The influence of Toronto in the pop music scene has been palpable this decade, and Drake is undeniably the genesis of that trend. Huge pop-stars like The Weeknd rose to prominence via Drake’s endorsement, and his OVOSOUND roster is filled with rising stars like PARTYNEXTDOOR and dvsn (and until recently, ILoveMakonnen). His producer and musical partner, Noah “40” Shebib is arguably the most influential hip-hop producer of the decade, with an entire genre of sad-sack R&B springing up from his influence (Tinashe and Travis Scott are good examples). Also, and most crucially, Drake himself is one of the biggest pop-stars on the planet, with a series of hits, culminating in last year’s Hotline Bling. Given that Drake has been hyping VIEWS as his love letter to Toronto and his relationship with it, it’s somewhat of an understatement to say that expectations are high.
Drake had a phenomenal 2015. Between hands-down winning his beef with Meek Mill, and releasing two solid projects in If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, and his Future collaboration What A Time To Be Alive, he has never been more in the public eye than he is now. It’s interesting then, that VIEWS opens so slowly. Both IYRTITL and WATTBA were very club-ready projects, much more influenced by rap and trap than his “soft” older work. However, the first half of VIEWS is very sensual and dreamy, with a greater singing-to-rapping ratio than any of Drake’s previous projects. The opening track – Keep the Family Close – literally begins with the sounds of howling wind, presumably intended to evoke the cold of the album’s quite amusing cover art. As the track progresses, Drake sings about paranoia and friendship over stately strings and drums – “all of my “let’s just be friends” are friends I don’t have any more”. The tracks swells gorgeously, and whilst it’s slow, it’s moody and defiantly gripping in a way only Drake can do.
The transition into 9 is perfect, and the chilly, sparkling synth riff that lights up the first real rap track of the album sounds amazing. The production by 40 and Boi-da (another one of Drake’s frequent collaborators) is exceptional, something that holds true for the entire album. The track is fun, although its vibe is quite relaxed and grooving, not the banger that many fans expected. However, it’s enlivened by one of Drake’s most gloriously ridiculous brags – “turn the 6 upside-down, it’s a 9 now”. One of Drake’s greatest qualities, is that even when he gets deep into self-loathing a regret, he’s always funny (not always intentionally), and that levity makes this very long album easier to sit through.
The standout track from the first half of the record is Feel No Ways, produced by Jordan Ullman (one half of OVO signee Majid Jordan). It feels like the proper successor to Hold On, We’re Going Home, with its gorgeous keyboard chords and 80’s-style beat. Unfortunately, the relaxed tone begins to drag by the tenth track. In a pre-release interview with Zane Lowe, Drake stated he intended for the record to mirror the seasonal-cycle of Toronto, with their very cold winters and hot summers. Whilst the album does appropriately heat up in the second half, the first becomes a bit of a slog, in spite of the well intended concept, and numerous well-executed songs.
The second half of the record kicks off with Controlla, which is the first track to really show off the dancehall influence that informs much of the rest of the album. The tracked leaked with a verse by Popcaan, which is missed here, but the base track is still light and fun. In line with the sonic transition from the first half of the album, the sentiment becomes sweeter too, with Drake declaring his dedication to a partner – “knowing I’d lie for you / thinking I’d die for you”. One Dance is incredibly fun and laid-back, cleverly re-contextualising Kyla’s UK Funky jam Do You Mind into a dancehall track, thanks to Hotline Bling producer Nineteen85 (who is also one-half of dvsn). It’s a great track, as its ascendence in the charts reflects.
In spite of the dancehall influences, the album’s biggest flaw is its indebtedness to Drake’s own canon. Take Care and Nothing Was the Same both pushed hip-hop in new directions, and the former’s influence is still very visible today, but VIEWS lacks the same sense of development as those albums. Every track is enjoyable and worthwhile, but the album just doesn’t feel as vital as his older work, which is possibly because of how much pop music has morphed to sound like Drake. When one is his own genre, it can be very difficult to break out of it. Nonetheless, the album is very fun, and serves as an excellent victory lap to Drake’s career up to this point. It doesn’t have anything quite as immediate as Hotline Bling (although that is a bonus track here), and another album in this style would feel long-in-the-tooth, but for now, Drake remains the reigning king of hip-hop.