“MVP MVP ’09 all the way to ’16 / Even next season looking like a breeze”
When Drake rapped this on “Pop Style”—the first official single from Views—we should’ve known trouble was on the horizon. Like the hare dancing ahead of the turtle, or the villain giving a monologue in literally any superhero movie, Drake was tempting fate. And despite his expectations, the next season was decidedly not a breeze.
Three years ago, Drake released Views. Wandering, lengthy, and endlessly discussed, it marked a turning point in the rapper’s career. After outgrowing his underdog reputation with 2013’s Nothing Was the Same, and reinforcing his popularity with mixtapes like If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Views was Drake’s official debut as rap’s mainstream champion. Hindsight is 20/20, but IYRITL tracks like “Used To”—an entire song about the unexpected adjustments of success—were early, pre-Views indicators that the Drake we knew was changing. No longer playing with house money, he was finally confronted with the obstacle that all growing artists must face: expectations.
In fairness, these expectations were, for the most part, created by Drake himself. The album—originally billed as “Views From the 6”—was teased, hyped, and discussed for almost two years before actually being released. Looking back, this breaking point was inevitable. After following Take Care with Nothing Was the Same, he pushed himself onto a bigger, more critical stage. When he dropped his mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in 2015, there was no rollout; a move that showed off his growing influence while also avoiding a build-up of expectations. There was no album trailer, no billboards, and almost no features. Still, the project received love from all sides. IYRTITL may have been a rap album, but Drake was becoming a pop artist. Historically, the discovery that you didn’t write your songs came with career-ending implications. But Meek Mill’s claims that Drake owed his success to a ghost writer were generally ignored in the aftermath of their feud, and almost totally erased with the release of What A Time To Be Alive a few months later. His embrace of social media combined with What A Time and the Meek beef that summer had pushed into a somehow even brighter spotlight.
When Views finally did come around, the reception was mixed to say the least. There were several different schools of thought surrounding the album, but one of the biggest criticisms of Views was its lack of clarity. The album is a twenty-song window into everything that Drake was in 2016. For some, this showed a lack of focus. Devoid of any specific heart or goal, Views can read as a mixed bag of conflicting thoughts. But at a larger level this quality is better understood as a reflection of the versatility that Drake has, and it gave us a hint of the sort of theme and genre bending that would lead to 2017’s More Life. In the same way that More Life—marketed heavily as a “playlist”—showcased the 6 God in his many forms, Views offers a similarly diverse range of Drake’s personas and moods. He took this idea even further in 2018 and split his album in half to reflect its distinctions. The plan was always to move between genres and sounds, and Views gave the public our first real taste of what he was trying to accomplish. His need for expansion is clear on Views, but the album also owes its length to an overall lack of source material.
Drake’s career has long been measured in terms of its narratives. So Far Gone was his introduction. Take Care unleashed his full potential. Nothing Was The Same reinforced his versatility, IYRTITL was his vengeful response to those who critiqued his lyrical abilities, and What A Time was his victory lap with another one of rap’s brightest starts. On a much larger scale however, he had always embraced the role of the underdog. Whether he was the “doubted actor with rap dreams” or the “romantically challenged everyman,” his story was always one of struggle. And why wouldn’t he embrace this narrative? The American success story has always been inextricably linked to narrative. What you’ve achieved is important, but equally relevant is how you did it. How you got your start, the odds you overcame, those who supported you, and those who doubted you. That last part of the narrative—the people who said you couldn’t, wouldn’t, or shouldn’t—is especially significant in our society. We’d like to believe that the most successful among us will themselves to the top through their own will to succeed, but the spiteful motivation to prove others wrong often goes unmentioned. But what happens after you get to the top?
With Views, the perpetual underdog had finally outgrown his go-to source of motivation. By the time September of 2015—the originally promised release date—rolled around, Drake was far from underrated. His struggle to find motivation is all over Views. In an interview with Zane Lowe he explained, “the album is based around the change of the seasons in our city” and talked about the extreme winters and summers. But outside of thunderstorm outros between tracks, the seasonal concept is undetectable on the album. The project was branded as an ode to the city where it all started, but that promise is yet another one that Drake has trouble keeping on the album. Outside sources of conflict could have offered inspiration, but they were never realized either. The issues with Meek Mill were entertaining, but he won so swiftly and decisively that no real rivalry was formed. Of course he tried anyway, —Views is full of subtle and not so subtle jabs at Meek and other less important rappers—but the album still lacks a real antagonist a part from his own paranoia. He raps, “my enemies wanna be friends with my other enemies / I don’t let it get to me,” but every other bar on the album screams, “It is definitely getting to me.” On songs like “Redemption” he slips in digs at former flames, but it feels more like bitterness and less like mature reflection. When “Summer Sixteen” was released a few months before the album’s official singles, Drake made a show of prepping his plans for revenge. But on Views, it’s hard to tell who he needed to get even with. A year later on the outro of More Life, he would lament, “I was an angry youth while I was writing Views.” Everyone not named Drake already knew that, and Views would have benefitted immensely from that type of self-awareness.
Views is at its best when we’re given the versions of Drake we’ve come to love and sheds its vengeful aspirations. The breezy “Feel No Ways” is one of the album’s highlights, and pairs classic Drake sadness with an upbeat delivery. “Weston Road Flows” provides another classic sample and “Child’s Play” leans all the way into the ridiculousness of most Drake conflicts. And we get another great collaboration with Future on “Grammys,” while the comedy of “Hotline Bling” comes not from the song, but from the instant classic music video that gave yet another reminder of the Boy’s all-time meme status. The album’s length causes it to drag at times, but its versatility, strong production, and Cheesecake Factory-based arguments make the highs especially effective.
It is often said that Views would have been better with just a couple changes. “If he had just cut out the filler, it would’ve been a classic,” “more singing could have helped balance it out,” or “less singing would have made it perfect.” But the truth is, while Views is not be a perfect album, it is a perfect Drake album. There were several issues with the project, but its biggest downfall was the hype built up around it; is there anything more Drake than that? With Views, Drake set the stage for everything he has done since. The drawn-out release, the constant debate, and the movie-length release have all become standard parts of his process. The album gave birth to several chart-topping tracks despite the critical responses, foreshadowing his coming run of chart dominating productions. Drake started from the bottom with his first run of albums, but Views was Drake’s first step toward accepting his role at the top.
By: Michael Miller