Album Of The Week: Drake - 'VIEWS'

Written By James Schofield on 05/02/2016

AOTW_Drake

Okay, full disclosure: yes, I am an emotional guy. Cue the chorus trying to say that's the only reason I like Drake's music, as if Drake's sound isn't ruling multiple genres at once right now. In many ways, being a Drake fan, I've been accustomed to hearing comments trying to disparage Drake's sound for the emotion it conveys. But, truthfully, those voices can't drown out the album that I'm hearing, they won't erase the goosebumps or wipe the tears away. When I listen to a new album from a favourite artist of mine for the first (second, or third) time, I'm naturally excited as anybody would be and all people are. Unlike most people, however, when that excitement finds itself promptly rewarded - I cry.

Drake hit me with the tears immediately on VIEWS, as track one opens up with Drake's flow pouring his heart out over a grandiose, elegant beat reminiscent of a sweeping Bond theme. In terms of Drake music, it's more reflective of some of the minimalist and emotionally exploratory content of Take Care than it is at all reminiscent of most of the tracks on 2015's If You're Reading This It's Too Late. In earnest, however, the Drake heard on VIEWS opener Keep the Family Close is the man at his very best. Speaking on trust issues (which, of course, is not a new topic in hip-hop or even Drake's catalogue - but is a topic in both that has rarely been so accessible as it is here), Drake utilises lines such as 'You judge me 'fore you met me, yeah it figures' and 'If I ever loved ya, I'll always love ya that's how I was raised' to convey the pain and conflict of the relationships he encounters, and has encountered. This is Drake saying that he needs more, wants more. This is Drake saying that he's been hurt, he's been let down, but he still can't hate the people around him, as much as he might wish that he could. This is Drake at his most thematically accessible, emoting in his element. The VIEWS opener makes way for track two, 9, an homage to Drake's love and admiration for the city he rides for - but his conflicted relationship with the very same. Over thick bass, and a spooky, echoey backing reminiscent of a distant whale call, Drake offers lines like 'I made a decision last night that I would die for it, just to show the city what it takes to be alive for it' to remonstrate with the Toronto that he loves and rides for, that he truly does both. 'Keeping people fed is my only peace of mind now, and I turn the six upside down, it's a nine now', sees Drake speaking on his goals for himself, and his impact on the city of Toronto - a city that Drake's relationship with is so conflicted, as '9' sees it.

The tempo changes somewhat for U With Me?, co-produced by Drake's right hand man Noah '40' Shebib and Kanye West, as Drake speeds up his flow and widens his delivery as he returns to the familiar subject of women in his life. Opening with a genius DMX (!) sound bite, before opening in to a stream of lyrics utilising thoughts of paranoia, and doubts of personal loyalty, Drake raps with a purpose to express his true feelings. Of course, Drake being Drake, the master himself still manages to find time to reflect on himself and communicate his own self-awareness, offering: 'That's for sure though, I made a career of reminiscin', time got a funny way of tickin', things are so much different, I'll admit it, I've admitted to a lot of things'. Tracks like this are as good a reflection of how, and how much, Drake's sound has matured since his earlier albums - and all the while Drake doesn't miss a step, nor does his passion or power suffer any. For Feel No Ways, Drake calls upon one half of OVO signees Majid Jordan for the nostalgic, slap led production - allowing the man of the hour himself to take a half-step from his hip-hop flows to offer up the R&B incarnation of himself speaking on a woman attempting to pull him down. In a sense, the uptempo production and liveliness of Drake's vocal delivery take away from the power of lyrics such as 'I had to let go of us to show myself what I could do', but the track still latches the listener's ear - particularly when it begins to fade away to the sweet sound of violins playing out.

Drake changes for track five, Hype, returning to the bold, aggressive and bravado rich delivery of Drake circa 2015 - where the story of the year for the man himself was, inarguably, the storied beef with Philadephia's screech-happy Meek Mill. The shortest of all the opening tracks on VIEWS, Hype marks a curious pit-stop between posts for the OVO General. Especially when 'Weston Road Flows' kicks in and the pulsating bass grants an uninterrupted Drake flow talking nostalgia and home, lasting some thirteen seconds over four minutes. Drake flexing his muscles, showing what he can do? 'The most successful rapper 35 and under, I'm assumin' everybody's 35 and under' affirms the sentiment.

The matured Take Care sounds return for Drake with Redemption, as Drake addresses past relationships and seeking within them precisely what Drake announces - redemption. This is Drake presenting an opportunity to the shadows of his past, offering them the chance to redeem themselves for their wrongs against him (including Erika Lee, who famously sued Drake for royalties after phone recordings of her were sampled for Take Care highlight Marvin's Room). The script flips for the eighth track on VIEWS, entitled With You and featuring the single most talented OVO Sound artist not named Aubrey Graham - PARTYNEXTDOOR (as well as a brief Jeremih cameo at the tail end of the track which does not go unnoticed). Only barely more than three minutes long, the sentiments of With You and PARTYNEXTDOOR's guest appearance would have benefited far more from further exploration here, as the totality of the track seems feverishly rushed more than anything else. Drake makes up for the rush of With You, with ninth album track 'Faithful' (an alternate version of which leaked on the internet about a month before the album's release), featuring a posthumous verse from UGK's Pimp C and an additional verse from OVO's newest act (and owner of one of this year's best albums, so far) dvsn. Pledging faithfulness and devotion, Drake's decision to include the smooth and sultry sounds of dvsn on the track becomes a foray in to the masterclass by Drake, especially when the dvsn appearance follows such lines by the OVO master man as 'that pussy knows me better than I know myself'. Smooth.

The balance between hip-hop and R&B has never been held more competently and cohesively by the best veteran of the balancing act as it is here on VIEWS, as again the sound changes for Still Here, as the grimy, confident Drake returns from the candlelit bubble bath of R&B to remind the music world that Drake is the hot hand in both genres. As if 'I gotta talk to God even though he isn't near me, ?based on what I got it's hard to think he don't hear me' doesn’t say more than enough about Drake's confidence than anything else ever could. Sure enough, the mastery of Drake's flexibility as an artist rears it head again on Controlla, another track which saw an alternate incarnation leak on to the Internet some weeks before the album's release. It's a bold move by Drake to cut out the guest appearance of Popcaan (as heard on the leaked version) on the dancehall heavy track, but, as Drake will later show again, bold is the man's bread and butter. In fact, Drake's boldness may well be what allows him to set himself apart from the rest of the crowd, as much as his flexibility does. Controlla is such a smooth, funky track that it's hard to even review, as the dancehall, calypso beat blends so well with Drake's smooth vocal delivery that it's hard to think to do anything besides dance. One Dance, another dancehall, calypso inspired track is much the same. Still featuring Wizkid and Kyla (both of them lucky to stay involved on the album's final version, it would seem), One Dance still retains the same danceable and fuckwitabble (yes, I said that) value as it showed upon its initial release. This track won't be going anywhere soon, that's for sure.

Frequent Drake collaborator, and hip-hop superstar, Future appears on Grammys beside the OVO General, with both men rapping over a dark, ominous beat, rich in attitude, about their personal successes in the hip-hop genre. It says a lot about how underwhelming the Drake and Future collaboration album What A Time to be Alive that this track is considerably better than any song that album had to offer. It's still not the best Drake track, the best Future track or even the best collaboration track by the two, but it's solid enough that it doesn't seem out of place on VIEWS given the fact that VIEWS is, and was, hyped up by Drake to be something akin, at least, to his very own magnum opus. Child's Play, however, is a far better reflection of the hype Drake felt that VIEWS did, and does, deserve. Sampling New Orleans bounce (a sub-genre seeing a very good week, having also made an appearance on the new Beyonce album), Child's Play is a confident and brave tune, interpolating violins in to a song that incorporates such highs and lows that will lend it well should Drake decide to play it live at any point during the stadium tours he's destined to do in the nearest future.

The album version of previously released single Pop Style deserves a paragraph of coverage all its own. First of all, the horror sample driving the track's beat - reminiscent of the soundtrack from films such as Sleepy Hollow or horror classic The Exorcist - is a genius offering that resounds the appearance of a new trend in music. But the story of this track must be the fact that Drake is bold and brave enough to cut two of hip-hop's biggest names off a track and replace them with himself for an album version. Stripping away Jay-Z and Kanye, aka The Throne, is an extraordinarily apt reflection of Drake's confidence in his own abilities. Add that to the fact that the track itself doesn't suffer at all, and Drake may well have intended this track to show that he is out to prove that the throne is now his - and it may well indeed be.

The superstar status of Drake is ne'er more evident on VIEWS than it is on Too Good with Rihanna. Of course, a Drake and Rihanna collaboration at this point in both of their careers is almost guaranteed to be a hit, but it's really the beat which carries them both to greater heights here. A bright, island vibe beat produced by Nineteen85 sees the charisma of both artists, and the chemistry between them, turn out a song about love and love taken for granted. One of the album's stand out tracks, this fire collab is by and far the best between Rihanna and Drake thus far, and an extraordinarily solid way to signify the progression of both of their individual sounds.

The vocal half of Majid Jordan, Majid Al Maskati, appears on Summer's Over Interlude with the briefest of soulful cameos, reminiscent of the best of 1970's R&B/Soul. In many ways, it probably acts far better as a means to bring down the tempo from Too Good and bleed in to the downtempo, alternate direction of track eighteen on the album, Fire and Desire. One of the best R&B tracks Drake has ever produced, with resounding pumps of bass and the feverish squeaks of chipmunk sounding vocal alterations (previously heard with Drake on Nothing was the Same) playing behind sultry, solemn vocals. The narrative of the track, that being Drake pledging his dedication and admiration for a woman already taken by another man, is sure to grab considerable attention in the industry given the comparisons which could be made to Drake's position on the outer of long time flirtation partner Nicki Minaj's relationship with OVO nemesis Meek Mill. In that, one can be forgiven for hoping that 'Fire and Desire' is largely forgotten in place of the true closing track for VIEWS, and its title track, appearing at the nineteenth spot on the album. A grand, chandelier rap moment, Drake saves his most confident, personally affirmative flow for the album's title track. Sampling The Question Is by The Winans, Drake takes the opportunity to talk about his successes. On an album of seasonal highs and lows, Drake is at his most blisteringly, boldly aware with lines such as 'my life is on display like Truman' and 'they think I had the silver spoon but they'll get it soon, ?I still got something left to prove since you left me room'. What Drake comes up with on his album's title track is a suggestion that the writing's on the wall, that he intends to prove something.

As Hotline Bling (which, at this point, needs no further talking about) leads out the album, one can take the opportunity to look back on Drake's album with wonder and awe - but more importantly, if inquisitive enough, one can look back to see just what Drake has set out to prove and if, indeed, he has succeeded in proving it. Given that this is Drake sounded more mature, confident, brave and (often times) artistic, it's hard to see any way in which Drake hasn't proven something. Drawing inspiration from the seasons of his beloved Toronto to create a coherent reflection of himself, his emotions and his surroundings, Drake shows that he hasn't lost a step as an artist despite forays in to foreign territory through 2015 and the ghostwriting controversy which accompanied it. For all that 2015 was, Drake could have almost been forgiven for having been knocked off balance, falling flat with his long awaited VIEWS album. That he didn't fall flat, at all, proves a great deal. But as good as VIEWS is as an album, one can't help but feel something lacking from the project as a whole. Bold as it is, perhaps it's not as brave as it could have been. Perhaps, one can't help but wonder, the 6 God is still holding back. Or maybe the expectations are all too high.

It's tempting to say that only time will tell, but that wouldn't be accurate. Drake won't allow anything, or anyone, but Drake to tell his own story. Still - where to next for the head of OVO Sound?