It’s Spring, 2017, and I’m not sure if I'll ever have a son - or a child, for that matter - but if I do, I want you to know about this moment in pop culture. Can you believe that, nearly a year after its release, people still don’t know how good Drake’s Views is?
Just this last week, Drake released More Life, an organization of new material he calls a “playlist.” I’m seriously not even ready for it; I’ve hardly stopped listening to Views. But in the wake of More Life, the rushed critical reception reads like this: “He’s rectified himself for Views” or “Okay, I forgive him for Views now.” In their More Life review, the now-surely-defunct-publication Pitchfork called Views a “creative and personal dead end.”
I mean, I know Views wasn’t the most critically acclaimed upon its own release, but that thing has shown to have legs. It might not be shocking to you, as you’re reading this with a hindsight we don’t have in the present, but in 2016 it would’ve been taboo for me to admit to people that I listened to Views wayyyyy more than I did Chance's Coloring Book.
Maybe this diverse, and what I would consider hyperbolic, reaction between Views and Drake's surrounding work is in his presentation, or how he tempers and primes his audience’s expectations. Though you surely wouldn’t know about it now, years after its release, Views was preceded by a cinematic trailer that played as a fairly ubiquitous TV spot for a couple weeks. The trailer itself, albeit fairly vacuous, was a pensive winter scene of Toronto shot in beautiful monochrome. It trumpeted the coming of a masterpiece.
In contrast, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and More Life were released suddenly, under the labels of “mixtape” or “playlist” with no marketing campaign. This surely affects how they’re received. There are lower stakes in these non-canonical releases. Although, while they aren’t released as “studio LPs,” they’re still apprehended by the public as canonical. But your father digresses. Either way, I appreciate the ambiguous nature of putting out work labeled “mixtape” or “playlist.” It liberates artists like Drake to be more experimental and prolific.
Anyhow, contrary to expectations, Views is not a masterpiece. It’s not Drake’s best work, but it’s a damn fine record. It’s large, spanning 20 tracks, which makes for pocks of inconsistency, but as you surely know, Views is host to some of the most compelling moments in his catalogue.
I remember my first listens to Views, how thankful I was that Drake was leaning into his R&B abilities more than he had on his most previous work. For that alone, I’m grateful for this record.
All I want from Drake is a career of tracks like "Redemption," "Feel No Ways," and "With You." Drake is peerless at the slowjam. His voice and affect is so silky and pleasing, and the self-reflection in those tracks aren't often found in the Top 40. Even when he’s on slowjam autopilot, like on "Fire & Desire," it’s a gift.
The meat of the record is the five-track run of “Feel No Ways” to “With You.” That’s where I’ve spent most of my time with this record, and I think it’s some of his best 20 minutes. The chorus of “Feel No Ways,” the paranoia of “Hype,” the sudden, slow coda of "Weston Road Flows" (But I’m happiest when I can buy what I want / get high when I want), the lilting bounce of “With You,” it’s a great run. “Redemption,” in particular, is a masterclass in confessional songwriting. Amongst countless poignant lines, I miss the feeling of you missin’ me might take the cake. But I don’t know, then I remember: I gave your nickname to someone else. You know? Coupled with his affect, some of those lines are heartbreakers. And that five-track run doesn’t even include any of the album’s five massive singles.
There’s a strange paradox with Drake where his faults often make him a more interesting artist and pop culture figure. For instance, people rolled their eyes at the DMX sample that Drake followed with the line On some DMX shit on “U With Me?,” because it comes off as posturing. Yes, of course it is! It’s dumb as hell. Drake thinks he’s hard, or as I have written about before, he tries to manufacture an image of himself as hard. But nobody believes it, and this dichotomy between confessional R&B singer peppered with pseudo hard-ass nonsense is compelling.
Remember when he was denied access to the Miami Heat locker room after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals? When told access was for media only, as if slipping into Charles Foster Kane, Drake boasted, “I Am Media.” These wrinkles, though easy to mock him for, make his persona more complex, and that spills into his music.
Sometimes imperfection can be just as interesting as perfection. It makes me wonder, even though I will always advocate for more Slowjam Drake, an album without the transparent bouts of Studio Gangster Drake wouldn’t mean as much, would it?
Maybe we’ll find out one day. Until then, you and I know Views is nothing to be taken for granted.