There is no formula for releasing an album in 2016. Labels were once a murky filter standing between an artist and their fans, but today, the relationships are more transparent. Increasingly, the artist is directly responsible for curating the listener’s experience, and they can take a myriad of approaches when showing you their world. Kanye held his Pablo listening party at Madison Square Garden, Beyoncé premiered her latest album, Lemonade, on HBO — and on April 29, Drake held a global listening party for Views, his fourth official album, on his Beats 1 show, OVO Sound Radio.
The listening party was preceded by a lengthy sit-down interview with DJ Zane Lowe, during which Drake explained just why he’s chosen to barricade himself behind Apple’s paywall. He says the partnership is “about focusing your audience and giving them a place to go,” which makes tons of sense in a world where you can’t send fans to nonexistent record stores. The game now is about holding their attention long enough to turn you into a trending topic, so that even those who have no interest in your product have to take notice.
And speaking of sit-downs, it’s worth noting that his cover art, which features him seated atop his hometown Toronto’s CN Tower, became an instant meme, spawning parodies and even playable games. A quick Google search yields a host of quirky photos showing a tiny Drake perched everywhere from Future’s rearview mirror to Rihanna’s shoulder; he’s even posted a few of his favorites on his Instagram account. Needless to say, the hype for Views was palpable — so how is it?
In a nutshell, it doesn’t push the envelope so much as it signs, seals, and delivers it. While time is the only true testament of an album’s historical context, I listened to Views in every setting imaginable — using headphones on a plane, riding in a car, loudly at a club, on my home audio system — and came away with the impression that it’s right on-trend, though it doesn’t do much to shake things up.
Each version of Drake’s patented sound is present, including his newly minted Caribbean persona, which finds him exploring dancehall riddims and the associated slang, a focus he says can be attributed to Toronto’s large Caribbean population. He reminded Lowe that “this album is the most blatant display of me being proud of where I’m from,” a declaration made with the beaming pride you tend to muster once you’ve successfully absconded to a new city — which in Drake’s case would be the tony California suburb of Calabasas (where he’s neighbors with Kanye and Justin Bieber).
The song “9” — a swirling uptempo number with a sparse rhyme scheme — nonetheless lays out familiar, down-home themes that serve the entire record: love, loyalty, betrayal, and hometown pride. On it, Drake proudly asserts that “They give me loyalty, I don’t gotta pay for it”; it could easily have served as the opening salvo for the album. “Hype” and “Still Here” flaunt that familiar Drake braggadocio and bouncy flow over breezy, playful beats that make them fun in the same way blocking people on Twitter or unfriending old classmates on Facebook is.
The most refreshing moment on the record comes courtesy of “Feel No Ways,” a tale of unrequited love that serves as a near-antithesis to his hit single “Better Find Your Love.” It scratches the same aesthetic itch, with its sparkling keys and punchy drums, but opts instead to explore the end of a relationship, with lines like “I tried with you/There’s more to life than sleeping in and getting high with you.” Its infectious melody is the work of Jordan Ullman of Majid Jordan, the songwriting duo responsible for Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
Meanwhile, several tracks take a page from the dancehall-inspired “One Dance,” a runaway hit the moment it premiered. Following up on their last collaboration, “Work,” Rihanna pops up on “Too Good,” in a glossy performance that oozes with chemistry. Rounding out the Caribbean vibe is “With You,” which features a show-stealing performance by OVO signee PartyNextDoor, the Canadian singer who produced “Legend” for Drake. These highlights make you wish that Drake risked more on behalf of his collaborating artists: In taking cues from him, the talented surrounding team does little service to his well-trod subject matter.
For rap purists who want Drake to return to his roots, he does that, too — more than effectively — with two tracks, “Weston Road Flows” and “Views.” But even on that title track, he’s rapping about how “me and Nico used to plot on how to make a change/Now me and Kobe doin’ shots the night before the game,” kicking bars that either make you wish he had realer personal problems, or that you could visit his tax bracket to see what all the fuss is about.
Views is a long-player. Clocking in at twenty tracks, it might wear down the most devoted listener. But the album’s length is an easy gripe to manage. It’s a double disc’s worth of material ripe for picking apart and whittling down to a few favorite tunes, which is what most people do these days anyway. The larger problem is that the shtick of being successful yet (still) lovelorn, forlorn, and paranoid has finally worn thin. We all know how the story ends: Drake is safe and sound in Calabasas, surrounded by a close-knit circle that includes no new friends.