ESSAY// VIEWS: Album of the Year Edition

views

“But unlike his earlier solo efforts, Sign “O” the Times wasn’t a record by an ambitious kid trying to make impression. At 28, Prince had already made himself into a pop superstar  (and movie star too), and he easily sold out arenas. In one sense, he had nothing to prove. Yet Sign “O” the Times is the most varied, accomplished record of his prime 1980s period, a testament to the range of his gifts and the bold artistic ambition that gave his music shape.” ~ Pitchfork

Previously.

The reason why it’s not STARBOY is because Drake isn’t sounding like Michael Jackson in the future, he’s sounding like Drake in the future. The reason why it’s not The Life of Pablo is because Views is easier to listen to. The reason why it’s not LEMONADE is because Views is easier to listen to. Drake is, if you want to listen to it that way, furious throughout for sure. Just like Pablo and Bey, Drake is terrified and at the end of his rope and fighting for his fucking life and the lives of his family and friends.

But he never screams his heart out or has a multi-part breakdown. He and his collaborators stay ice cold~ even the warmest, most bounciest beats have a grim determination undergirding them. There’s an unshakeable momentum to the music, a timely airtight-ness. VIEWS is the album that got humanity through this year, it’s the sound of the biggest star in the world on the eve of revolution.

The reason why it’s not Coloring Book is Drake doesn’t sound like Kanye anymore. I mean, everybody sounds like Kanye but Chance the Rapper REALLY sounds like Kanye; he sanded the edges off Graduation and brought it to the present. However, candy-coated Christianity can only take one so far in the real world and Lord knows it’s taken us far enough, thank you but please no thank you! Drake keeps it real. Chance’s “Blessings” aren’t actually coming for you: you’re not as handsome as he is and your dad isn’t friends with Obama. You’re not going to blow up without a record deal! But you might be able to get your ex back if you can grit your teeth for long enough through all of life’s beat changes and let da riddim guide you through the God-less, gunshotted summer. Better yet, you might even find someone new. Imagine that.

The reason why it’s not Solange is because that album is too slow. The reason why it’s not Blonde is because that album is too sad! The reason why it’s not your album is because your album isn’t this sexy or well-produced and it doesn’t have “Hotline Bling” as a bonus track.

More Life is on the way.

ESSAY// If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late: Album of the Year Edition

DRAKE ~ JUNGLE from October’s Very Own on Vimeo.

Of all the loosies Drake put out last year, from “Trophies” and “We Made It” to “0 to 100” and “How Bout Now,” the searching power ballad “Heat of the Moment” stood out from all others in its promise of the man Aubrey Graham might be about to become.  “Heat” Drake sings about global warming, muses on the power of the soul, and tells the kids to stop having so much darn unprotected sex. Graham, approaching thirty, had reached a new plateau of cultural power and creative excellence in the wake of 2013’s Nothing Was The Same and was syncing up with the “conscious” wave the mainstream was then tuning into. Alongside Kanye West’s “Only One,” Kendrick’s bubbly “i” and Chance the Rapper’s emerging gospel pop rap persona, “Heat” promised 2015 as the year corporation-friendly rap would take its “moral” responsibilities seriously in a way it hadn’t in decades, if ever.  I couldn’t wait: after Soulja Boy, swag, and the “I Don’t Like (Remix)” the millennials were finally coming of age, bro.

 

Then, in early February ‘15, Drake dropped the short film Jungle and something was off. The young man of the people I expected to see was conspicuously absent. The film starts with an exhausted guy diving into an all-black luxury vehicle and being shuttled out of a city in the dead of night. Away from people. He’s got this heavy beard, the lines under his eyes are starting to look like bags for the first time. He sounds bitter about fame in a way he hasn’t in years and is completely unsure of who in his personal life can be trusted. Well yeah, Drake! You know, that’s the system! Making black men hate each other and disrespect our fe-males, dude, yeah, totally, we’re about to go tear it down with D’Angelo and the cast of Selma – come with us! It’s time to go unify! Except Drake doesn’t go anywhere. He builds higher walls. The first lines of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late are about making N-words back up. The last ones concern taking your girl while covered head-to-toe in Prada. Somewhere in all that darkness and ice emerges my favorite project the rapper has released to date.

If You’re Reading…  is the album-long culmination of JAY Z’s prophetic letter to A. Graham on “Light Up,” from the latter’s Cash Money debut Thank Me Later (2010): the harder you appear, the more you become a study in loss and sadness. Accordingly, both Jungle and IYRTITL are overloaded with subterranean emotion. During the Travi$ Scott-assisted “Company,” dogs woof and synths moan ominously. Even when Drizzy isn’t spelling his pain out to mom on “You & The 6” or to a lover on the Eric Dingus-produced slow jam “Now & Forever,” the production flourishes tell the story of a mind drifting through war. The lyric “I don’t deserve her,” is cut by a woman on the phone saying “at least you fucking know.” On “Star67” the bass seethes like a brooding child while Drake goes from telling off models to a heart-breaking story of selling drugs in his teens.

Throughout, Drake achieves the most effective rapping I’ve heard since JAY’s The Black Album (2003). “Energy” is punchline after punchline, like some uproarious, highly concentrated form of stand-up comedy. The entire album is hilarious aside from the embarrassingly sincere “Now & Forever;” even “You & The 6” is pitched perfectly, replete with a quiet, immaculate irony. Sonically, Drake is Jackie Chan catching the beat by the scruff and flipping over its head while winking at the listener – “You was popping back when Usher wore a U chaaaaaain!” Each couplet holds a unique voice modulation and every phrasing sparkles with creativity as Drake takes unfamiliar routes through places we’ve all been before.

Back in Jungle, the 6 God falls asleep and awakens at an OVO party on his Donnie Darko ish. Our boy wanders through the dramatically lit dream compound seeing everyone there for what they truly are: cold, calculating, alone. Elsewhere, in real life, he watches a female dancer walk past a cafe window and imagines her practicing in an empty studio, ever drawn to the idea of solitary passion in an unforgiving landscape. Some teens go by in the other direction, we “see” them dipping off to do hard drugs with their hard friends as the chimes of IYR’s “Know Yourself” fade-in and the movie transitions to footage of Drake and his own crew of homies.

Despite, or perhaps because of, success Drake remains trapped in a slick, hypermasculine exterior. His woes are locked up for real for real while Toronto kids rule over playgrounds littered with paraphernalia.  True to its scrawled album cover, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a crime mystery of sorts. Someone or something has taken hope from us. Drake is not a Civil Rights icon floating through the air, but he’s another young human trying to figure it all out and he is a very thorough artist.

#WATTBA.