(noun) definition: a business, man.
Drake’s VIEWS came out on April 29. Old news—you already knew that. Plastered all over Apple Music, its cover art meme’d before any of us even heard it, and no doubt the cause of many a text to an ex—everyone and their goldfish has an opinion about Drake’s fourth album. Some feel it was overhyped, others cite VIEWS as Drake’s fullest realisation of his multitudinous sound, and further listeners (prone to binary album commentary) have declared it “fire.” Still, it sold approximately 600,000 overnight, lead single ‘One Dance’ jumped to #1, and is already setting streaming records.
How did this happen? Back in 2013 when Nothing Was The Same (NWTS, Drake’s third album) was released, Drake was still considered rap’s whiny little brother. Something “for the girls,” the singing rapper who everyone listened to, but no one wanted to admit to loving. It was a simpler time: YOLO (“The Motto”) and “Started From The Bottom” were trendy-ish, early signals of Drizzy’s power over pop culture. He was huge, but nothing compared to the Drake of 2016. The period between NWTS and VIEWS—full of twists, turns, and surprises—represents a masterclass in marketing, image management, and salesmanship. Drake is indeed a business, man.
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In July 2014, nearly two years before VIEWS was released, the build up began. Following an announcement that his new album would be titled Views From The 6, Drake released “0 to 100 / The Catch Up” one of the best songs of his career, including lyrics implying an autumn (NZ) 2015 release. Yet, in the middle of February 2015, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late appeared—with no previous announcement, bar a short film released just hours earlier. It wasn’t VIEWS, but it was damn good. He was sure to let us know that we were spending our pretty pennies on a mixtape, not an album. This was not to be held to the same standards, it was merely the trailer to his feature film. Still, no VIEWS.
And thus the commercial mixtape was born. Essentially the musician’s version of premium content, Drake gambled on fan’s willingness to pay to experience him—and he was right. Even with the knowledge it wasn’t his full effort, every one of the album’s 17 songs charted, running with your woes became a meme, and the mixtape went double platinum. Redefining what it meant to be an album, his late-2015 mixtape, What A Time To Be Alive, mirrored this. Accentuated by sharing the release with Future (the biggest name in 2015 street rap), Drake reinvented his image in light of this newfound masculinity—the boy had become a man. Even with little marketing, no singles, and the explicit definition of ‘mixtape’, every song charted and Drake scored his second platinum release in less than a year. It was an entrée to his magnus opus. Still, no VIEWS.
Of course, we’re forgetting what happened in between. Meek Mill talked shit and Drake responded in full force. Tweets and memes were posted, diss tracks released (again, sold as premium content), Twitter weighed in, and Drake walked away the victor—two charting diss-tracks and a Grammy nomination in hand. But it was another song released during this period of loosies that made the biggest impact, a little dancehall track named “Hotline Bling.” Aided by a hilarious video, Drake’s remix of “CHA CHA” by D.R.A.M. (again, sold as premium content) went quintuple platinum, hit #2 on the Billboard charts, and defined the meme in 2015. Capitalising on viral culture, Drake made the most of his not-too-serious image and memed himself—skillfully balancing his image as a hardened trap rapper with that of the playful pop singer. Still, no VIEWS.
Across all 36 pre-VIEWS tracks, the album is only name-dropped once (in the final line of “Back to Back”). Yet it seemed as though everyone with an internet connection knew it was coming. Last week, it didn’t matter whether or not the music was good. It didn’t matter what the critics thought. It didn’t matter that the single with Jay Z and Kanye really sucked. All that mattered was that Drake was big, we knew it was coming, and we wanted to hear it—bad.