[Album Review] Views :: Drake

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Drake Stans spent the better part of last year trying to convince the hip hop community that writing one’s own rhymes is unimportant in the wake of their mans’ beef with Meek Mill. In my opinion, Meek played himself by thinking that people who are fans of Drake’s would care about writing rhymes – not to mention the fact that Drake was no wizard in terms of penning rewindable bars in the first place, ghostwriter or not. This is the guy who makes music for guys who go through their girlfriends’ phones when they’re not looking and girls whose rap knowledge doesn’t go any farther back than 2010 or so. To be clear – rhymes matter, as does writing them, and Drake’s latest album is a perfect example of why.

I have a lot of fun cracking wise about Drake and his fans, but the truth is I’m always listening for a rapper to surprise me. Unfortunately, there aren’t many surprises on Drake’s latest LP, even for people who were looking forward to this thing with bated breath. Views dropped on the heels of me first hearing “Summer Sixteen” not long ago, a record I was surprised to find that I actually liked…probably due to the rapping being at the forefront. Unfortunately, this song doesn’t appear on the album.

“Hotline Bling” is an undeniable jam. It’s textbook in-my-feels Drake, but it isn’t directly derivative of anything else, which is refreshing for a Drake record. Plus, he isn’t really trying to sing on it, just rapping kind of melodically. I think it’s fortunate for Drake that his “era” is one known as the a la carte era of music consumption, where most music fans don’t even remember a time when they had to sit down and listen to most albums front to back and really spend time with them vs. putting their favorite jams on shuffle or just playing only what you want to hear at a given moment. Drake’s nasally, studio-doctored vocals on every single track can be insufferable at times, but I don’t think that’s as much of an issue now as it would have been at a time when really sitting with an album was the norm.

I particularly enjoyed the song “Grammys”, though for reasons that have nothing to do with Drake himself. I find it hilarious that guest Future manages to completely wash Drake on a song where your mans boldly declares “top five, no debating” followed by “topfivetopfivetopfive“, as if he’s trying to hypnotize the listener into agreeing with that ludicrous statement (top five Canadian rappers, I’ll give you…partially because I can’t think of five at the moment). Not even close, homeboy. But this is one record I can definitely see not tomahawk dunking into the recycle bin as soon as I’m done with this review. Infinite soul daps to whoever manages to chef me up a Future-only version (funny thing about this entire paragraph is that I’m not even a Future fan).

“U With Me?” jacks DMX’s “How’s It Goin’ Down” word for word in parts, which I’m not mad at. Tributes can work. What’s weird is when I consider that the majority of Drake’s fans would probably be traumatized for weeks if they actually listened to It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot, the album the original record was on. We don’t even need to mention the fact that last I checked, Dark Man X isn’t particularly fond of Drake. I bet he’s gonna spend whatever check he’s owed for the sample with a smile on his face, though. Hopefully he didn’t try to do DMX like he did Rappin’ 4Tay a while back.

I really wish people would stop trying to force posthumous Pimp C verses onto Drake records. Even though Bun B’s given Drake a permanent pass, those in the know also recall that it was Bun B who approved the UGK feature on Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin'”, while Pimp C dragged his feet purposely and finally ended up doing it, but only at Bun’s behest. If C thought “Big Pimpin'” was too pop-sounding, I can only imagine what he would have had to say about appearing anywhere on this album, let alone what he would have to say about Drake himself. This collaboration seems (and literally was) forced. This brings us to the patois-tinged “Controlla” where, for the umpteenth time, Drake adopts another region’s sound in an attempt to be all things to all people without ever giving us a feel for “the 6” as a foundation for his experimentation. As you may know, Views was originally titled Views From The 6, which is a reference to his hometown, Toronto. As Canada’s golden child, one might think Drake would take the chance at establishing a signature sound for his part of the world aside from the mopey robot sound adopted by cronies like The Weeknd and Partynextdoor. None of this homogeneous material gives me any feel whatsoever for the energy of the region, unless everyone up there sounds like drowning robots with hella personal issues to tell you about. No shots.

“Child’s Play” is easily the most childish record rap has heard since Smedium Sean’s “IDFWU”. Played-out, ignorant references to “actin’ lightskin” and trite Love & Hip-Hop fare really set the bar pretty low here. Due to the apropos title of the song, one can only hope Drake’s being tongue-in-cheek, but even in that case, the record could have remained on the cutting room floor. “Too Good” finds Drake alongside Rihanna, where even her bleating manages to outshine his tired vocals. The biggest flaw in Drake’s repertoire throughout the course of his career aside from absolutely vapid content is his insistence on singing. Call me crazy, but when I want singing, I listen to people who actually can, not rappers who play at it.

Ultimately, this is an okay album on the surface, but once you get to the lyrics, you’re bound to be disappointed…that’s if you’re an oddball like me and expect rappers to actually be good at rapping and even singers to be good at singing (imagine that). This is where the more irrational Drake fans must stand apart from fans of the craft itself. Views would be an amazing instrumental album, but the vocals and raps tend to drag it all down, like pearls before swine. Drake consistently manages to slap together some absolutely abysmal Carter 4-level metaphors and punchlines (“toying with it like Happy Meal” or the infamous “Chain-ing Tatum” line) throughout the album, giving credence to the idea that fans need to stop trying to shoehorn the rapper into discussions about top-tier MCs. He simply isn’t one. Hitmaker? Sure, but that’s a separate conversation and depends solely on what you think that title is worth in the long run, especially in a time where the lowest common denominator rap records tend to reign supreme. I see Drake as an entertainer – not a particularly compelling one, to me – but a successful one, nonetheless, for what that’s worth. People are entertained for the moment and I guess that’s what’s important in music for the time being, but I doubt if anyone will still be discussing this record next year or in the years to come. Either way, Views will bang throughout the summer or at least half of it for party-goers and anyone with a sound system to show off. At the end of the day, though, who knows? Maybe fans will start to reconsider their belief that rhymes don’t matter anymore and start demanding better quality from their idols. A critic can dream.

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Why Streaming Exclusivity Doesn’t Quite Make Sense To Me

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I haven’t been interested in new Drake material since 2009’s So Far Gone. For those that know my writing, it’s no surprise that I’m still not interested, but I don’t think I’ve ever shared that I once was. My little sister actually put me on to Drake’s Comeback Season mixtape back in ’07 and I liked it so much I told everyone I knew about it. This was back when he was making records with the likes of Dwele and Little Brother and not jacking the style of an entire region every other song. Nevertheless, I’m still a rap critic of sorts, so I find it necessary to listen to everything I can, especially since Drake is one of the most (I hate that I’m saying it and you’re gonna hate that I’m using the word) important rap artists of the decade. Granted, that isn’t saying much for rap’s current crop of fans, but I digress. Drake’s Views album dropped today, but is available exclusively on Apple Music and iTunes. While it’s unclear whether the album will remain restricted to just Apple availability, it’s difficult to understand from an artist’s standpoint why this new tactic makes any sense other than to appease the powers that be (Apple, Tidal).

I canceled Apple Music about a week ago. I had meant to do it months before, but just got around to it recently. The same thing happened with Google Music, though as an Android loyalist, I still buy music I can’t find on Spotify from the Play store as opposed to iTunes for convenience’s sake. I gave up on Apple Music due to the inability to embed playlists onto my blog, which was a deal-breaker for me. I was an early adopter of Spotify and have been using it to embed playlists and the occasional single song onto my blog for some time now. Other than that glaring omission and the lack of any real social aspect (because who doesn’t like to silently judge their friends for listening to Nickelback or the likes of Rae Sremmurd on Spotify), Apple Music was a beautiful service. I also tried Tidal during its debut month, but canceled within a week, quickly identifying it as utter rubbish in a shiny wrapper – I once wrote that it was the Emperor’s New Clothes of streaming services, a vanity project that only served to show how out of touch Jay-Z and friends truly are with the average music fan. It was clear very quickly, I’m sure, to the numbers folks at Tidal that:

  1. Nobody gave a fuck about what artists make per stream, and
  2. Nobody gave a fuck about the edge in sound quality Tidal was claiming to offer.

Third – the app is trash, fam. You’re charging people more than Spotify or Apple, yet lack a desktop client, the ability to upload your own music to listen to via the app, any social aspect, or really anything the other services don’t offer, aside from “exclusive concerts”, which I’m also sure nobody gave a flying fig about. So instead of heading back to the lab to come up with a better product, the bunglers at Tidal decide “hey, we’ll just hold some popular musicians’ music hostage and they’ll have no choice but to subscribe” (Tidal also offers no “free” tier of membership). This seemed to work at first when Kanye decided to drop The Life Of Pablo this year and Tidal was happy to report the number of people who had subscribed that week, but they conveniently failed to report the number who had unsubscribed once the free trial had ended or at the end of one or even two payment cycles. What was absolutely rich though was the staggering number of people who took to the torrents to download the album illegally. A mere two days after release, Torrent Freak reported a whopping 500,000 downloads from BitTorrent and was the most popular download on Pirate Bay.

All of you may not remember the struggle of pirating music from Napster, Kazaa, Limewire, or Frostwire, but we old-timers (allegedly) used to go through hell trying to get albums free and sometimes early and none of it was very convenient (though at the time, it was the best thing in the world for people who would have otherwise got stoned, went down music’s memory lane and woke up to a $60 iTunes receipt for purchasing random Stevie B or Blue Oyster Cult records). It was the Internets equivalent to walking five miles in the snow to get to the soda fountain or whatever the fuck your Paw Paw used to talk about. When streaming came about, ex-Limewire experts who had graduated to torrenting elsewhere were able to give out a collective sigh of relief because for a lousy ten bucks a month, one could have convenient access to damn near everything they wanted to hear – ever. No more having to unzip folders, check if they were legit, transfer to iTunes, then go through the epic hell of having to rename all of the songs therein to fit within your iTunes library or wherever you store your tunes. You’ll feel me if, like me, you feel like a clean music library is neck and neck with godliness.

For many of those same people to return to torrenting to get ahold of the Kanye album should show just how unappealing Tidal is to anyone with any modicum of savvy. Sure, you might snag subscriptions from the relentless Stans and/or people not particular about their music apps, but you’re missing out on an unidentifiable mass of casual fans and people who just want to use whatever app they’re most comfortable with to play music. And the thing is – they’re going to find a way to get your album in some fashion and you won’t even get the credit for the stream. Why? – because you wanted “control”.

When the awful news broke that Prince had died, fans like myself were stuck at work without access to their favorite Prince videos or songs to binge-enjoy. Within a few hours, though, the Internets were silently buzzing with Dropbox folders a-flying. With semi-obvious names like “Purple Doves”, people who weren’t willing to subscribe to Tidal were sharing music the old way, albeit the illegal one, like it or not. While I understand that people want to respect Prince’s wishes about access to his music, Prince was also notoriously Internet-shy and I doubt he had a real grasp on how the average web-savvy music head operates or how the plugged-in youth consume music. Despite their infinite access to almost everything in music history, many just don’t care about anything that’s older than five years and if they do, they’re not bending over backwards (clicking a YouTube link) to go find out about it. The sad thing about the latter group of music fans is that making music inaccessible to them will only ensure that that music dies along with the older generations that popularized it and who remember it fondly. It’s a shame in Prince’s case, considering how well Purple Rain stands to this day as a perfect album, one that could come out today and still be called a flawless record, even by smart music fans who weren’t born until over a decade after its release.

The competition between streaming services shouldn’t be about who can get what artist. The competition needs to be who can build the better, more intuitive apps. The way things are set up currently, the end user loses. The slow-witted uber-dedicated will pay for more than one app just to have access to one or two artists, some will find ways to access the music they want and get it on the app they like, and others will just ignore albums they don’t have access to altogether (this is what I did with the most recent Adele album, since “Hello” was available on Spotify – I’ll just assume there’s nothing good on the album because I refuse to seek it out to transfer to Spotify). People listen to music in different ways. As a music writer, I want to be able to both hear music without having to pay for every single record and also share it with my network and readers conveniently. Some people just want to stream whatever an app is willing to spoon-feed them. The streaming services should be building out their services to fit the most needs possible instead of trying to hold their artists’ releases hostage.

 

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Drake And Wu-Tang Collaboration?

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I knew the Wu had changed up when Raekwon was featuring on Justin Beiber songs, but this takes the cake.  Wu-Tang has recently been confirmed to have a collaboration in the works with one of the rappers who personifies the kind of rappers RZA was railing against on the intro skit to the epic Wu-Tang Forever.  Drake appears to be paying homage to the title and group (the song from his forthcoming album samples “It’s Yourz”) without actually having listened to the message behind it…meanwhile, what remains of the Wu-Tang is clearly willing to sacrifice its own principles for an opportunity to appeal to the “rap & bullshit” set.  Inspectah Deck took to Twitter to disagree with the original song, which Wu-Tang is expected to remix:

A dark day in hip-hop, my friends. 

“…Knahmsayin I want to give y’all a little announcement man
For the last year there’s been a lot of music comin out
The shit been weak, knowhatI’msayin?
A lot of niggas trying to take hip-hop
And make that shit R&B, rap and bullshit yaknowhatI’msayin?
Or make that shit funk
Fuck that, this is MCin right here, this is hip-hop
Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang gonna bring it to you in the purest form…”

– RZA

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The Bitch In You Part II: Common Vs. Drake

 

Last week, I reviewed Common’s latest album The Dreamer/The Believer and mentioned a track called “Sweet”, which goes directly at the jugulars of “soft” rappers.  Of course, the blogosphere and myself made plenty of jokes alluding to the fact that Common didn’t have to do Drake like that, as the Louboutin seemed to fit in terms of the song’s sentiments.  Jokes became reality as Common himself confirmed that yes, Drake could take offense to the track as well as any other rappers he labels as soft.  Personally, I thought of a few rappers that could have taken offense to the song.  It seems that these days, there are too many MCs trying to be singers and too many singers trying to be MCs.  That isn’t to say that you can’t walk the line, but to say you’re the greatest or dopiest doing it when there are clearly greater acts in both categories is off-base and deserves calling out.  It takes an established MC who isn’t worried about the politics or the possibility of working with the more popular artists in the game.  

This happened.

Of course, the Drake stans’ first plan of action is to point out Common’s age (39), as if that has any bearing on anything.  If anything, the fact that Common, like The Roots, can still release a critically-acclaimed album after so long in the game without pandering to mainstream audiences by a bunch of mismatched guest appearances and keeping up with the trends, speaks to longevity and a hard-working MC’s ability to remain relevant by staying true to his core audience.  The problem with many of the 90’s-babies calling themselves hip-hop fans today is that they came along long after hip-hop had merged with pop.  They’re not used to the word-of-mouth classic LP.  Disposable and current wins the day and some of them don’t even realize that a lot of what they call “hot” today will not be something they can whip out five years from now and still have a connection to.   Damn shame when hip-hop gets to a point when the youth claim a rapper is no longer relevant solely based on age and don’t commend the ability to keep making solid music after all these years, whether it’s their taste or not.

Why you mad, though?

As Common admitted on Shade 45 with Sway (see interview below), I also must say that Drake is a talented individual: not the best singer and not the best rapper, in my opinion, but he has a good ear for the contemporary and knows how to create what will sell.  That being said, if we’re talking superlatives, in terms of “best” and “greatest” in this here rap game, longevity rules.  The fact is, through all the faux sensitivity and crooning, Drake will never have the depth to make a “Retrospect For Life” or if we want to go back to Electric Circus, a “Come Close”.  Drake has yet to achieve anything close to Like Water For Chocolate, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, or a Be and frankly I don’t see it in the cards.  The depth is not there.  I’m almost mad that Common even addressed the supposed beef, as an MC of Common’s caliber “calling out” Drake is puzzling, to say the least.  While the younger set will say he’s “hating” or trying to get attention, it’s quite clear that Common is well aware his fans are cut from a different cloth than Drake fans and that  “Sweet” is the result of certain things needing to be called out in the game and it takes an artist with some history in the game to see it and point it out eloquently…or to just kick in the door and let folks know what’s what.

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Drake: Thank Me Later Is So Far Gone

The buzz of the past couple days has been the early online leak of Drake’s debut album Thank Me Later.  While a few bloggers are taking a stand against the leak, vowing not to post any more downloadable tracks, this one frankly does not give a damn…no, I mean, I don’t give enough of a damn to either post a link for download (though you’ll find some videos available for a listen down bottom…these will most likely get pulled in a day or two, so enjoy while you can) or to care about Aubrey Drake Graham’s record sales as a result of the leak.  If I’m going to “take a stand” on anything, it would be to ensure people go out and buy more underappreciated artist who actually need the support…the kids will support Drake regardless.  I’m not a fan myself, but I know a jam when I hear one, so I won’t front like Drake has never made a good song, though.

This photo is more Aubrey Graham than Drake...jackin' New Kids On The Block's swag...

In the current state of the music industry, how smart is it to sit on an anticipated album like Thank Me Later for as long as he has?  People aren’t buying CDs to begin with, so to have people waiting over a year (the 2009 EP So Far Gone was a slap in the face to real Drake fans who already had a lot of those songs, so it doesn’t really count) is a little arrogant…no wonder people jumped on it the first chance they got.  If we have learned anything from the recession and decline of album sales in recent years, it’s that if people can get it for free, they will, and technology being what it is, it isn’t hard for the majority of people to download your whole album, track by track, free of charge.  Stop disappointing those that are pressed enough to find a store and actually purchase the physical copy by pushing your album back to kingdom come.  Sh*t’s corny, B.

I'm barely one to talk about thick eyebrows, but tell me Drake & Eddie Munster don't share some similarities.

And let’s be honest…it’s not like Thank Me Later was supposed to be Illmatic or Reasonable Doubt.  It’s Drake, for God’s sake, not Dr. Dre.  It’s hip-hop’s Al B. Sure.  And for the record, I don’t hate Drake, but the dude is grossly overrated, which is in a way to his detriment; if people weren’t fawning over the guy as if he was going to completely change the game (aside from basically perfecting the stardom-from-the-mixtape-grind formula), he might just fly under the radar as a decent entertainer…but people love to bandwagon and overexaggerate a person’s skill level.  Drake writes some of the simplest, rappin’-after-school-in-your-friend’s-garage-on-a-karaoke-machine bars ever, which is fine, but when people start crediting you as a formidable MC (the YouTube comments praising Drake from kids who obviously were born after 1992 are hilarious) when you’re really just marginally talented as both a singer and rapper and know how to put together a song, it becomes a problem.  There is a difference between a dope MC and those who just make good songs that suit the audience he does it for. 

I understand wanting to perfect a project, label politics, etc., but Drake’s album pushbacks have become a joke at this point.  “Drake’s album will drop when” was even a trending topic on Twitter for a while, with Twitterers speculating that Drake’s album will basically drop so late it won’t even be relevant.  Look…all anyone should really expect from a Drake album is a handful of disposable jams…for the club, the car, etc…it’s not supposed to be an artistic masterpiece, so why not drop it when it was supposed to have dropped and start working on the next one?   Accumulating a largely estrogen-fueled fan-base and letting them languish in pushback purgatory is just arrogant and asking to have your sh*t leaked.  I guarantee hotel maids all over America have been scouring his hotel rooms for months looking for anything that resembles a CD hoping to get their hands on an advanced copy.  So cry me a river on the whole leak thing, though I wish him the best.  Drake’s done something unique in acquiring the fan base he has over time (and losing a few along the way due to over-saturation and the questionable Young Money association…ugh), so that’s not to be overlooked, but artists tend to mistreat their fans by making them wait too long for a project, especially if you don’t already have an LP under your belt.  You are not Raekwon or Dr. Dre, following up one certified classic with another one.  Get over yourself.  You’re Aubrey Drake Graham…you make music for chicks to get moist to.  Pause.
Here’s a couple songs I found on YouTube from the album to give you a taste of what’s to come…or rather what you can probably get fully packaged down on Canal Street from a dude named ‘Tunde with a daishiki and Air Maxes on.
“Fall For Your Type” by Drake.  This one’s for the ladies.  I felt my chest hairs shriveling up and falling out as soon as I played it.
“Unforgettable” by Drake f/ Young Jeezy…not bad.
“Up All Night” by Drake f/ Nicki Minaj

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