One dance with the new Drake: Where Views could take him
Drake propelled the area-code ode '6' to the tip of every Torontonian's tongue, for better or for worse. Now it's gone, but it infects Views like a ghost
Cole Burston/THE CANADIAN PRESS
A young man in a black jacket and tan shirt saddles up to order a drink, but he's immediately distracted. A thundering drum break cuts Drake's croon off from the bar's speakers, and the young man's head shoots up. He slams his fist against the counter with the beat, four times in quick succession.
Drake's voice reappears – "You're so predictable, I hate people like you" – and the young man starts to headbang, then slows to a rhythmic nod. He turns around; a half-dozen of his friends are nodding their heads to the new song Keep the Family Close, too.
There's a funny thing about the Drake Hotel hosting a listening party for Drake's new record, Views. Soon after its bar became a hotbed for Toronto nightlife in the mid-2000s, the rapper unintentionally eclipsed its name's hometown significance. American guests usually ask if he owns the place.
What's in a name? For the Drake Hotel, synergy, and a few dozen extra Thursday-night patrons at its rooftop bar; for Drake, one of the world's biggest rappers, a sign he'd like to let his work speak for itself.
Views, released late Thursday night, was teased for nearly two years as Views from the 6, only to fall victim to an 11th-hour title change-up. Though not first coined by Drake, his album hype propelled the area-code ode "6" to the tip of every Torontonian's tongue, for better or for worse. Now it's gone. Instead, it infects Views like a ghost, the way Drake subconsciously infects a few dozen patrons at the hotel that bears his name.
As the album cycles through on Apple Music – for which Views, at the moment, is exclusive – the bar's patrons go about their business. Drake doesn't have to be in the room to subtly manipulate it; by the time the album's second track, 9, flooded the space with its woozy synths and incessant hi-hat, the whole crowd is bobbing their heads. Its lyrics, too, speak to his role as hidden puppeteer: "I turned the 6 upside down, it's a 9 now."
For a while, Drake was the only young rapper that the rest of the world usually associated with Toronto. But Jazz Cartier and Tory Lanez have caught the world's attention – and we're seeing waves from the likes of Sean Leon and Raz Fresco, too. This could be why Drake is stepping down "the 6" rhetoric, at least a little. He'll share the space, but not without hints, like on 9, that he still watches from above.
That's the mood he engenders in his near-namesake bar tonight. No full-blown dance parties, but perked ears. A girl in a 6 God cap sways in a corner as she talks with her friends during the DMX-sampling U With Me? A couple trades kisses to EDM-laced With You. A pair of bros barge in during Hype and do shots. The head bobs occasionally return.
The bobbing is the sign of an unlikely return in Drake's music. Since his last studio album, 2013's Nothing Was the Same – and especially on last year's mixtapes If You're Reading This It's Too Late and What a Time to Be Alive – his production aesthetic has been abrasive, paranoid. His lyrics on Views maintain that mood as it relates to girls (Keep the Family Close, U With Me?) and rap rivals (Hype, Pop Style), but the mood is poppier.
Views is unexpectedly warm for someone who's framed himself as cold for the last few years. As always, you can thank Drake's go-to producer Noah (40) Shebib for the album's ambience. He balances airy remove with incisive melody here. At times, it feels like Take Care Two: Drake's heart has changed, but it's still on his sleeve.
And it remains, he insists, in Toronto. For all the bluster thrust about by naysayers – he's put down some roots in L.A., his Houston Awareness Week matches the scale of Toronto's OVO Fest – he still threads the city throughout Views.
In 2013, I interviewed Drake before the release of Nothing Was the Same, just as his Toronto-hype rhetoric began cresting. He came across with an unshakable need to show that his civic convictions are real. As we wrapped up our conversation, he brought up a story The Globe had published years earlier that cast his relationship with Toronto in a poor light.
"They need to stop painting me like some egotistical rap guy that doesn't care about the city," he told me. "I love Toronto. You gotta let everybody know. Stop with the Drake generalizations and the Drake judging. We gotta unite and make the city stronger. We can't tear each other down. You promise me that? You gotta make the promise that you spread the word at the office. Please."
He sounded truly slighted that someone from Toronto would publicly cast doubt on his motives. But in the 21/2 years since, his messaging has shifted. There is a steeliness in his approach now, thirst be gone. The emotional remove that has bubbled up in his music since Nothing Was the Same now enrobes his messaging, too. The 6 is gone from his album and song titles, but he prefers to show, not tell. The CN Tower remains on his album cover, the artist photoshopped on top.
Most of the listening-party patrons leave the bar before Drake's 73-minute album is done; at 20 songs, it's hard to follow along in one go. But he's made his statement, and, as spring turns to summer, fans will spend the coming months figuring out its place in his canon. Since Jay Z and Kanye West made Watch the Throne in 2011, there's been talk of Drake taking it. For now, he's chosen his own perch, photoshop be damned – as he sees it, he's sitting a lot higher.
Memes abound with Drake's latest release. Here's a selection: