Drake has always been masterful at combining emotional vulnerability with ominous undertones ever since "Take Care". He's got bravado in spades but what set him apart was his willingness to bare his soul. Tracks like "Marvin's Room" and "Karaoke" showed that rappers had feelings too, and it was OK because the music was better for it. Fans embraced him, meme's mocked him, and as he matured his ability to convey these emotions became sharper and more poignant.
VIEWS attempts to enhance the formula but we've already heard Drake's story, there aren't many questions left to ask. The same themes are rehashed including loyalty, trust, reminiscing about being less rich, women he used to bang but now do other things, going to Cheesecake Factory etc. The more Drake tells it the more diluted it becomes. What was once refreshing and boundary pushing is starting to become tired and boring, and VIEWS shows that it might be time to start taking some more creative chances. Kendrick Lamar told his life story on Good Kid, M.a.a.d City and once it was over he dove headfirst into his psyche, producing something brilliant with To Pimp a Butterfly. Drake attempts to reinvent himself on VIEWS but what we get is an unwieldy collection of songs that sound familiar but lack the Drake "midas touch" that make them special.
The gargantuan, summer blockbuster movie-esque marketing campaign told us that this was the penultimate Drake record, his magnum opus, his story as we've never heard it before. Turns out we have heard it before, and it isn't as compelling as it once was. The overhype is expected for a release of this magnitude, especially from a talented business man such as Drake, but I can't help but feel it set people's expectations far too high. This is a competent Drake record, not a career defining masterpiece.
Part of the problem may be his prolific work ethic. Like Future and Young Thug, Drake's output in the past 2 years is dizzying (drizzying?). If you're reading this it's too late (IYRTITL), What a Time to Be Alive (WATTBA), singles all over the place, ruining Meek Mill's career, not to mention Drake being the Toronto Raptors' "Global Ambassador" (side note: what the fuck does that position entail?), and business ventures with Jordan and Apple among others. You have to wonder if fatigue finally caught up to him.
There were songs from WATTBA and IYRTITL that would've felt more at home on this record. Especially when the Future feature he did pick ("Grammys") is sorely lacking compared to the songs on WATTBA. Instead of those albums bolstering the magnitude of VIEWS, it feels like they stripped critical pieces out of what would have otherwise been an instant classic. Imagine if "Jumpman" and "Know Yourself" among others were on VIEWS instead of the dancehall cuts. Holy shit what a record that would've been.
My gripes about cohesiveness and muddled concept aside, there is some very, very good music to enjoy on VIEWS. "Still Here" is an absolute monster track on par with "Headlines" or any other boisterous anthem he's done. "Weston Road Flows" demonstrates that the self proclaimed "Singin' N****" can still out rap 99% of artists out there and tell a hell of a story in the process. "Feel No Ways" and "Too Good" are number 1 singles waiting to happen, the latter featuring another successful collaboration with Rihanna (they need to make an album).
The dancehall stuff is...fine. I honestly don't have an opinion on it. I can vibe to it, it's semi-enjoyable at a party but I'm not entirely sure what it's doing on the record. Same goes with the confusing features which include a Pimp C verse that has nothing to do with the track it's on and a DMX inspired song where Drake reflects on trust. The latter being more confusing as the song is supposed to be semi-serious but ends up coming off as unintentionally funny.
Overall it's a solid, meticulously crafted release but I can't shake the feeling that something's missing. Drake producer/BFF and longtime collaborator Noah "40" Shebib does an admiral job of crafting the sound around Drake's voice, but Drake seems bored. The vibe is much more subdued this time around, some would say boring, than it's ever been on a Drake album. Where is all the energy? Where's "Started from the Bottom", "HYFR", "The Motto"? Hell, anything that shows he's doing more than staring at a pile of money and reflecting for the millionth time about growing up in Toronto. There's no respite from the heavy ideas presented here, no fun to be had in Drake's life these days. Only complex business ventures and relationships that breed mistrust.
As he tries to juggle his growing laundry list of responsibilities as a businessman with being one of the most famous rappers in the world, it seems his passion for money has started to eclipse his passion for music. It's clear this album took a lot of work, it just doesn't have a lot of heart.