Courtesy of OVO Sound

May 4, 2016

TEST SPIN: Drake — Views

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Drake has become the kind of generational figure that comes along once or twice a decade in pop music. Part of why he’s pulled it off is because, like Johnny Cash or a young Jay-Z, he communicates exclusively in a relatable, easy-to-understand way. Given a few seconds of a Drake song, the listener can identify that it’s Drake, decide if they relate to what he’s saying and make up their mind about it. He has mastered personal musings that seem like grand statements, journal entries aimed at a crowd.

He kicks off Views with another one of them: “All of my let’s-just-be-friends are friends I don’t have anymore,” on “Keep The Family Close.” If this sentiment seems familiar, it might be because you’ve heard versions of it all over his past few albums. Don’t expect much innovation on Views, since it sticks to the themes that Drake has turned into a cottage industry: failed relationships, wistful nostalgia and the occasional chest-thumping taunt. The album recaptures the downcast mood of Drake’s first three studio albums, looking back to past styles rather than pushing forward. That doesn’t mean there are no highlights here, but this isn’t the world-beating home run it was billed to be.

Drake’s personal producing guru and multidimensional sidekick Noah “40” Shebib recalled that Drake truly found his voice when freestyling over 808s and Heartbreak: “That shit was so impactful to hear him spilling his heart over that kind of production,” Shebib said. “I ran with that sound […] it helped me find a place that I really wanted Drake to be, sonically.” Four albums later, the two have turned that approach into a veritable genre, and Shebib is the single biggest creative force on the album. His muted, spacious production shows up on most of Views’ 20 tracks, and Drake matches the mood with tons of R&B crooning. Sometimes this works —“One Dance” shuffles along pleasantly, and the production on “U With Me?” complements Drake nicely — but over an entire album it becomes monotonous. Tracks like “9” and “Grammys” don’t need to be here: they’re just slowing down the pace, sucking out the energy. The album works in shades of gray.

Something about Views feels off to me. I think it’s that I don’t entirely believe Drake’s mood really matches this album’s dopamine-free plod. After dominating last year like Steph Curry and deeming this album his crowning statement — “Views already a classic,” he claims on “Hype” — he delivered an album full of bitter shots at women and dejected musings on fame. That formula got him to where he is now, but he’s not executing it with the wit and verbal dexterity that characterized his early releases. His rapping seems to have regressed, and there are way too many groaners on here like “How’s that for real? / You toyin’ with it like Happy Meal.” It’s hard to imagine a ghostwriter coming up with that one.

The best moments on Views ditch Shebib’s typical sound to incorporate touches of dancehall and Afrobeat, like “With You” and the stellar “One Dance.” This kind of appropriation has always been one of Drake’s single greatest strengths, ever since he assimilated Houston screw music on Thank Me Later: he manages to make music from places far from his native Toronto sound distinctively Drake. The Caribbean genre-bending experiments on Views are easily the best stuff here, even though Drake busts out a baadman-ting fake patois that’s a little too kitschy for its own good. He should have built Views around this sound.

Sometimes, though, he bails himself out with sheer charisma. Drake is still the consummate communicator, still able to melt the invisible barriers between him and the listener. “Pop Style” could have been on If You’re Reading This — which I think is, thanks to its directness, the single Drake project with the best chance of cultural survival — and it captures the bluntness and quotability of his best work. The production on this album is also so expensive and labored-over that it improves what would be a drab listening experience. The transitions between songs are impeccable, and I like the left-field samples too, like Mary J. Blige on “Weston Road Flows” and DMX on “U With Me?”.

Drake changed the name of this project from the more expository Views From The 6 to just Views at the last minute: a that move typifies the problems with the album. Views feels like Drake playing Drake, resisting specificity or innovation. The album was billed as a coronation but ends up evoking a long, rainy Sunday afternoon. I like some rainy Sundays, and Views is a generally innocuous and pleasant listening experience, but he must have been aiming for more, right? We might have hit peak-Drake; if we have, though, the guy will still have more than enough to crow about.

I hate to make everything about Kanye, but it’s hard to resist the urge to contrast Views to The Life of Pablo, which was messy, divisive, and bold. Views feels like Drake settling for a jumper rather than taking it to the rack; he’s still a great shooter, but it’s a compromise. High points though it has, its colorless feel and general dreariness hold it a step below the quality work Drake’s fans have gotten used to.

Max Van Zile is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].