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Full disclosure: I am not a Drake fan. I don't hate the man as an artist, or think his music is un-listenable by any measure. His last album If You're Reading This It's Too Late I thought was a pretty good album and most of his singles over the years I've enjoyed, however I always feel as if I'm wanting more from him as an MC and as an artist, as if there's something lacking in his lyrics, rhyme schemes and music, whether its aggressiveness, lyrical dexterity, more intricate word play. I don't know, Drake simply doesn't do it for me. However, what I find perplexing, from both fans and critics alike, is the lack of recognizing what he lacks as an MC and not calling him out on his weak rhymes and lyrics. In fact, they continue to call him one of this generation's best.
His latest album Views is probably the most egregious example of this. In a time when social and political commentary is needed from artists who have a platform to speak on such things, it feels like a waste for Drake to continue with the same old themes that can easily be found on his previous albums, or any other artist's albums for that matter. If he doesn't want to be that kind of artist, fine. If he wants to continue rapping about his exes, his money and fame, and how he feels so alone and betrayed, him against the world kind of thing, that's fine too. However, as an artist (an artist who is regarded as one of today's best, no less) he has to find new ways to approach this kind of subject matter instead of resting on his laurels (along with his easily accepting and forever devoted fan base) and making the same songs that we've all heard before.
Drake is an artist caught in a very interesting time for hip hop, a post To Pimp A Butterfly era, or a time for albums like Beyonce's Lemonade, where artists are seeking out different and creative ideas for their music, challenging their audience or whomever will listen. If Drake wants to continue making the same old Drake album, that's fine, and he'll probably still be successful with it, but if you're weighing the greatest artists of this generation, Drake's complacency should knock him down a few pegs. If anybody should demand more out of Drake, it's his fans but Drake is saved only by the production of his albums, not his lyrical ability as an MC and isn't that what has mattered most in hip hop? Isn't there a responsibility to call out MCs who are not up to snuff, especially those that are capable of giving more?
So why aren't critics calling him out on this? Hasn't the standards of hip hop been raised at all to be dissatisfied by Drake's progression as an artist and MC? Spin Magazine's review of Views is as perplexing as it is frustrating. The reviewer, Rebecca Haithcoat, starts off her review by actually nailing all of the flaws stretched across the album saying,"his fourth studio album is overly dramatic, too braggy, so bloated, and a little delusional." and yet, she only casually touches upon the blandness of his lyrics and rhymes, and gives the album a seven out of ten based, what seems like, solely on the production, as if the skills of being an MC on a hip hop album are so unimportant these days that they take a backseat to the producer. Your production will save you and make people overlook what you're clearly lacking, substance and skills. What we praise about MCs like Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Vince Staples, J. Cole and even Earl Sweatshirt, with their lyrical ability and storytelling prowess, somehow doesn't matter when it comes to Drake. Why is that?
The Observer claimed that "the detail--both lyrical and producerly [is that a word?]--is pin-sharp" and XXL boldly stated "In fact, crafting standout lines and quotables is what Drake nails on this album." Really XXL? Really? So you would classify lines like "I could GPS you if you need addressin'" ("Hype"), "Momma hit my phone and said rap's no good/Better than her telling me the check's no good/Now they wanna act like I do no good/Funny cause I really did more than I should" ("9"), or "Yeah, how's that for real?/You toyin' with it like Happy Meal" ("U With Me?"), as standout lines? Time to up your critical game everybody because there are plenty of horrible lines throughout this album, these were just a few examples. As much as I'm not a fan of his, I don't ever recall him having lines THIS bad on previous albums, making the claims of enlisting ghostwriters all the more curious to me.
Look, I don't want to bag on Drake simply for the sake of criticizing him. I just want him to do better. I want all artists in all genres to do better. Artists become boring when they're not pushing or challenging themselves to be better than their contemporaries. Shouldn't critics and fans alike want the same? In order for Drake to get better and for fans to want to demand more out of him as an artist, we need to start calling a spade a spade. Otherwise, what the hell are we all doing here and what else are we expecting?