“I made a career off reminiscing,” Drake gloats in a typically meta lyric on Views, his marathon fourth album, though the assertion is debatable. If anything, he’s made his career out of over-sharing. It was Marvin’s Room, a remorseful airing of his sad sexual laundry, that kick-started Drake’s reinvention from Lil Wayne’s cornball sidekick into a genuine prestige artist. Ever since, his music has functioned as a public journal, filling listeners in on every empty fling, every broken friendship, and every romantic disappointment. Reminisce? Sure, he does some of that, too, but he’s savvy enough to understand that a pop star’s real-time grievances will always be more intriguing than whatever lies down memory lane.
Views arrives at a crossroads in Drake’s career, following Hotline Bling, his biggest hit yet, and also with a budding sense that his artistic peak might be in the rearview. Prickly and monochromatic, his 2015 retail mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was hampered by an uneven bangers-to-bloat ratio, while his Future collaboration, What A Time To Be Alive, awkwardly placed him on somebody else’s terrain, a perennial half step behind his less famous co-headliner.
Those projects were tossed to the world so nonchalantly that they demanded to be graded on a curve, but Views arrives with real expectations. Taken on its own, it’s another sumptuously produced, artfully crafted statement from one of the few rap stars with a truly individualistic aesthetic. It’s also too long and stubbornly low energy, nowhere near the knockout Drake’s been building it up to be since practically before he began recording it. Even more so than 2013’s Nothing Was The Same, an otherwise fantastic effort that hugged its predecessors’ template a little too tightly, Views can’t escape the sense that Drake’s done this before and done it better.
More of the same isn’t always the worst thing. Once again, Noah “40” Shebib is the album’s primary architect, and his beats are as tactile as ever. Few producers have a better understanding of empty space; his Mary J. Blige flip on Weston Road Flows is utterly gorgeous. But aside from some welcome injections of dancehall and Afrobeat that periodically lend the record an understated global feel, even View’s highlights feel rehashed. U With Me finds Drake on some DMX shit, just as Nothing Was The Same aligned him with Wu-Tang and Cappadonna. Different ’90s reference points, same thing.
Drake’s rapping has regressed, too. He’s not back to hash-tagging, exactly, but he’s letting clunkers get by at an alarming rate. “I keep it a hundred like I’m running a fever,” he boasts on the title track. This follows a line about being doubled-crossed like two Christians that would make 2010 Big Sean wince. He used to have the charisma to make lines like that easy to overlook. Here he fires them off one after another and with scant conviction. Since Take Care, all of Drake’s albums have had a late-night feel, but Views is the first where he sounds tired.
He doesn’t do himself any favors by limiting the entire, 20-song, 82-minute album to just two guest raps (one from Future and another recycled from the Pimp C vault). That’s more weight than any lone rapper can carry, and to get through it, he leans hard on old tropes. He turns his verses into Drake Mad Libs, filling each blank with the usual, self-absorbed musings on displacement, insecurity, and his dual fears of commitment and abandonment. He used to be great at this stuff. By now he’s rapped about himself to exhaustion. Views is the work of an inconsistent talent desperately in need of a new muse.