In only the past few years, technology and methods of human interaction have advanced at a rapid pace, to the extent that a 20 year old might explain to those not much younger: “well, back in my day…” Flip phones are now IPhones, DVD players are obsolete and social networking websites and apps are ubiquitous in our everyday lives.
Despite this constant flux of change, however, there has been one thing that has remained the same: intimate relationships. While it seems that human connectedness would thrive with greater accessibility and convenience, perhaps other, less favourable realities have been augmented as well.
What happens when getting laid is as easy as swiping your thumb to the right? When memories of an ex can be brought back in saved text messages? When thousands of people can access your love life by scrolling through your facebook profile?
Drake has established his career on being the spokesman for the trials and tribulations of this strange romantic universe, sensitive to both the male and female perspectives. In turn, he has found his niche as being somewhat of a mediator in the complicated game of gender politics.
But his rise to prominence has not been without its roadblocks, and to say that Drake isn’t for everyone would be an understatement. Hip-hop purists denounce his hybrid style of Rap and R&B, meme’s have been popularized mocking his femininity, his struggle to fame has been labeled superficial with reference to his upbringing in an affluent area, and the list goes on. But ironically enough, the plethora of hate has done little to interfere with Drizzy’s success, as his greatest obstacle has been himself.
Drake’s response to criticism has often come off as an over-compensation for his insecurities. In past projects, he has had the tendency to alternate personas, at times portraying the hopeless romantic, and at others insisting on how tough and nonchalant he was. Aside from confusing his listeners and contradicting himself, this response tacitly gave the haters what they wanted, matching their stereotypes. He was like that person who tries to convince his peers that he isn’t homophobic on the basis of him having gay friends, which of course only fuels the suspicion more.
On his last two releases, What a Time to be Alive and If You’re Reading this it’s Too Late however, he seemed to be on the right track. Although offering little in terms of substance, Drake solved his identity crisis. Instead of trying to please everyone, he was now comfortable with who he was in spite of the backlash that would come along with it. This new framework followed the “8 Mile Theory:” that by admitting all of your vulnerabilities to your opponent, they won’t have anything left to say (as Eminem does in the last rap battle of his biopic).
Going into his latest album, Drake hinted very little at what his approach was going to be. Many predicted that since he no longer had to prove himself, he would play it safe by flaunting his success with some radio hits. The end result was something very different, however.
Views is by far Drake’s most ambitious effort yet, as he aims to cover the totality of the modern relationship, taking listeners on a psychological roller-coaster through the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows, to that awkward middle ground most of us are ashamed to admit to.
Contrary to his new found confidence, the opening track sees Drake more vulnerable than ever, as he tries to cope with betrayal and regret. Titled, “Keep the Family Close” he warns listeners of the blinding effects of love and the disaster that’s always looming when you don’t properly recognize who’s really there for you. This track seems to be a statement, removing any doubt that this project is going to be empty lip service to his achievements. Far from glorifying his extravagant lifestyle, he’s beginning to realize that the money and fame he’s earned has only made those around him greedier and more hostile.
“U with me?” a highlight of the album, takes the listener into the boiling point of the relationship and the frustration and confusion that comes along with it. The track plays out like a pendulum swinging between unhealthy attachment and cold apathy, in which one might question Drake’s sanity. Despite the petty mind games and angry text message arguments clearly contributing to his anxiety, he also can’t bear the thought of being alone. Acknowledging that his girl isn’t being straight with him and is drifting away emotionally, he finally stands his ground with the relationship-defining question: “[are] you with me or what?”
“Redemption”, another standout performance sees Drake more shamelessly transparent than ever, to the point that listeners might as well conclude that he was reading out sections of his diary. It’s a post-breakup anthem that goes deep into the psyche of the grieving process and conflicting emotions of the aftermath. It’s a disturbing reminder that the resentment held towards an ex, might really just be a perverse kind of love masking the sorrow of feeling abandoned. Towards the end of the song, the beat slows down, almost as if the thoughts are too painful to bear. He then continues: “I’m not unrealistic with none of my women/I tell them if they ain’t with it then let’s just forget it/relationships slowing me down, they slow down the vision/Guess I’m not in a position to deal with commitment.” Getting so wrapped up in his relationships, Drake seems to have lost a sense of identity and creative direction, concluding that a break from all the madness might be what he needs the most.
Although Drake showcases some of his best music, he may have been too ambitious with this project, biting off more than he could chew. The album as a whole is bloated, running almost an hour and a half, and while the first half is rich in content with a directed focus, the second pales in comparison. After reaching its peak around the midway point, it plateaus, as most of the songs that ensue either echo themes earlier in the album or are just bland altogether. It’s unfortunate, as critics might drown out the album’s artistic achievements with reference to its easy-to-target flaws.
A bright spot in an otherwise weak second half however, is the closer, “Views”. Drake uses the song to reminisce on his failed relationships, almost like how a soldier might reflect on their war effort. Throughout the hopelessness and isolation endured, he comes to a state of tranquility. Those who abandoned him only emphasized the importance of having real friends, the loneliness has given him a better sense of self, and rather than fighting the looming uncertainty and vulnerability, he has learned to accept them as necessary facts of the human condition. Ultimately his creative expression of these troubles has given him a better perspective (or “view”) of the bigger picture.
The album as a whole raises some unsettling questions. One might wonder how extraordinary Drake’s experiences really are? Are the smiling facebook pictures and corny Instagram captions really representative of the modern relationship, or might it all just be a desperate attempt to cover up the unbearable presence of its darker side?