Given the chilling efficiency with which our biggest pop stars have lined up to release their big commercial products, it’s hard not assume they’re colluding with their “secret” album release dates so as not to step on each other’s toes. Now, with the “surprise” release of his fourth LP, Views, it’s Drake’s turn.
The year thus far has seen new records from Rihanna, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and Beyoncé — and Drake’s, like the rest of them, will be heard by the industry and the world at large at the same time.
So what does it sound like? There are a few bouncy dancehall tracks, but in general, it’s sleepy. We won’t even hazard a guess as to what mind state he’s coming to Views from, but his 401(K) anxiety and mortgage malaise certainly makes us tired.
There a bunch of producers with credits on Views, but there’s also a lot of Noah “40” Shebib, his homie and frequent collaborator. Kanye West is on two tracks (“U With Me?,” “Feel No Ways”), and frequent collaborators Nineteen85 and Boi-1da also make appearances. But we were surprised there wasn’t more of Frank Dukes, the up-and-comer who helped produce both “Hotline Bling” and early single “Pop Style.”
The troubled DMX has had harsh words for Drake in the past, telling Power 105.1 in 2012: “I don’t like anything about Drake. I don’t like his voice. I don’t like what he talks about. I don’t like his face. I don’t like the way he walks. I don’t like his haircut.” But DMX does like money, that stuff Drake certainly paid him to sample both “How’s it Goin’ Down” and “What These Bitches Want” for Views track “U With Me?”. Queens MC Noreaga has shared kind words with Shebib in the past; to hear N.O.R.E. tell it, he was the only reason the producer was able to connect with DMX to clear the sample.
Drake’s sonic palette has always borrowed from house and R&B as much as it has from hip-hop, but the codeine pace of Views has it leaning towards post-chillwave R&B influences. It’s especially noticeable on “Feel No Ways,” which sounds like it could have been written by Dev Hynes or Bryndon Cook, if not for the AutoTune croon. The post-Kanye Winans sample on the album’s title track is a production highlight, one of only two tracks with solo production credits. Expect to see more Drake joints from its creator, Shebib protege Maneesh Biyade.
Views is expected to sell at least 800,000 units in its first week of sales. Billboard reports its sources at Republic Records say it sold more than 630,000 copies on day one. At that rate, does it matter how we — or any critic, for that matter — feel about it?
Establishment media entities such as The New York Times and Condé Nast’s Pitchfork had their reviews published by the end of the weekend, maximizing their slice of the sizable traffic pie. These perspectives will likely set the tone for the record’s critical reception. But their influence on the commerce of Views is almost inconsequential. They were going to cover Views whether it was good or bad — there aren’t many culture outlets that cover music that can afford to not cover it. Some are just more invested than others.
A full decade from the release of his debut mixtape Room For Improvement, Drake is the perfect case study for the new paradigm for a commercial pop star — the kind that wields more leverage over the press than vice versa. A child actor, he built a fanbase online with three insanely popular mixtapes, and audience in hand, he was free to negotiate with labels big and small. Ultimately, he signed with the commercial rap king du jour, Lil Wayne, and his Young Money imprint. The web of Young Money and its parent label, Cash Money, and distributor, Republic Records — itself a division of big-three conglomerate Universal — is tangled indeed, but wherever Drake releases his music, he takes that audience with him.
But more important than his independent and major label ties are his technology ties. His deal with Apple Music was historic, for sure, but not unprecedented — Jay-Z and Beyoncé have been hedging their bets on the commercial success of their records through direct brand partnerships for years, and Rihanna has followed suit. At this point, the machine is so well-oiled, that no matter what it sounded like, Views was going to make tons of money. The music itself might as well have been an afterthought — and listening to Views, it shows. 10 years in, and Drake has never been more boring. He’s also never been as successful.