Unless you’ve been frozen in carbonite under a boulder with your fingers in your ears you are probably aware that Drake released his long-awaited fourth studio effort Views just a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps only second in pre-release hype and hysteria to The Life Of Pablo as far as hip-hop albums of 2016 have gone, it went through name changes (he pruned the original title suffix From The 6), had visual trailers for it and even Views-themed pop-up stores out there in the world because reasons.
Sure, that’s markedly a whole lot less clusterfuck-y than some of the utter nonsense and pretentious crap surrounding Pablo’s eventual release, but it was enough to have most of the world ready for a game-changer. Surely it would not so much clear but vaporise the bar set by its 2013 predecessor Nothing Was The Same?
Compounding all of this was the atom bomb of Hotline Bling as its first single. A transcendent track that went from being the single most infectious song about being a creepy possessive dickbag this side of Every Breath You Take to the kind of constantly respawning and regenerating catch-all meme that doesn’t even need context anymore. It was perhaps the biggest pop hit of 2015 at any rate and absolutely changed the conversations we have surrounding the release and promotion of singles in the digital era.
So did the actual physical manifestation of all that hype in the final (Apple Music exclusively) released product of Views match its lofty expectations?
Not even close. I applaud Drake’s effort in making an album and having it clock in at 20 tracks and over 80 minutes long in an age where a lot of people’s patience and appreciation of longform art is at an all-time low, but maybe make sure the songs you are including are going to keep the listener engaged for that long? When half of those tracks could have been cut and your album still would have had filler in it then it becomes less a thrilling rollercoaster of an album experience and more like sitting through the last interminable Fast And The Furious movie (with an autotuned and miserable Vin Diesel commentary track over the top).
It’s so gratuitous too. There’s thought-provoking self-examination and there’s shameless self-absorption and the line between them is muddy as hell on Views and more often than not feels like the latter. Where rappers like Kendrick Lamar or Talib Kweli frame their music and the personal struggles they explore within it around universal issues to captivate and speak to the masses, Drake’s self-indulgence now feels more alienating than charming.
More than anything, Views just sounds tired. Tired and half-hearted. Granted these are both symptoms of the kind of depression and introspection Drake’s music has become synonymous with, but it lacks the underlying hunger and the electricity and the innovation of Nothing Was The Same to set it apart from any of the middling rap releases we’ve seen already in 2016. It’s merely ‘ok’ or ‘half-decent’, certainly not continuing his upward trajectory or cementing his status in the top tier of 21st century hip-hop artists with Kendrick, Kanye or The Weeknd. I don’t even know if it’s better than Future’s EVOL. Hell, I honestly found more entertainment and gratification in DJ Khaled’s I Changed A Lot. Look, we’re not saying it’s terrible. it’s not even bad. There are some absolutely stellar moments throughout it, moments where you can see the superstar we want him to be. But as a whole, it does not even slightly live up to what many thought it would.
Even the reviewers who gave it bad reviews seem to be looking past their own critiques, picking out the occasional strong points and using that to hail the album a massive success. This album is selling like absolute hotcakes (to the tune of one million which is increasingly unheard of) and has been streamed into near oblivion. Despite all the ‘meh’ reviews from respected publications, despite the fact that it just doesn’t pass the ear test in any fashion and is a marked regression from NWTS, it continues to enjoy a perch atop this year’s most listened to releases. I just want to know why?
How many other artists today could get away with, even be vastly rewarded for, putting out a crappy album like this? If Adele or Rihanna‘s latest albums had been dumpster fires would they have had the same reaction?
People inexplicably flocking to bad music is by no means breaking news. This is a universe that’s seen hot, flaming garbage like ABBA, Bon Jovi, Creed and Maroon 5 as some of the biggest selling artists across the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s respectively. In no way is Drake anywhere near as bad as any of those artists, but Views in a vacuum is bland to the point of being bad. Listening to it you get the sense that, much like Creed’s over-amplified and dumb as hell Christ-flavoured hard rock that had everyone circa 1999 growing soul patches and tuning their guitars to almost irretrievable depths of drop D, it’s going to age about as well as Mick Jagger’s face.
If it’s about Drake’s status within the hip-hop community as some kind of untouchable hip-hop god then I flat out missed the coronation. For all his legions of fans, this is still a guy who gets ridiculed mercilessly every time he so much as breathes. He’s a pantomime of sadness, hip-hop’s resident emo kid.
Admittedly Drake works this to his advantage in a way few other artists have been able to master, springboarding off the back of all these derogatory memes and tweets, becoming more than just a rapper: he’s Champagne Papi. he’s larger than life and larger than music – including his own, and this affects everything.
My theory is that big albums like Views that get an enormous amount of hype pre-release are simply harder to hate in the end. Think about it, you invest months and months of time and energy in waiting and hoping, writing and tweeting and blogging about it to no end. There’s new singles, there’s hype, leaks, more leaks, rumours, Instagram posts, tweets, beefs, speculative articles, features, festival bookings and more. Perhaps by the time these albums finally do get released people almost have to find the positives in it to justify all that hype they bought into.
Would Views have been received nearly as well if, instead of having a drawn out and hugely heralded release, Drake had taken the other route of popular artists at the moment and been a complete surprise release like Lemonade or untitled.unmastered? Or, y’know, his own moves last year with both If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What A Time To Be Alive? Would people still be willing to accept such a lacklustre effort if it had been dropped in their laps unexpectedly instead of sold to them across 12 months as this monolithic culmination of everything Drake has been doing for almost three years?
What’s most frustrating is to see people criticise it wholly, only to then salvage it from the self-inflicted damage. Even Pitchfork went to great lengths tearing down Drake’s self-absorption and trashing the album for failing to step outside the box only to then hesitate and end up oddly praising him for his effort. Almost as if they were giving him a pass because, well, he’s Drake.
That’s just not a good enough reason to pretend that Views is anything but mediocre. It’s simply disappointing that Drake’s celebrity status as bigger-than-the-music has shifted so much focus away from his actual music, and if the problems with Views are reflective of where popular music is headed then the market is set to become oversaturated with records bloated on their own hype and with none of the musical credibility to justify it.
Image: Metrolyrics; GIF: giphy