It’s here. Arguably the most anticipated album of 2016, Drake’s Views, previously known as Views from the 6, is now streaming on Apple Music. Drake has been on a perpetual winning streak since he first rose to prominence, pioneering a new, personal brand of hip-hop and R&B. He currently enjoys superstar status and can be confident that each of his releases, whether a full project or an errant single, is likely to become an overnight sensation. Views is Drake’s first official studio album in almost three years, but he’s hardly been absent in the interim. Last year’s excellent mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and Future-collab What a Time to Be Alive kept Drizzy at the top of the game, while “Hotline Bling” enjoyed plenty of radio play.
Drake’s repertoire was never centered on his studio albums. His mainstream debut mixtape/EP, So Far Gone, is as cherished a memory to his devout fans as his first proper release, Thank Me Later. His various features and untethered Internet releases have defined his career as much as his masterful sophomore album, Take Care. His last studio album, Nothing Was the Same, was quintessential Drake, containing hard-hitting hip-hop cuts as well as his signature mellow and meandering R&B melodies. Therein the ambiguity lies: is Views more properly considered a successor to last year’s rap-oriented IYRTITL, or to NWTS with its more emotional focus?
The immediate answer seems to be the latter. Views starts off with a five-and-a-half-minute track with Drake singing about relationships. The next three songs, and numerous others, follow suit, staying melody-focused, with Drake ruminating on various aspects of his life. The production takes a backseat here, in contrast to all of his other releases. The theme for much of the album largely involves just a single synth line or chords, sampled drum hits, and various sound effects. His voice runs the show, in a meandering way, often with only a vague sense of melody. This is the emotional side of Drizzy we are used to seeing. But these tracks feel static, as opposed to the more kinetic production on previous Drake records. The records aren’t monotonous—Drake’s talent for toe-tapping hooks and maintaining melodic interest saves the listener from boredom. But Drake is not at his most creative here.
There are two types of Drake songs: rap anthems and R&B reflections. He often embraces this duality by juxtaposing the two, a la “0 to 100/The Catch Up.” The first hype track on his newest album is the appropriately-titled “Hype,” where Drake hits his rhythm and his swagger. The same mood and theme is echoed later in the album in “Still Here,” another track where Drake brags about his success. The hype on this album, which also includes “Grammys” featuring Future, feels hollow. Particularly on the single “Pop Style,” Drake seems to be offering his take on the relatively new, dark, spookier trap style that other rappers have been toying with, with results ranging from Vince Staples’ very good album Summertime ’06 to Kanye West’s very weird “Freestyle 4” earlier this year. Drake seems less willing to stray from his pop sensibilities, however, and the sound just feels generic, with nothing but big kick drums and chopped high hats to signal that the song is, in common parlance, “lit.”
The most interesting development in the album is Drake’s apparent newfound affection for Latin beats and dancehall music. It’s not clear why Drake insists on speaking Patois so much on the album, whether it be the influence of his collaborator Popcaan or an attempt to woo the Barbadian Rihanna. It’s a refreshing, if overused, change of pace, a sound that Drake is exploring for the first time. Latin influence is apparent in songs of various styles, from the catchy “With You” to the previously released lead single and its previously leaked little brother, “One Dance” and “Controlla.” The Rihanna spot on “Too Good,” one of the album’s best tracks and the one with the most pop appeal, features some of the best singing on the project.
Drake has been at his best when his style is continually developing. Each of his previous projects features a different sound, from the hugely influential Take Care to the atmospheric Nothing was the Same, to the formidable If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. In some ways he continues to grow, as he experiments with reincorporating Kanye-esque vocal samples and infusing Latin percussion into his own personal brand of hip-hop. But he doesn’t make any statements, lyrically or musically, that would allow the album to rival his previous work. He seems to be stuck in a rut. Or, though he brags that he stands at the top of the game, he may be too scared to fall from his pedestal, and thus can’t bring himself to deviate too far from his established sound, leaving the album bland.
To be sure, the album has its highlights. Numerous tracks deserve much more than just a few listens, but the same cannot be said for many of the others, nor, unfortunately, for the album as a whole. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, as a loyal Drake fan, to say a Drake release isn’t up to snuff, especially one which was ostensibly to be his magnum opus, an ode to his city and to his own legacy as the “6 God.” Perhaps comparing Drake to himself is unnecessarily harsh. He is, after all, one of the best artists right now, and compared to the rest of the field, Views is still a relative standout. It certainly isn’t a “bad” album, though it’s not great. As new artists like Bryson Tiller and some of OVO’s own artists rapidly catch up to him, Drake needs something more, a spark, a certain je ne sais quoi that he’s had all his career but is missing from the heart of Views.
Featured Image By OVO Sound