May 6, 2016
Drake Doesn’t Have To Be Likable To Make A Great Album
Wonder what they do put in my position?
Consensus can be frustrating, limiting, cloying. When every single review of an album reads the same way, it begins to feel like we’ve lost something. Hell, maybe we’ve gained something, and it’s that we’re not afraid to call out our superstars on their bullshit. Equating the character, behavior, and beliefs of an artist with the words they say, sing, and rap on tape is the easiest sinkhole to fall into, especially in an age where social media sets up so much of our perception of an artist. They can self-create their image on an ever-moving screen that we stay glued to; no one does this with more finesse than Drake. And for all my frustrations with the 6 God’s blind spots, I can’t sit here and say that Views isn’t a great album, in spite of the fact that Drake isn’t a beacon of emotional intelligence; almost, really, because of it.
Why can’t Drake be a character too? Or rather, why is he the character upon whom we’re most eager to pass judgement? Is it because he reminds us too much of ourselves? Is it because his raps hew the closest to our own introspective self-importance and we don’t want to hear it? We casually brush off lyrics far more specific than every slippery instance of selfishness that Drake openly cops to–and we even fight battles in court that rappers not be equated to their lyrics, like these lines are the facts of their lives. Almost every review turns around and does just that to Views, which, fair enough. I do that too. I recently wrote about re-listening to Weezer in the wake of their newest album, and grappling with the inherent sexism that I missed as a teenaged fan. But Weezer has been pulling this shit for nearly twenty years and people are barely even starting to embark on criticism, while Drake is directly between the crosshairs. Probably because we all sit watching those three dots. It’s easier to critique him for it than look at our own behavior.
This is music for when you’re too exhausted to examine yourself, too tired of constantly trying to be better to sit down for introspection. Sometimes you need music for right where you’re at, music to just be still in. Honestly, you can’t be bettering yourself every goddamn second. Drake made an album about being Drake right now, and yeah, it’s the Drakest shit you’ve ever heard. But what does that sentence even mean? It means this man, a superstar, has communicated an image of who we think he is to such an extent that we use his own name to describe him. Shit, we use his name to describe ourselves. It isn’t always our best selves, but it’s usually our realest selves; it’s our struggling, jealousy, doubt wrapped in arrogance, anger at people who left us, preening and nostalgia, idealizing or family, idealizing ourselves. We need music for those times, too. We need music for when we’re not likable, we’re just human and hurting in all our messy, wounded glory.
Views is not about growth or overarching narratives that speak for marginalized groups. It’s not! And it’s fine that it’s not. Not every work of art needs to be a timeless ode or a redemptive arc or a battle against all oppression. Sometimes the best art is just a fucked up human being marinating in their feelings, basking in the angst of being themselves. I do find it interesting that this is the facet of Drake that sticks in the craw for many of his detractors. Why, he’s just talking about stuff that only matters to Drake! But that’s part of why it’s so easy to get lost in Views. When I listen to him talking about the friends who disappeared on him, who couldn’t wait a few months for him to snap back, who pick apart his every flaw, I don’t have to think about the people who have done that to me recently. When he opens the album realizing he should’ve valued his family more on “Keep The Family Close” it resonates, reminds me to take the night off and have a conversation with my sister.
Sometimes the greatest gift you can give to others is your failures, a brief deposition of someone else’s flaws is the sweetest respite from your own. Maybe this isn’t the charming, woke gentlemen we wish he would become, but this is Drake, as is. I like him for that. This is the anti-Bieber; Drake is not apologizing a whit for who he is and how he acts. There’s no great reformation here, and that is, in a way, refreshing. With everyone on Twitter desperately trying to prove how woke they are, policing one another about best interpersonal policies, and equating every slight criticism on earth with emotional abuse, here is someone who seems unaffected or above the fray. He’s still doing Drake–even though we told him we didn’t like it.
Except, we sort of do. Because no one is fucking perfect and pretending our pop stars are flawless cyborgs is getting old. This is what has always appealed to us about Drake, he cops to embarrassing shit. That’s why Beyoncé singing about being broken moves us so deeply. That’s why it was the scrappy, unmastered album from Kendrick Lamar that swept us away this year. That’s why Kanye’s Twitter rants still sort of connect (sort of)–if he’s an asshole online sometimes, it makes us feel better for our own dumb tiffs. In the era of surveillance, it’s nice to get a break from the facade, even if the break is just a singer who still blames every single girl he dates for the problems in the relationship instead of shouldering any of the blame. You’ve gotta love him for the consistency, or at least I do, carried along in many ways because of how goddamn good it sounds.
This fourth album establishes the expansion of Noah “40” Shebib as a producer, and both him as Drake as tastemakers.Views is Drake distilled into its highest proof, Drake 151. it doesn’t sound like him going over new ground, it sounds like he took his 40 acres of raw land and landscaped the whole thing. As Drake goes further inside himself lyrically, he has expanded outward sonically in impressive ways. Over at Macleans, Renato Pagnani wrote about Toronto’s 49 percent immigrant population and the city’s ties to the “sizable African diaspora”–factors that he rightly argues influenced the sounds incorporated on Views. Even while he’s going global, it’s still a nod to the city, if a more subtle one. First he conquered rap, then America, so now he’s going global–we already sort of know this is the stage when everyone turns on you.
Their loss, because this record sounds fucking incredible. It is a truly beautiful album to hear. That’s Jordan Ullman of Majid Jordan shining on “Feel No Ways,” which basically nicks the back half of Kanye’s “Paranoid.” Unsurprising, since a building block of Drake’s career has been taking 808s and Heartbreaks aesthetic and spit-shining it till it gleams brighter than Ye could ever get it to glow. Then there’s the one-two punch of “Controlla” and “One Dance,” which both double down on “Hotline Bling” insistence and whose clear Caribbean debt point to Drake’s mastermind pop vision. These slide right alongside “Work” to build a vision of our island-infused pop future, and I, for one, salute our coming overlords. These are just the obvious gems, too. There’s twenty tracks here and don’t believe the one week takes that these are half throwaways. Every time I listen I notice some new little facet that I love, like the way he fades out while still mumbling on “Child’s Play,” like even Drake knows there’s some things you can’t commit to tape. As is usually the case with great collections of pop music, this album only sounds better with time.
These moments of resting on our laurels, embracing who we are in all its tangled, complex and fucked up glory are always critical ones. They usually give way to other impressive and monumental changes. Do I hope this for Drake? I really do–if these lyrics are directly tied to Drake as a real person and not Drake as a rapper. But Drake doesn’t owe me or you this. He doesn’t owe us shit. Just like that person in your life who you wish would dump their toxic boyfriend doesn’t owe you that. Just like that person you’re in love with doesn’t have to kick any habits for you. Would it be nice? Yes, it would be fucking nice. But the weird entitlement to police other’s behavior that has come along with “wokeness” is also slightly terrible, and has morphed into its own form of toxicity. I think Drake knows this. There is no way in hell a man this internet savvy isn’t aware of the mounting critiques stacked against him. Anyone who is group DM-ing their exes is definitely combing through thinkpieces. I don’t think it’s that Drake doesn’t want to change, I think eventually, he will. But when he does, he’ll do it for himself. Not because someone online shamed him into it. In the meantime, he’s given us himself. Flawed, imperfect, still looking. Like us.
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