On his latest project Views, Drake lets his sound take a backseat as he steps up to exorcise some demons. The album’s production reclines into a very safe territory, pushing no boundaries, but instead serves as the backdrop to the most honest bars of Drake’s career. In the Toronto-centric album, the man born Aubrey Graham goes home to try hit reset on a sprawling personal life which has bled into his music, social media and subsequently pop culture. He seeks to tightly bind a scattered family and rebuild every burned bridge he lost en route to becoming one of the biggest artists on the planet, finding himself too far engulfed in a journey he can’t turn back from.
The pursuit of rap success has irreversibly jaded and darkened Drake. The dorky Canuck who gushed “you the best I ever had” in 2009 has been vanquished, replaced by a brooding figure sitting alone at the top of Toronto’s CN Tower. What remains is a rapper who recognises his own emotional intelligence and is unflinchingly willing to weaponise emotion. Drake viciously guilt trips former lovers on ‘Redemption’ and ‘Feel No Ways’, embodying the frosty Canadian winter and hot-tempered summer he sought to represent on Views.
It lends itself to the subtle, sure and dangerous misogyny that permeates Drake’s work. His obsession with ‘good girls’, women who conform to the wealthy influential rapper’s arbitrary moral compass, is well documented and doesn’t slow down on Views. It’s disappointing that Drake mimics hip-hop’s bad habits, but it’s especially damaging when Drake is framed and marketed as the rap’s compassionate alternative.
After all, Drake is tender when recounting old relationships and is pained by their absence and that admittedly is a nicer disposition than, say, Jay Z’s ‘Can I Get A…‘. But as a result, a lot of Drake’s problematic tendencies tend to be glossed over or, even worse, celebrated. On the vibrant, fun ‘One Dance’, there’s the weirdly aggressive couplet “You know you gotta stick by me/As soon as you see the text, reply me” which reminds us that Drake is still an angsty fifteen year old at heart.
Drake’s questionable behaviour has been examined before and on ‘Childs Play’ Drake tries to hit back with a tonedeaf response.
“Momma is a saint, yeah she raised me real good/All because of her I don’t do you like I should” Drake retorts, completely unaware that he’s not a chivalrous hero for housing a woman who doesn’t give him what he feels he’s owed. Instead, he just comes off as a dick for threatening to “give her back to the hood” if she does something against the rules he imposes.
There’s arguably some merit or latitude for great art communicating a regressive idea, especially if that art is in the right context with nuance. ‘Marvin’s Room’ from 2011’s Take Care saw Drake wrestling with a similar obsession but crafting a much better song.
That was a classic partly because it felt like a deeply personal insight into a boy in his mid-twenties trying to be the man his age expected him to be. Drunk in the early hours of the morning, the hook of “I’m just saying you could do better/Tell me, have you heard that lately?” succinctly encapsulated the immature, fragile bravado of a jilted young man unsure what to do when he couldn’t get what he wanted. It wasn’t an excusable attitude in any respect, but it at least stood at as an impressive piece of art – a very layered, scarily accurate portrait of an powerful man sulking when he didn’t get what he felt entitled to.
Now nearly thirty, Drake’s attitudes are much like his musical direction: worn out, lacking progression. ‘Hotline Bling’ saw Drake flabbergasted that his ex-girlfriend is sexually active beyond their relationship: “Why you always touching road?/Used to stay at home, be a good girl” he lectures to his subject. Unlike ‘Marvin’s Room’, there’s nothing groundbreaking or delicate in it. He should be better than the man on ‘Marvin’s Room’ but Views at its worst depicts regurgitation with half the nuance.
What Views does show is the legacy Drake is carving out. As it stands, Drake’s biggest contribution to the artform is the successful humanisation of the rapper. Of contemporary rap royalty, Drake is the most relatable, grounded character in the game. Kanye West may have first embraced emotive rap on 808s and Heartbreak, but he has always been too colourful, too experimental, too unpredictable to ever truly connect with his audience in the same raw way that Drake has. Similarly, Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar have crafted incredibly dense, on-point narratives about their challenging political realities, but their circumstances lack the emotive mass appeal that Drake has.
Although he mythologises himself as a deity to the city of Toronto, Drake’s image is resonantly human. That sounds plain, but he’s actually an oddity in a genre which has only ever been able to build stars too large to be real or relatable. Early pioneers succeeded from being intractably counterculture and no modern rap star has been like Drake. Eminem was a flamboyant renegade, Lil Wayne proudly declared himself an alien and 50 Cent was too street hardened to connect with the masses. So having a rapper who can be as common as Drake is truly revolutionary. Remarkably, Drake’s imprint on rap is already enormous and he’s still in his artistic prime. From Kendrick Lamar to Chance the Rapper to A$AP Rocky, the ability for great rappers to soften themselves inflect their own personality into their rhymes is partly a byproduct of Drake’s openness he broke out showing.
Perched over 450 metres high on top the CN Tower on the cover of Views, Drake’s prevailing brilliance comes into focus. He can be on top of the world, celebratory and boastful like the other championed rappers yet Drake somehow remains strikingly authentic. Those two seemingly incongruous traits explain his unique position – one of the few who can go literally anywhere he wants in Toronto, but feeling truly alone as he does it. Problematically human, Drake’s Views isn’t the best rap release of the year but it’s already the most fascinating.