Just before Drake released his highly anticipated new album, Views, he wrote a letter on Instagram. OK, technically, it was a photo of his longtime producer and close friend, Noah “40” Shebib. Under the shot of the bald, bearded production wunderkind chilling in the studio was a 190-word caption that read more like a heartfelt thank you. In fact, Drake uses the phrase “thank you” or some variation of it at least 10 times.
The long story short of it is that Drake is thanking both his musical spirit animal and quite possibly the very reason he’s found success in the first place. He even says as much toward the end, writing, “This story would have gone a lot different without you.” The rapper/singer and his in-house knob turner’s uncanny working relationship has been well documented, as has the latter’s fight with multiple sclerosis.
In some form or the other, the two men have made mention that there’s a fight going on that’s bigger than any song they’ve made. In fact, in the documentary Drake: Better Than Good Enough, which was released in conjunction with Take Care, Drake opened up 40’s health.
“I really don’t know if I could keep making music without 40,” he tells the interviewer. “I really don’t know. That’s one of the biggest fears I have, is losing 40.”
One thing is clear: 40’s situation is what drives Drake, and it’s his production that’s enabled Drake to shine. On Drake’s latest album, Views, 40’s production outshines him. And that’s not a diss; it’s actually a good thing. With 40 and Drake taking more risks on the sound and feel of the project, we’ve been blessed with one of the more ambitious, sometimes goofy, but definitely solid releases from the 6 God.
What we knew about Views before going into it was that it’s Drake and 40’s musical ode to Toronto. Originally titled, Views from the 6 (6, because of the Toronto area code “416”), it was going to be a sonic journey through the city that’s shaped them. A lyrical excursion through Aubrey Graham’s past, present and his hope for the city’s future. It’s forthcoming arrival came with two very good singles in “Pop Style” and “One Dance” and its album cover sparked yet another amazing Drake meme.
Think of Views as Drake’s “New York, I Love You,” just sub the Big Apple for the 6. Each song plays out like vignettes about the various people, places and scenes that shape Toronto, or at least the city from the view of one of its most successful, but lyrically conflicted native sons.
You could say the album’s opener, “Keep the Family Close,” where Drake’s lamenting his “let’s just be friends” being the “the friends I don’t have anymore,” that’s he’s both growing up, but still a bitter pop star. The chip on his shoulder carries throughout the 19-track project. On the Mary J. Blige-sampled “Weston Road Flows,” it’s clear he’s holding no punches, dropping lines like, “The most successful rapper 35 and under / I’m assumin’ everybody’s 35 and under / That’s when I plan to retire, man it’s already funded.” Yeah, that won’t fuel fire for those rumors of alleged tension between Drake and the Throne aka Jay-Z and Kanye West. Side note: If you missed it, they got the cut from the album version of “Pop Style.”
Regardless of whether there was shade behind the move or not, it’s clear that Drake isn’t afraid to make bold decisions these days. And when you have a guy like 40 who can sneak ’90s R&B jams into modern-day rap tunes with the such subtle ease, you can’t blame the man for trying. Whether it’s Brandy (“Fire & Noise), her brother, Ray J (“Redemption”) or the two-hit-wonders, Houston foursome, Ideal (“Faithful”), 40’s having fun welding he and Drake’s influences in and out of songs. Pimp C diehards will probably call foul over his voice even making a cameo on this track, but it’s one of those moments where you either applaud or question the creative decisions of Drake and team. And it’s not the only moment like that on Views.
There’s the whole DMX thing. “U With Me” is some weird “How’s It Going Down” interpolation that probably might freak listeners out at first, but is actually not that bad. At times, especially when the strings come sweeping in toward the song’s end, it’s beautiful. Oftentimes, in these moments where Drake’s voice takes a backseat to 40’s compositions that create some of the albums best music.
If there’s a place where Views falters, it might be that there’s too much music. In the sense that having a lot of influences means you’re willing to stray into lanes you admire, it also means that you can let your collective muses confuse things. We get a lot of Caribbean, aspiring-dancehall artist Drake, something that’s seemingly been an obsession since “Find Your Love,” and it’s corresponding video circa 2010. Patois Drake works on “Controlla” excels on “One Dance” and makes you laugh a bit on the Rihanna-assisted “Too Good.” And the latter makes you wonder when that Drake/Rihanna collab album is coming. It should.
There’s also club-street-Future’s BFF Drake. That clearly succeeded with the success of What a Time to Be Alive, but “Grammys” is no “Jumpman.” Let’s hope Future eventually does nab that Grammy, so maybe we don’t have to hear him say that many times on one song again. If Drake’s having no problem adding to the cutting board, he probably could’ve tightened his “Big Rings” cohort’s contribution. However, the same angry-machismo rapper dynamic more or less works on the diss track, “Hype.”
It’s tough to say where Views sits in the ranking of Drake albums. It carries the frustration of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late with tinges of Take Care‘s heartbroken optimism, and the sonic dexterity of Nothing Was the Same. One common thread throughout each of those albums has been been 40’s heavy presence. Drakes thrives in it, he drowns in it and a lot of times he’s the narrator trying to guide you through the visual cues in 40’s Jonathan Williams’-like scoring ability.
If Drake’s the screenwriter for Views, 40’s the sound and feeling. Drake’s character, the king of Toronto for better or worse, is able to successfully exists in the world’s created by his most frequent collaborator. As 40’s production prowess grows, Drake’s artistry follows suit. They can’t exist without each other, and Views is just more proof that the more the two friends are around each the more, bold, cool and sometimes scary things can happen in their music. The results are a fun, if not really good listen, even if your view of the world doesn’t fit that of the album’s creators.