Drake’s fourth album arrives at a time when the pop world is still in a state of shock, reeling from the tragedy of Prince’s death and the triumph of Beyoncé’s return.
Yet if Views is not the cohesive, genre-redefining revelation that some hoped it might be, the blame lies with squarely Drake. He is, after all, the one who set the bar so high.
In the seven years since the release of his seminal mixtape So Far Gone, Aubrey Drake Graham has, with the help of his chief collaborator Noah “40” Shebib, gone from outsider to center of the popular music universe.
He’s subverted hip-hop stereotypes and reshaped the pop landscape in his own image. He is a hitmaker, he is a force, and he is a meme – all things that make him virtually unassailable in a climate where personal indignities are overlooked and forgotten as long as the music is hot. And the music has been consistently hot.
His formula? Rap, sing, brag, emote, confess, seduce, reflect, lament – then repeat. Sonically, he and 40 have perfected a woozy, submerged sound that filters out the high end of beats to place the vocalist in the foreground as lead instrument.
Theirs is a sound that is often imitated nowadays: Thanks to Drake, rappers have increasingly become indistinguishable from singers and vice versa.
This sound has taken Drake to the top of the charts and the center of fans’ consciousnesses, but on Views, that formula fails to decisively take listeners anywhere we’ve never been before.
The clearest sign of stagnation is his subject matter. The album opens on a cold, somber note with “Keep the Family Close,” where we find the world’s most successful sad boy lamenting the absence of supposedly down-ass chicks who didn’t stay down.
Sparse strings, organs and bass set the tone for his melancholy. Though the sentiment is surely genuine, by this point in his career the “Why didn’t you wait for me?,” “Why aren’t you still down?,”
“We could’ve had something,” “Dare you move on with your life” Drake of “Hotline Bling” and of the scornful last two minutes of What a Time to Be Alive’s “Diamonds Dancing” is all too predictable.
In a 2009 interview, Drake spoke about the inspiration for So Far Gone’s title, attributing it to a realization about how consumed by the money and women he and his circle were becoming.
According to Drake, in a moment of self-awareness, he and his friend and business partner Oliver El-Khatib questioned whether they were becoming “the men their mothers divorced.”