Has Drake fallen off? I’ve had a hunch that this was happening for a little over a year now, but the pop-culture whirlwind of Meek Mill and “Hotline Bling” threw me off the case. The truth was buried beneath a shower of memes and GIFs. Somehow, the stench of tepid-hotdog-water bars found their way into this detective’s nose.
With the release of Views, I was forced to revisit suspicions I’ve had since the simpler times of winter 2015. I drew my looking glass a bit closer and found three chinks in Drake’s armor: transparent calculation, wave riding, and lazy bars. The current state of the rap game had left these weak points uncovered and untested by competitors, but maybe VIEWS would assuage my concerns. Let me take you back to where it all started.
March 2015. Paris. A disappointingly terrible nightclub.
An unrepentant Kanye stan, I foolheartedly attend a Just Blaze set with a flash drive of struggle beats while on vacation, because, hey, you never know. Prior to Just Blaze’s arrival, someone made the decision that the entirety of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late needed to be played to a room full of clubgoers.
It did not need to be played; it was not a good album. For a brief period, the pop-culture gods had deemed that “woe” was a thing. It was terrible. It was contrived—it may have been written by Quentin Miller—but people liked it and I couldn’t understand why. The entire project was filled with bread-loaf ends, outside of “Used 2," "6PM in New York,” “6 Man” and “Jungle.” Fortunately, the karma of releasing a reach like “Madonna” quickly rebounded and Drake received an ashtray and plain Listerine kiss from Madonna herself.
The averageness of IYRTITL could be chalked up to the project being deemed a mixtape, but “Madonna” is an example of one of Drake’s consistent issues. Referencing other artists is fine, but his heavy-handedness results in poor execution. “Wu-Tang Forever,” “Practice” and the outro on “6 Man” were lowlights on his previous albums. On Views he commits the sin again with “U With Me?” He even had the nerve to name a track “Fire & Desire,” which included melodic vocals but had no “sangin’” on it.
May 2015. Los Angeles. A bar.
The happy hour crowd is preparing to watch the Atlanta Hawks get casually swept aside by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the first time. A cameraman catches LeBron James singing “My Way” by Fetty Wap. Fetty Wap was the hottest thing in 2015, so, of course, Drake remixed it. Drake also liked ILoveMakonnen“Tuesday” and remixed it. Drake also liked Migos’ “Versace” and remixed it.
There’s nothing wrong with an artist appreciating the work of up-and-comers, but Drake’s quickness to hang 10 on the latest wave is becoming less tolerable as his star grows. Recently, ILoveMakonnen commented on Drake’s lack of support during his time on the OVO Sound label before quickly backtracking. Even his latest collaboration with Future was driven heavily by Future’s sound.
VIEWS showcases Drake’s affinity for dancehall on “Too Good,” “Controlla,” “One Dance” and a few outros, including a shoutout from Beenie Man. While Toronto has a large Caribbean community, it’s never really been front and center in Drake’s work. Maybe, as de facto mayor, he’s trying to bring the entire “6” under his banner.
March 2016. New York. A cubicle.
"Pop Style" Drake feat. Jay Z and Kanye West” appears on my news feed. I scour YouTube to find an official track and am treated to an audio diaper: “Got so many chains they call me ‘Chaining Tatum.’ (Editor's note: An entire episode of True Hollywood Stories needs to be dedicated to deconstructing how bad that line is.) The spirit of Big Sean is moving. Also, the Jay Z feature was two bars. Which isn’t quite “Fuck y’all niggas,” but it’s clearly “I’m busy nuzzling my wife’s ankle.” The final album version includes neither Jay nor Ye.
Drake’s lyricism has always been solid, but his ever increasing focus on his flow, coupled with the specter of Quentin Miller, has introduced doubts. These doubts turned to legitimate concerns when I heard the final official track on the album, the titular “Views.” Typically, the last track on a rap album is reserved for barzzz, and these lines were obviously not peer reviewed: “My wifey is a spice like I’m David Beckham,” and “It’s like the front of the plane, nigga, it’s all business.”
After wading through a sea of Lemonade to give VIEWS some quality time, I came to a realization: Too many years of celebrity have eroded Drake’s greatest attribute, his honesty. Attempts at crafting or sometimes following a particular sound leave even his best bars lost in a cloud of disingenuity.
Drake is a rapper, not a band; sound alone leaves his persona lost in a caricature of itself. VIEWS touches on “the come-up,” but it generally sidesteps Lil Wayne. It mentions his legacy but doesn’t really discuss who he’s inspiring or actually working with.
The album once again muses on relationships, but instead of the faux-wistful dismissiveness we’ve come to expect from manipulative player Drake, we get a cold cornball lothario. A man relegated to the truth of his ain’t-shit-ness. It’s eerie that more of the same would follow Nothing Was the Same. VIEWS is Soviet-era propaganda. Toronto in red. Compelling, thoughtful and masterful, while simultaneously cold and devoid of joy, like the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. Drake says it himself on “Hype”: “I don’t take shit for granted; I do my own propaganda.”
He didn’t fall off, but I think Aubrey has gone missing.