Monday, May 2, 2016

Drake - Views Review

In 2016, music's mainstream artisans have been fearless in the way they've handled releases. Lemonade debuted in primetime on HBO, Anti was accompanied by a mysterious website and app, Life Of Pablo was, well, a gorgeous calamity, and, hard as it is to admit, Blackstar was a wonderfully timed swan song. All, besides Bowie's final opus, debuted exclusively on Tidal, the streaming service spearheaded by Jay-Z and a hodgepodge of A-listers. Initially seen as a failure, Tidal has risen significantly thanks to those names; Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye, and their commercial proprietary. 2016 has been the year of guerilla marketing reinvention, with a microscopic view of Internet-savvy consumers and what makes them tick. Art forms have merged, meaning sole reliance on music can be seen as outdated. Drake is no stranger to this tactic. Hell, his notorious 'Hotline Bling' video, currently encroaching one billion views, was made with snapchat, vine, and memes in mind, one of the first to do so. Now that the release of Views is upon us, Drake's fourth LP lacked a surprising amount of flair. Apart from the cover which traveled by word of mouth, Views is unadorned with panache, leaving the music to be scrutinized on its own merits; refined but wildly bloated.

If one of those artists above failed to provide a spark of ingenuity in the lead-up to an album they'd likely do just fine, sales and critically speaking. Beyonce was a fool to believe her self-titled "probably won't make no money," as she riffed on 'Haunted.' Artistically speaking Drake holds no candle to the likes of Bey and Ye, with one of the biggest grips in music communities arising from the fact that, being Hip-Hop's most popular artist, he's failed to release a clear classic. The horse's mouth wasted no time dispelling notions of this, gloating on 'Hype' that "Views already a classic." Cutting to the chase, Views is anything but. In the lead-up to the album, Drake spoke on the qualities of Views, how the music came naturally, lacked forced Pop appeal, and was guided off of stories from Toronto and his place in Hip-Hop. None of this, apart from those last two appearing irregularly, is true. Nothing Was The Same, Drake's 2013 release which featured bangers in 'Started From The Bottom' and 'Worst Behavior,' had more inventiveness than Views. 'Tuscan Leather' alone outshines much of these tracks handily. 

The bulk of the 20 songs here ride off the coattails of 'Hotline Bling' and What A Time To Be Alive, Drake's collab with Future. 'Grammys' is a clear outtake from those sessions, dropping it onto that LP would result in neutrality since the differences are so slim. And a handful of songs, 'One Dance' and 'Controlla' to name a few, take Drake's dancehall influences and dilute them to something a bar or two below 'Hotline Bling.' Many fans were right in assuming Views would be two-toned when 'One Dance' and 'Pop Style' dropped simultaneously, sporting inverse colors and styles of each other, but rather than distance the ideas all are mixed together like alphabet soup. This decision is made even more aberrant when considering the intended thematic progression; that of Toronto's winter becoming summer, then back again, as revealed on OVO Sound Radio the night Views dropped. Looking at the bigger picture the intention is there, but faint, with 'Hotline Bling's' shoe-in as a "bonus" completely ruining the album's grand finale by blatantly profiting off the song's popularity in regards to streaming sales.

What can't be discounted is the clear pouring of effort that went into Views. These 81 minutes are brimming with content, so much so that the seams weaving it together begin to burst. Many tracks are composed of multiple segments, distracting interludes, and schizophrenic production, which makes picking your favorite moments a game of cat and mouse. Drake's talents aren't as high as he'd expect you to believe, so preposterously assuming 20 tracks split between braggadocio and relational hardships won't have filler is a foolish assertion to make. 'Pop Style,' 'Childs Play,' and 'Fire & Desire' just some cuts lacking serious depth, riddled with bullets of poor decision making. Speaking on that front, while Drake has never been one for featured rappers, the clear lack of them here, apart from Pimp C's odd eight bars on 'Faithful' and Future on 'Grammys,' harm the LP by making it overwrought with vapid egocentrism. Compare Drake to Kanye, a comparable emcee with an inconceivable lifestyle, and you'll see just how shallow his content is. The Toronto rapper really bears similarities to Macklemore, constantly speaking topically without anything interesting to say. For how grandiose his life seems, the stories Drake tends to tell are anything but.

Considering Drake's seized control of Views the lyrics, being pushed constantly over these 20 tracks, need to be up to snuff. Not surprisingly, they're not. Never a solid lyricist, Drake embarks on a mission to prove otherwise, coming up with empty bars, regurgitated content, and no clear message at the end of the day. Simple one-liners make Views their home, nestling in songs like 'Pop Style' ("Got so many chains they call me Chaining Tatum"), 'Weston Road Flows' ("I get green like Earth Day"), 'U With Me' ("Cuts too deep for a band-aid solution"), and anywhere else they can get their slimy hands on. Moments like these make it hard for Drake to be taken seriously when he wishes to be, so songs like 'Redemption' or 'Keep The Family Close' suffer from nearby contagion. It's another parallel between him and Macklemore, as his latest, This Unruly Mess I've Made, stumbled even further from this lack of ideological commitment. Even judging by the album title, removing 'Of The 6,' it's obvious Views never really had a purpose, juxtaposing setpieces without considering the glue needed to assemble a finished product.

What Views will be known for, ironically considering Drake actively, at least in preparatory press talks, swore against it, is its aspirations to make the most Pop-centric Hip-Hop on the market. Nearly every song here, apart from the opener and 'real' closer 'Views,' can conceivably chart. None will reach 'Hotline Bling' though, and the closest one, 'One Dance,' has already been out for a while now. These tracks don't actually disparage Views but choose instead to give it meaning. The best overall pieces here all accomplish the said feat thanks to their catchiness, mainly falling in the middle of the LP. 'With You,' 'Still Here,' and 'Controlla' fit this criterion, utilizing Drake's dancehall influence and insatiable appetite to be in the spotlight as a leverage rather than a hutch. The final example of this is 'Too Good' with Rihanna. Seen as a successor to her established 'Work,' 'Too Good' lightly taps across floorboards with the duo contemplating superfluous hardships about being too nice. It's easy, clean, and admirable, something Drake's harsher winter tracks struggle with. Consider it the changing tide, this summer feel, distancing away from 'true' Hip-Hop, is the direction Drake is going, with bangers being left for side projects like If You're Reading This It's Too Late or WATTBA.

Drake's biggest quality is one he indirectly bred; longtime counterpart 40's production. His name appears on half the tracks here, with the other roles filled in by various OVO sound managers, like Nineteen85 and Boi-1da. The production is the sole driving force of whatever atmosphere can be found here, bringing a quality needed to circumvent Drake's spotty dabblings. Uncharacteristic interruptions happen often, like 'Keep The Family Close's' hi-hat slams, 'Controlla's' Beanie Man non-sequitur, and 'Still Here's' Yeezus-like mental breakdown at the end, all keeping listeners on their toes throughout the entirety of Views. When the producers decide to invest in a single beat the results can be intriguing if not great. 'Feel No Ways' thrives under a late 80's keyboard synth line, dynamic percussion, and cadenced background vocals, while 'With You' and 'Faithful' see OVO's R&B side on full display, moving between minimalistic measures to accomplish grand feats. Given 20 songs it's surprising the level of quality the production has, and apart from the rather empty '9' and 'Pop Style,' nothing detracts from the experience.

Summer Sixteen, as Drake's begun to call it, signals a new era for the emcee. When Views was initially titled with its Toronto addendum back in July of 2014 Drake was in a starkly different place. It was a quiet year, one that saw the release of only two singles, never reaching more than #35 on any country's chart. In 2015, Drake dropped two mixtapes, dominated a Meek Mill beef, and dropped 'Hotline Bling.' And thus, his appeal trended worldwide and no matter how much he tries to hide it, his hometown's being phased out of the picture. The evidence lies in the title and the content, drawing inspiration from Toronto on enough songs to fill the fingers of one hand. The rest reach far, not coincidentally to the South, where Atlanta and the Caribbean are on the rise. It's a smart business move but a sad goodbye, and a bit of a farce sitting perched atop his cities tallest ornament. You could look at it as one final salute, Drake overlooking his home before taking off, a la Superman, to seek further ventures. Regardless of the intent, the intent is the problem. Failing to commit to any single factor, Views brandishes a deep as a puddle mentality, one that witnesses greatness wallow underneath a swath of excess.

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