Hip-hop heavyweights are making bold claims — what’s new? — of their supremacy over the rap game. With incredible kickstarts to 2016 — Kendrick’s seemingly infinite lyrical versatility on Untitled Unmastered and Kanye West’s prolific victory lap on The Life of Pablo — the ongoing struggle to be the greatest rapper alive remains contested. For his part, Drake’s two 2015 mixtapes and “Hotline Bling” mania place him among the pantheon of rappers dominating the industry.
Drake first hinted at a new full-length studio album in 2014. In July of that year, Billboard revealed the planned title of his fourth studio album, Views from the 6, coining the term “The Six” referring to Toronto, Drake’s hometown. In “6 God,” “6 Man,” and “You & the 6,” songs off of Drake’s solo 2015 mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake argues that he is as much a product of the city of Toronto as he is the king of its rap scene.
After a 2015 filled with tremendous successes affirming his superstar status, Drake has responded to his peers’ projects with Views, a panoramic picture of life from the rapper’s perspective.
Yet, I can’t stop humming, “Just give my fat ass a kiss, boy/Tonight I’m fucking up all your shit boy” from Beyoncé’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” While Drake’s Views provides a full look into the Toronto rapper’s life and childhood, I can’t stop watching Beyoncé’s Lemonade. In every aspect that Beyoncé innovates — seamless genre bending, colorful narrative, and cinematic presentation — Drake replays the same tropes that made him famous to begin with.
The album’s name change from Views from the 6 to Views makes sense. Drake offers us a broad panorama of his life, beyond just Toronto. But the rapper fails to offer much we haven’t seen before — and certainly nothing visually breathtaking.
In the context of groundbreaking releases from other rappers and Beyoncé’s Lemonade media/public attention black hole, Views does not exhibit Drake pushing enough boundaries. Too often the album feels as if Drake tried to integrate elements of Kendrick or Kanye’s famously cohesive albums and simply failed to do so effectively.
Although there are a number of noteworthy highlights among the album’s twenty tracks, those highlights only stand out because Drake exhibits stunning prowess in the particular rap/R&B/trap niche he has already developed, rather than the artist exploring new directions musically or lyrically.
“Keep the Family Close,” the first track off Views and an attempt at a sweeping orchestral genre crossover, reminisces on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam.” The only problem being “Keep the Family Close” is not nearly as good as “Ultralight Beam.” Drake sings over smooth orchestration paired with the occasional powerful organ chord. Maybe the production is vaguely unusual — it’s certainly nothing special beyond pretty, much like Drake’s singing and clever wordplay. Nonetheless, this song will surely be wildly popular.
Drake hits his stride from tracks three to seven. “U With Me?” exhibits Drake asking a girl literally if she is with him, with some impressive rap-singing versatility. In “Feel No Ways” Drake does expand his pop repertoire, using more recently popularized sunny synths and drum kits. “Hype” is hype: “They cannot fuck with my legacy/ I don’t know what else is left for me/ After this there’s no one a threat to me.”
“Weston Road Flows” is the album’s nostalgic three-and-a-half-minute verse magnum opus, and “Redemption” is simply pleasing to listen to. Even the uninterrupted, hook-be-damned verse of “Weston Road Flows” is reminiscent of Drake’s long verse from “Tuscan Leather” off 2013’s Nothing was the Same.
Views’ stylistic repetition begins to feel tedious about halfway through, with pop anthems making up the bulk of the playtime. “One Dance,” “Grammys” (a Future collaboration), “Too Good” (a RiRi collaboration), and “Fire & Desire” will probably all top charts. Hotline Bling, thrown carelessly at the end of the album, already had its 15 weeks or so of fame.
Expect Views to vie with Lemonade for radio time in the coming weeks. If nothing else, Drake’s newest album will unleash a tracklist worth of bangers, anthems, serenades and, most importantly, ear worms that will invade every car ride, advertisement and party. Yet Views contributes little to Drake’s reputation: there is no narrative or growth and there are few surprises. Despite chart ascendance, Drake has yet to prove himself worthy of unparalleled accolades outside Toronto.