist R&B track, achieved infamy following the release of its viral music video. The second single, ‘One Dance’, mesmerised audiences with its dancehall and afrobeat influences, became Drake’s first number 1 single in the United States, and spent fifteen consecutive weeks at number 1 in the UK, the second longest number-one run in UK chart history. It is safe to affirm that 2016 will forever be known as the year Drake dominated the music industry, but how does Views itself fair as member of the rapper’s critically-acclaimed discography?
With a mammoth 20 tracks, and a run-time of over 81 minutes, Views is certainly one of Drake’s most ambitious records to date, with a clear determination to express the pride he has in his Canadian heritage like never before. It glides through the signature emotional stratospheres (distrust, heartbreak, fame and introspection) that we’ve come to expect from the rapper, with a newly refined sly sense of humour that (mostly) prevents the record from vanishing into complete melodrama. The recycling of such archetypes, however, soon reveals itself to be the record’s principal weakness, as one cannot escape the feeling that much of the content on the record has been done to death before, and in a much better fashion. Drake’s records have always been inundated with unevenness, often the result of an antithesis between made-for-radio bangers and melancholic despair, but never has it been as apparent as it is here, where too often the record’s stubbornly low energy eclipses the artistic merit of individual tracks.
This by no means, however, means Views is without its merits. The orchestral opening track, ‘Keep the Family Close’, which delves into the trust issues he developed following several song leaks in the lead up to release of views, is a perfectly dramatic, ominous track that expertly opens the record. ‘Controlla’ and ‘Too Good’, the latter of which features on-again-off-again lover Rihanna, are both delicious Caribbean-tinged dancehall affairs that emphasise Drake’s versatility as an artist. ‘With You’ effortlessly blends the rapper’s smooth croon with the unusual vocals of featured artist, PartyNextDoor, over a hypnotic, tropical production. ‘Still here’, one of the few rap-heavy tracks on the album, finds Drake at his most defiant, and accentuates the admirable quality of most of the album’s production.
What Drake lacks on Views, consequently, is an ability to reflect consistent evolution as an artist in his work. Moments of innovative production and pin-sharp lyrical brilliance are regularly overshadowed by bloated-spouts of predictability and repetitiveness, which is massively frustrating considering this would be much less apparent if not for record’s obnoxious running time. Views, therefore, is the perfect example of less is often more. Nevertheless, Views is an exercise in lavish production and contains enough intriguing musical excursions to justify Drake’s icon status. We can only hope that the success of the album will finally give the rapper the confidence to push the conventions of his sound.By Liam Smith