Fashionably Late with Marrell Jones: Drake’s “Views”

On August 6th 2014, Canadian rap megastar Drake announced that his next major album would be titled Views From The 6. Since this announcement, we have seen Drake surprise the world with two self-proclaimed “mix tapes” in If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late  and What A Time To Be Alive  with fellow rap magnate Future. Within this same period, we saw Drake capitalize on an unexpected, yet captivating rap beef (if you even want to call it that) with Meek Mill that was handled and won decisively by Drake, whose popularity seemed to flourish even more despite the ghostwriting allegations that sparked the contention to begin with. In the midst of Drake’s incredibly newsworthy 2015 run, the anticipation for Views From The 6 (later shortened to just Views) loomed in the background of whatever Drake was doing at that moment. There was a certain amount of anxiety within the hip hop community in regards to what Drake’s new music would sound like. With many fans believing that Drake is arguably the best rapper in the game right now, the world expected nothing less than greatness on Views.

Unfortunately, Drake didn’t meet our expectations.

With Views being Drake’s fifth major solo album it’s safe to say that the Toronto MC is a seasoned vet. Some might even say that Drake is in his prime, but upon listening to Views I am currently reluctant to share that sentiment. In fact, I would say Drake showed his full potential on his sophomore album Take Care and his career took off from there. Since Take Care, Drake has always been more than willing to deliver music that is candid and true, shattering the unspoken rule that rappers have to be hardened, tough individuals completely void of sensitivity and compassion. Drake fought through early criticisms and changed the world of hip hop forever. Take Care set a tone for the rest of Drake’s career—his progression as an established rapper has been based on his ability to diversify his sound and devise new ways to demonstrate his greatness as an artist. It has been expected for quite some time now that Views would immerse listeners in what it means to be from Toronto (now commonly known as “The 6”). Based on his track record, I also assumed that Drake would deliver a completely fresh and innovative album. While Views made good on its promise to give us a taste of Toronto it fell short giving us the exciting new sound we were hoping for.

That said, I don’t dislike the album.  Views is a solid album..“U With Me?” for instance, samples two DMX songs “What These Bitches Want” and “How’s It Goin Down,” to impressive ends.  Here, Drake gallantly takes DMX’s lyrics word for word from “How’s It Goin’ Down” and uses them as the song’s hook.. Drake’s mastery is apparent in how well he emulates DMX’s flow, while performing the lyrics in a way that make them his own, which is especially evident when he sings:

It’s like a lot of games bein’ played
How’s it goin’ down?
If it’s on ’til we gone then I gots to know now
Is you wit’ me or what?

 

This is the most unique song on the album as far as new, exciting approaches go. That’s not to say that there aren’t other original songs on Views. “Controlla” is undoubtedly one of Drake’s most interesting tracks to date, as it showcases just how extensive Drake’s artistic abilities are given that it’s almost a straight up dance song. While “Controlla” is interesting in its own right, other songs on Views, such as “One Dance”, and “Hotline Bling” display more of the same Caribbean influence that Drake has been exploring recently, making it difficult to approach Views as a hip-hop album. Some may see no problem with this, as it exemplifies even more how talented Drake truly is. But considering the reality that even Drake’s hip hop trades heavily in an R&B sound,  it can be a bit jarring when the Toronto rapper begins to boast about his rap game supremacy (as on “Summer Sixteen”, a song noticeably absent from the album). While some might argue that my opinion only reaffirms Drake’s status at the top—being that he can make a half hip hop album and half whatever he wants and still be regarded as the best—I still struggle with how profoundly the album confounds listener expectations.

But even when we disregard our own expectations, I can’t help but think that the R&B elements on Views aren’t particularly strong, and are a big part of what keeps Drake’s latest from being a truly great album. Yes, Drake makes R&B music, and no he is not necessarily bad at it, but we’ve already been down this road with Drake before, and it was much, much better, as on the universally acclaimed Take Care. The problem with Drake’s approach to R&B is that the narrative never changes, it is always stuck in a world in which our hero is either ruining a relationship with a good girl, or pursuing a relationship with a bad girl. To make matters worse, Drake remains hopeless in both scenarios—after a while, one has to wonder when he will start taking responsibility for his actions and stop feeling sorry for himself.  Having issues with your significant other will always be relatable for a general audience, but with Drake, it is literally the same story on a different album, and at some point that tale becomes worn out and clichéd. There are a variety of songs like this throughout the album, beginning with the first track “Keep The Family Close,” a ballad with a powerful sound thanks to outstanding production from Maneehs. Unfortunately the song’s lyrics foreshadow most of the content that makes up Views—tales of a desperate and apologetic Candian rapper seeking long-term affection from women, rather than the short-term relations he’s opted for in the past:

All of my “let’s just be friends” are friends I don’t have anymore
How do you not check on me when things go wrong
Guess I should’ve tried to keep my family closer
Much closer

 

Again, Drake’s routine disclosure of his underwhelming yet eventful personal life rears its head, and in possibly the most unimpressive way to date on his song “Child’s Play.” The song’s structure is captivating with an opening sound bite from one of Drake’s Houston club DJ’s, DJ Eric. The sample is followed by a catchy hook and a stellar arrangement by Noah “40” Shebib. The song gets dicey, though, when Drake shows up:

Why you gotta fight with me at Cheesecake
You know I love to go there
Say I’m actin’ lightskin, I can’t take you nowhere
This a place for families that drive Camrys and go to Disney
They don’t need to know all of our business

 

Despite the song’s generally warm reception, Drake’s delivery feels lethargic. Instead of communicating from his strengths in a way only Drake knows how to, he cops out by essentially talking over the track while feeding fans juicy bits of gossip about his relationships. While the lines could be relatable to those who have had tumultuous partners it all goes back to the album’s lack of fresh ideas. The most impressive thing about the track comes from 40, whose production contributes to the remarkable sound that drives the whole album. If there is one highlight for Drake on this album it is his synergy with this production staff. Whether it be R&B, island music, or rap, Drake’s voice and poise mesh quite well with whatever direction the project is going at the moment.

The rap songs on the album are good, with “Weston Road Flows” and “Views” being the best. That said,  “Hype” and “Grammys” are nothing we didn’t hear on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late  which might be Drake’s finest pure hip-hop album, showing off his versatility as a rapper and presenting listeners with a new sound, making it one of the best albums of 2015. There aren’t a lot of features on Views but one standout comes from fellow Canadians dvsn, whose soulful, 90’s R&B-inspired appearance on “Faithful” helps to anchor the song. And, of course, Rihanna’s feature on “Too Good” should make us all just accept the fact that these two make beautiful music together and should continue to do so until the end of time. Finally, Atlanta-based rapper Future chips in an always welcomed guest verse on “Grammys” as well.

Overall, to be fair, Views is a good album—Drake doesn’t show any signs of being capable of making a bad piece of music—but I can’t bring myself to say it’s great or use any superlatives that go past that. I still want to hear more from Drake and I consider him to be the absolute best hip-hop/rap artist in the industry at the moment, but Views isn’t enough. Ultimately, Drake’s fans will accept this album but most critics will agree that it’s good, not great and nowhere near Drake’s best. Given how long we were all waiting on Views, it needed to be something special. Ultimately, though, it fell short. Still, Drake is the hottest MC in the game, and Views has plenty of replay value, lets just hope for something fresh in the future.

 

 

 

Marrell Jones is an undergrad student enrolled at Oklahoma State University studying psychology and African American studies. From living in California to traveling the country, Jones has found his place in Oklahoma City contributing as a writer and performer to the growing hip hop scene since 2011. Marrell Jones now applies his vast knowledge of hip hop culture and music to his “Fashionably Late” series for The Collapsar.

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