by Tirhakah Love (@GoonTherapy)
“Sympin” – a plea for sympathy usually directed towards a just-out-of-reach lover, often dipping into ironic sexism — the most socially acceptable of all the sexisms. (See Boyz II Men for a more fleshed out definition) – The Goon Dictionary
That Drake released his fourth studio album, Views, a week after Prince died and Queen Bey disintegrated entire wig communities is a testament to how bright his star shines. It’s wild, still, that sympin-ass Drake, a Canadian-born, child television star holds the spot — previously held by Jay-Z and Drake’s mentor, Lil Wayne — as #1 hip-hop artist in the world. What a time. Aside from all those supposed obstacles to stardom, Drake held 2015-2016 in the palm of his hand when he dismembered Meek Mill’s rap career with “Charged Up,”Back-to-Back,” and “Summer Sixteen.” “You gettin’ bodied by a singin’ nigga” is still one of the dirtiest lines in modern hip-hop, in accuracy and self-deprecating humor. But Views, according to Drake, is about returning to the 6ix; to showcase the ebbs and flows of the streets that bred him. Unfortunately, Drake sheds the humor and bombast that defined his tightest lyrical period in exchange for disillusioned boredom that hardly represents the city at all.
Drake has spent a lot more time in Toronto than I have (just moved here in September), but, y’all, the city don’t sound like this. Aubrey got y’all out here thinkin’ Toronto is a sympin symphony in the wintertime, a festive but droning summer period. Spirits start out particularly dreary. The winter wind in the opener, “Keep the Family Close” carry Drake’s lonesome “All of my let’s just be friends are friends I don’t have anymore.” Drake wallows in what feels like inevitable solitude, “Someone up there must just love testing my patience/Someone up there must be in need of some entertainment,” but given his very public thirstiness–this is the same cat who slid into Mia Khalifa’s DM’s tryna get some play and was publicly dismissed–it’s hard to believe that his heartbreak isn’t, at least partially, self-inflicted. The sun shows its face on 90’s R&b inspired joints like “Feel No Ways,” but the track is largely retread. It’s no surprise that Jordan Ullman, co-producer of the hit, “Just Hold On, We’re Coming Home,” (and one-half of OVO’s Majid Jordan) returns with his dewy-eyed vibes. But the composition lacks the synergy of its 2013 predecessor largely because Drizzy’s unambitious vocals.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Views is really meant to be a coming-out party for Drake’s production and talent acquisition team. Noah “40” Shebib meticulously composes a swath of truly impressive soundscapes from the 90’s R&b ode, “Weston Road Flows” to the pleading minimalism in “Redemption.” Both of these records are right in Drake’s wheelhouse, the former featuring an expertly flipped sample of Mary J. Blige’s 1994 cut, “Mary’s Joint;” the latter, a whispering trip hop shouldered by Ray-J’s nu-classik “One Wish.” But both suffer from an emcee who has exhausted his clever rhymes and sounds tired. Other contributions from burgeoning producers, Nineteen85, Wizkid,and Maneesh, are met with equally lackluster lyricism. Struggle bars abound, “You number one and I’m Eddie Murphy we tradin’ places/Lookin’ in the mirror I’m closer than I really appear/Creepin’ like Chilli without the tender, love and care” (Weston Road Flows). Drake’s trademark wordplay is tossed for a lazy facsimile. Pulling from the same repository of allusions — mid-90s rap and R&b — as his previous work, Drake presses against a sympin ceiling of his own making.
Views does sound different in terms of production due to its Caribbean leanings. The album’s poppy dancehall influenced production infuses a nice jolt of energy on tracks like “One Dance,” and “Controlla” but the genre doesn’t really fit Drake’s melodic pace–as we could’ve all surmised when he slowed down “Work” with his elongated syllabic vocals. Attempting to represent the influence of Caribbean culture on black-Canadians is an admirable endeavor that calls into question our notions of appropriation. But the post-production cuts Drake’s camp made coupled with the callous borrowing of Jamaican phrases really constrict conscious-building efforts. Removing artists like Popcaan from “Controlla” while using his sample on a track like “Too Good” signals an individualistic obliviousness that closes the door on contextualizing Toronto’s linguistic and cultural diversity. The album’s high points are defined by other artists. Rihanna, fresh off a chart-burning run with “Work,” returns to grace “Too Good” with a burst of feminine power. It’s no secret, Drake is more comfortable, melodically, in the backdrop of more vocally talented artists. But the features are too few and far between on this marathon of an album.
Views is an experiment on the contagious quality of exasperation. Misery loves company and all that jazz. Misery is magnetic when it’s self-aware. Adele, Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, and even Rihanna to some degree shared vulnerable work in the time between Nothing Was the Same and Views. That type of experiment has proven successful when dashes of spontaneity spice up the stew. But Views sounds like how a “just add water” box of cornbread tastes. Alongside the smorgasbord of truly unique delicacies from the kitchen’s of pop regency, Views has all the components of a fire three-course but just cannot deliver the flavor.