At last year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival, I joined the thousands upon thousands of revelers in anticipation of Saturday night’s headliner, one of the hottest names in pop music and arguably the biggest rapper in the game. That man was Drake, who barreled through a 90-minute set that had the crowd absolutely bumping in the mild fall night.
I hated every goddamn second of it.
Something about the way Drake vacillated between rap and sappy R&B was unsettling; his blatant attempt at being the biggest chameleon in music reeked of a guy who wanted to tap every available commercial pocket, all for the sake of notoriety and financial gain. Seriously, any guy who would segue from “Energy” to “Hotline Bling” was either pandering to fans or trolling haters; perhaps it was both.
Drake, who plays a pair of dates at Toyota Center September 3 and 4, seemed like a nice enough guy, and his inherent charm, showmanship and stage presence were evident to anyone in attendance that night. It just wasn’t for me.
Then he released Views.
When Drake’s latest dropped back in April, it came with a ton of expectations. These expectations stemmed in part from Drake teasing and hyping the hell out of it before a release date was set; this was to be his opus, his Blueprint, his Marshall Mathers LP. Others were running hot on Views thanks to the previous year’s mixtape, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
I tried to avoid the hype upon Views’ release. I ignored the online reviews (which were admittedly mixed) and scrolled past the album when it continually popped up on my Apple Music homepage. I was staunch in my efforts to avoid any and all things Drake...until the guy hosted Saturday Night Live.
When I learned that Drake was to serve as host and musical guest on May 14, I was set to skip my first episode of the season (yes, I’m a child of the '90s and still watch SNL, even though the show has fallen off considerably). After pondering whether to tune in for far longer than I care to admit, it was decided — I would gut through this particular show.
Ninety minutes later, I finally got the fascination with Drake. Simply put, the man was born to perform.
Drake wasn’t just another celebrity host stopping by SNL to promote an album. He genuinely appeared to be giving it his all, both as host and musical guest. And his performances of “One Dance” (the real song of the summer, Justin Timberlake be damned) and “Hype” were on point.
Once the closing credits rolled, I turned on Views. Despite mixed reviews, perhaps the most mixed of his career, I got what Drake was going for in the ode to his hometown of Toronto. Tracks like “Weston Road Flows” and “Pop Style” took listeners on a tour through Drake’s background and upbringing. It wasn’t a concept album per se, but rather, a glimpse into his serious, emotional side.
Not that the man has ever had trouble expressing emotion; hit singles like “Marvin’s Room” and “Best I Ever Had” put that notion or rest. But this was different; as opposed to the aforementioned ACL experience, this emotion felt genuine.
So I listened through Views a few times, thoroughly enjoyed it, and decided to traipse further back into Drake’s catalog. I spent the next few weeks giving multiple listens to each of his proper studio albums and even checked out mixtapes and guest appearances like If You’re Reading This… and So Far Gone. What once elicited disdain now elicited wonder; Drake was able to seamlessly blend rap and poppy R&B like no other. Traditional rap tracks like “Started from the Bottom” and “Energy” fit right in with sentimental fare like “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Take Care.”
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Most importantly, as he proved on SNL, Drake was in on the joke. Unlike Kanye West, who lost his way a long time ago, Drake doesn’t really aspire to change the face of pop music. His voice is good but certainly not on par with a D’Angelo or Maxwell; his raps are more than sufficient, but no one will ever tab Drake as the next tupac or Jay-Z. And yeah, he's a little cheesy. But he packages palatable pop-rap in shiny coating and delivers it to a diverse legion of fans; Views is the biggest-selling album released in 2016, and the second-highest selling album of the year, trailing only Adele’s 25.
Perhaps that’s all it took for me to come around on Drake – the realization that he was not so much trying to be a chameleon, but rather, that he simply is a chameleon. Any guy who can transition from a stint on Degrassi: the Next Generation to collaborations with Lil Wayne and Bun B certainly proved as much.
So, nearly a year to the day after renouncing Drake for good, I will be in attendance when Drake plays before a pair of packed houses over Labor Day weekend. He will amp it up for “Energy.” He will slow it down for “Hotline Bling.” He’ll give the audience a little bit of both with “Best I Ever Had.”
As they did at ACL, the crowd will go wild. This time, I think I’ll join in.