Air horns, auto-tune, the immortal lyric “last name ever, first name greatest”; just like that, Drake was unleashed upon the world with the fury of a thousand unstereotypical Canadians. The year was 2009, and although Drake had already made his breakthrough into the hip-hop sphere with his So Far Gone mixtape, “Forever” was the track that catapulted him into the mainstream. And what was stopping it, really? It guest starred three of the biggest rappers in the game at the time (including a post-rehab Eminem trying to reclaim some of his former relevance) and had a spot on a major “inspired by” faux-soundtrack to a popular documentary. If this wasn’t the hit it was tailor-made to be, then Drake’s career was doomed. But it was a hit, all right; “Forever” sold millions of copies, became ingrained in the public consciousness, and for the next several years, Drake seemed positively unstoppable. The hip-hop and pop charts couldn’t escape from Drake, whether he was idly wondering about the square root of 69 on Rihanna’s “What’s My Name?”, sampling Jamie xx sampling Gil-Scott Heron on “Take Care”, coining the 2010s’ most excruciatingly enduring acronym with “The Motto”, or tag-teaming with then-rising star Kendrick Lamar on the latter’s 2012 track “Poetic Justice”, all the while developing his (slightly questionable) songwriting persona and slowly drifting away from his Young Money roots. Three solo albums later, what could everyone’s favorite Degrassi alum have in store for us next?


The first time we heard about Views was in July 2014, when we still knew it by the superior title Views from the 6. (I’m going to be resentful about this for a while; Views is snappy, but Views from the 6 has an air of importance that the new title lacks.) Bits of information about the album bounced around for the following 18 months, involving several surprise standalone single releases, two mixtapes (one solo and one a collaboration with Future), and a general public agreement that whatever Drake’s next release sounded like, it was going to be his quintessential artistic statement. Views was set to be Drake’s big album, after two albums that already strove for that title. Now that it’s actually out, I can tell you…yes. It’s big. 19 tracks, nearly 80 minutes (slightly shorter than Take Care, but a good 20 minutes longer than Nothing Was the Same), and a plethora of ready-made Drakeisms. Drake may not be “making a statement” in the way people might expect him to, but there’s no denying he’s saying something.


Exactly two minutes into Views, something beautiful happens. Up until then, “Keep the Family Close” follows Drake’s established musical formula distressingly closely. If the melodies don’t make this apparent, the one-liners do—the hook begins with a typical Drake lyric in “all of my ‘let's just be friends’ are friends I don’t have anymore”, but my personal biggest eye-roller was “like when Chrysler made that one car that looked just like the Bentley/I always saw you for what you could’ve been”. Two minutes in, though, Drake sings “you went and chose a side that wasn’t mine”, and suddenly a burst of percussion cuts through the track’s emotionally insulated navel-gazing and explodes into something a tinge darker, more mysterious, something altogether new. “You’re so predictable, I hate people like you,” Drake sings, and for one of the first times in his career, his bitterness is actually palpable, glaring at us from the forefront instead of hiding behind a veil of nonchalance. Does this fierce wonder stay long? No, it doesn’t; the song resolves back into standard Drake fare within seconds, with reprises of that pivotal moment sounding hollower than first contact. But listeners are left with the impression, the knowledge that something new happened. That alone inclines me to call “Keep the Family Close” a Views highlight.

It’s these hints of freshness that mark Views’ successes. If we’re honest, Drake could probably make a living doing the same thing for his entire career, but Views makes it clear that he’s at least trying to break new personal ground. “Summers Over Interlude” is the only track that explicitly references the seasonal structure that ties the album together (I won’t go as far as some and call it a concept album, but it’s a nice touch), and it’s surprisingly one of the best tracks here; a pleasant, airy, guitar-heavy ode to summer flings and the emptiness that follows them, smoothly sung by past Drake collaborator Majid Jordan. Without Drake’s artist attribution, there’d be virtually no way to tell it came from his album, which counterintuitively makes it stand out. “Weston Road Flows” is another highlight, with a beat and delivery reminiscent of a good freestyle. It’s one of the few tracks to effectively show off Drake’s rapping capabilities, even though I’ll always prefer him as a singer (with or without auto-tune). Speaking of which, “One Dance” has also grown on me since I first heard it, partially because the album’s context helps a lot, and partially because he’s tweaked the production and added some more sample work in the middle, which helps give the track some internal balance. The production in general is spot-on here, and less stuffy than Drake’s past releases; of particular note is “U With Me?”, where Kanye West joins the credits (perhaps as a thank you for Drake’s behind-the-scenes contributions to The Life of Pablo) and brings his trademark spaciousness into the fray.


Almost all of these good points have one thing in common, though: they’re the aspects of the album that have the least to do with Drake himself. His lyrics—by far Views’ weakest link—exemplify this discrepancy more than anything else. The man’s public image hasn’t changed one bit in the past three years, and while many of the lines he puts forth on Views are inoffensively bland, a prominent selection of them are just baffling. How am I supposed to react to his rhetorical question “why do I want an independent woman to feel like she needs me?” on “Redemption”, a song about putting a disproportionate amount of effort into a relationship, when four tracks prior he casually confessed “I group DM my exes”? Does Drake actually think that his creepily overbearing tone on “Controlla” (which is sorely missing Popcaan’s guest feature from the early leaked version) sounds romantic in any way whatsoever? And while we’re on the subject of missing guest features, taking Kanye West’s verse off of “Pop Style” reveals just how dull the song is at its core, with Drake sounding like he needs to seriously revise his sleep schedule as he lazily flows over a beat that’s far too minimal to be in any way interesting. The album’s way too long, too; I’ve alluded to this already, but listening to 80 minutes of Drake in one sitting is a major commitment, and there’s simply not enough variation here to make it feel worthwhile. Bits and pieces are memorable, but often for the wrong reasons. Great moments do not a great album make.


I haven’t yet mentioned the best thing on Views, and that’s because it’s technically not even on the album. It’s a bonus track. The track that spawned countless Internet memes, the one that took over the airwaves for the latter part of 2015, and arguably the culmination of Drake’s career up to this point. Written around a simplistic Timmy Thomas sample, “Hotline Bling” is the most mature track Drake has put out so far; the desperation of his “nice guy” lyrics is very intentional (a possible first for him), the melodies are fluid and variable, and the production is the cleanest he’s ever had. But, again, given the fact that it first dropped nearly nine months before the album, is it even fair to think of it as part of Views? I’d consider it more a product of the pre-release hype, the anticipation that brought us If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and What a Time to Be Alive. Come to think of it, Drake’s been doing a lot of high-profile projects in the past couple years. I can’t help but wonder what he could do if he took a few years off and really focused on an album.


Yes, Views is both overlong and underwhelming. But there’s a glimmer of something more poignant beneath its bloated surface. Drake might need some time to figure out where that comes from, but I’m still holding out hope he might. I don’t imagine there are many other Toronto rappers vying for the title of 6 God, so if he lays low for a while, he can rest assured no one will be touching his throne anytime soon. Either way, Drake’s growing up. I suspect we haven’t yet seen him at his best. C PLUS