Monday, May 30, 2016

How to fix Drake's "Views"

We're witnessing a change in discourse regarding music that's both a gift and a curse.  Spurred on by the rise of surprise releases and the ubiquity of social media giving us an all-access pass to the thoughts of critics and fans alike, the gestation period for albums is becoming shorter and shorter.  In a way, that's exciting.  Even as a mild Radiohead fan, I couldn't help but get swept up in the fervor a few weeks ago when they dropped a new album on a Sunday afternoon with very little lead-up.  That collective listening experience is intoxicating.

But it also leads to everyone feeling the need to be the fastest one to deliver the hottest take.  Can we really determine if Beyonce's Lemonade is a masterpiece on the first night of listening to it?  Likewise, was The Life of Pablo really the mess everyone instantly declared it to be after Kanye West finally let us listen to it?

This year's biggest victim of this phenomenon is Views, Drake's expansive sad-rap rumination on fame, loneliness, and the city he calls home.  Once it dropped, the early opinion deemed it a bloated, monochromatic letdown.  Official reviews ran with that idea too.  Pitchfork, one of Drake's biggest acolytes, gave the album a 6.8.  Stereogum, The AV Club, Hip Hop DX, and various other sites were similarly lukewarm.  Advance copies weren't given out for this album, and if you look at the dates that these reviews were posted -- some of them on the same day it was released -- it's clear that reviewers didn't give Views much time to marinate.  I can't help but wonder if the general consensus on the record would be a little different if there wasn't such a rush for everyone to get their official opinion on it out into the world.  After all, the album has a 68 on Metacritic, a score far more mediocre albums regularly eclipse.

I, too, was in the negative camp when I first heard the album.  I've always had issues with Drake's music, and Views initially felt like all of his worst impulses compounded into an LP that heavily emphasizes the L.  After a few listens, it started to grow on me considerably, to the point where I've become somewhat of a champion for this deeply underrated album.  Views has some gems to offer up.  The problem is that it asks the listener to sift through a little bit of rubble to locate the shiny bits.  So I've proposed a solution, what I like to call Views: The Antonio Whitehead Cut.  It looks a little something like this:

1. Weston Road Flows
2. 9
3. U With Me?
4. Feel No Ways
5. Hype
6. Controlla
7. Redemption
8. With You
9. Still Here
10. One Dance
11. Child's Play
12. Too Good

The biggest sin Views commits is that it's way too long, clocking in at 81 minutes but feeling more like 100.  So the initial step is to start chopping off songs.  First to go is "Keep the Family Close," which actually is a good opener in concept, but in execution it's mostly just a slog.  Nix "Faithful" because it's boring and not very memorable.  "Grammys" sounds like an outtake from What a Time to Be Alive, a mixtape that already feels like a collection of outtakes.  Every incarnation of "Pop Style" stinks, so that can go too.  "Fire & Desire" feels twice as long as it is, and the fact that it's near the end of the album doesn't help matters either.  Once that song gets cut, there's no real reason to keep "Summers Over Interlude" either.  Trim all of that fat and you've got a lean 53 minutes of music, almost the perfect length for a rap album.

Then there are finishing touches to put on the sequencing.  Without "Keep the Family Close," the album is lacking a fitting opening song.  The terrific "9" has 40 and Boi-1da combining their powers to create a beautiful, chattering beat but it doesn't exactly set the stage for the album.  That's why I propose putting "Weston Road Flows" in the leadoff slot.  With no chorus and four minutes of Drake spitting some of the best bars on the album, it's a perfect shot in the arm to start the record with, and it bookends nicely with the straightforward rapping approach of the album-closing title track.  The only other minor problem is that "Controlla," "One Dance," and "Too Good," the trio of dancehall-tinged tunes that are all highlights, are way too clustered together.  Moving "Controlla" closer to the front of the album helps spread that sound out a little bit, and also keeps the three songs in an order of increasing excellence.

Views: The Antonio Whitehead Cut isn't a perfect album.  It can't escape one of the other big issues with the record: Drake's persona, which has grown more oppressive and exhausting with each release.  Reducing the track length also reduces how much of Drake you get, but you're still bound to hear alot of his weird issues with women and his "woe is me" posturing, only seeming half-aware of how much he actually sounds like a jerk in most of the scenarios he describes.  And for what it's worth, this is a mood piece album that's trying to evoke some very specific vibes, so removing the sprawl makes it harder to appreciate what Drake and 40 are aiming for.  Still, this streamlined version of Views goes down much easier.  If it had been released in this incarnation, it would be considered one of the best rap albums of the year.

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