[Album Review] Views :: Drake

MJDrakeViews

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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[Album Review] Always Strive And Prosper :: A$AP Ferg

ASAP-Ferg

I slept soundly on A$AP Ferg until some time last year when I heard the “Work” remix, featuring French Montana, Trinidad James, Schoolboy Q and fellow A$AP cohort Rocky. The energy on that record alone inspired me to pick up 2013’s Trap Lord out of curiosity (and by pick up, I mean “save” on Spotify) and I was pleasantly surprised. I slept on Ferg before this point mostly because of the disdain I have for the music of A$AP Rocky, front-runner of the A$AP crew. Something about this guy in little-sister braids calling himself “pretty” on songs that I couldn’t quite rock to. Nevertheless, Ferg brought something different to the table on Trap Lord and later records like the hilarious “Doe-Active”, which indicated an ambition beyond what his friend was offering musically.

I was fully onboard when I stumbled upon the Complex City Cypher where Ferg appeared alongside RATKING’s Wiki and one of my favorite current rappers, Your Old Droog, with jazz musician Christian Scott and band providing the musical backdrop. Ferg’s compelling verse from the cypher eventually ended up on “Beautiful People” on Always Strive And Prosper, which was much to my disappointment, one of few bright spots on the album.

“Strive” is easily the worst song on the album by far and (because I don’t usually lend my ear to things I think will be horrible) probably the worst thing I’ve heard all year. While I didn’t have high hopes for a Missy Elliott feature, her input ended up being the only salvageable part of the song for me. Ferg’s hook sounds like a rather dry imitation of dance-pop music one would expect to hear from someone not quite old enough to recall when dance and house and hip-hop used to get equal burn on the same urban radio stations. This sounded like Barbie Girl 2016. I’ll be looking forward to a remix at some point of “Swipe Life”, which unfortunately squanders a Rick Ross feature on a song with a weak concept and chorus, but a hard-hitting beat and decent input from Rozay.

The very busy “Uzi Gang” was my first introduction to the recently popular Lil Uzi Vert and I’m not surprised to be saying I won’t be looking for further material from him (the Internets tend to suck at recommending rappers). Big Sean appears on “World Is Mine”, yet again dropping the same middle-school-notebook bars that young rap fans seem inexplicably impressed with since his debut. Needless to say, that song was also a dud. I wanted to enjoy “New Level”, but Future’s guest appearance seemed like a throwaway, as if Ferg could have easily saved his imprint some cash and just paid Future’s vocal stunt double, Desiigner, instead. Oh, and “I Love You” featuring Chris Brown and Ty Dolla $ign was a dose of guy-with-nosering music I didn’t need in my life.

On the bright side, “Let It Bang”, an ode to wild but troubled uncles, is a song I can’t get enough of and really should have been the standard the rest of the album was held to throughout its production, seeing as how this song was released as a single relatively early on. This was a topic I can relate to personally due to losing two uncles over the past couple of years. Schoolboy Q manages to redeem himself for me after what I felt was an underwhelming last album (Oxymoron) and other recent records like “Groovy Tony” indicate he’s on an improvement streak. “Psycho” worked perfectly as an intro of sorts to “Let It Bang”, discussing the life of Ferg’s Uncle Psycho in an honest but endearing way, while Uncle Psycho himself has some dialogue that bleeds over onto the next track. The dreamy production serves well as a precursor to the energy on “Bang”.

Ferg has displayed the Drunken Master musicality and off-kilter melodic tendencies of an ODB before, but lacks the unbridled creativity to pull off the same chaos here. Ferg at times has the ferocity of a young Busta Rhymes, but seems to shy away from showing and proving that beneath all that energy he can also rhyme well, as Busta often did. Always Strive And Prosper is, to me, a botched attempt at trying to reign in some of the wildness that made Trap Lord so interesting. Even the random, seemingly freestyled loosie he dropped days before the album’s release would have been better than some of the finished records he chose for this album. Ultimately, due to the rather simple palates of many new rap fans, Ferg definitely stands to prosper from the blatantly commercial leanings of this album, but I don’t see where he’s striving to be recognized as an improving MC or one who stands out from his decidedly less creative contemporaries who don’t have the same potential I witnessed on Trap Lord.

JerrySeinfeld

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Kung Fu :: Baauer f. Future & Pusha T

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Celebrated trap and bass producer Baauer returns with a new mega-jam featuring none other than Pusha T and Future off of his upcoming album, Aa.  With Future fresh off of EVOL and no sign on Push anywhere near Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo, this record has gotta be the precursor to some new Pusha T coming down the pipeline sooner than we expect.  Let’s hope.

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