Check It Deeply: Drake’s “Views” on Jamaica + Dancehall

April 29, 2016

Words by Richard “Treats” Dryden

If you’re reading this, you already know that Drake’s Views album is the talk of the town. Aubrey “Drake” Graham delivered his fourth studio LP at midnight last night via Apple Music, on a special episode of his OVO Sound Radio program that also included an interview with host Zane Lowe. As it was planned, this global event would be dissected by the second on Twitter. Throughout Drake’s conversation, live from Los Angeles, his tone sounded cool, calm, and collected, satisfied even. Yet his language, it was Canadian… yet it was so Jamaican, even if he won’t admit it.

Recently, we noted the many ways that West Indian culture has influenced Drake and his music. On the latest episode of OVO Sound, the show’s playlist started with Dosa Medicine, Chi Ching Ching, and Popcaan’s cuts from this year’s Wicked Wicked Riddim. As noted here and elsewhere, he has increasingly spiced his dialogue with Jamaican slang. Speaking with Lowe last night, he used words like tings, shell and passa passa, clearly Jamaican slang for those in the know. He jokingly talked about his friends saying Drake’s mom is always with the “passa passa,” in this case referring to a mixed up story. Of course, Passa Passa was most famously a weekly block party which took place late nights on Wednesdays in Kingston’s Tivoli Gardens area. And when Drake says shelling, he’s using a term often used in dancehall music to describe both literal gun battles, and the figurative “destruction” of lyrical opponents — or a receptive, awestruck crowd.

To a New Zealander like Zane Lowe, or the untrained ear outside of those outside the West Indian sphere of influence, these words will seem new. To Drake, tings is Canadian slang; marinate on that for a moment. Is that ethnocentrism, or is that just Drake putting his heavily West Indian-populated hometown of Toronto first? Drake riding for his city is more important now than ever to him, as he now finds himself defending his role in defining the city’s sound and look since he stepped onto the scene in 2010.

Even before the album was heard in full last night, fans were expecting a significant Jamaican dancehall influence on Views. The previously leaked “Pop Style” “One Dance” and “Controlla” led the promotional campaign for Views, each with a title using Jamaican terminology. “Pop Style” is a term used to suggest wealth and taste, perhaps used most famously on Althea and Donna’s “Uptown Top Ranking” way back in 1978. “One Dance” is an amalgam of African-rooted genres that mixes the UK funky of Kyla’s “Do You Mind” (Remix) with vocals from Nigerian Afrobeats Wizkid, but the title itself is a conversational phrase commonly spoken in Jamaica. And then there is “Controlla,” which initially featured three verses from Popcaan. Now, the Unruly Boss did not make the cut on the album version. Instead, Drake added another verse of his own, and replaced Poppy with a sample of Beenie Man’s “Tear Off Mi Garment” and an interlude by Beenie. Then the memes came, and kept coming … and coming.

Popcaan’s absence from Views is perhaps even more noticeable than Jay Z & Kanye West’s missing bars on the album version of “Pop Style.” (Drizzy casually danced around that omission in his interview with Lowe, ultimately citing “business” as the reason why he nixed Jay Z’s two lines.) Poppy missing on Views is a gaping hole that brings the album to a screeching halt at track 11. How was Popcaan, one of the most dominant voices in dancehall, left out of arguably the album’s biggest moment? Drake has often acknowledged Popcaan over the years, most notably on If You’re Reading This Its Too Late when he recited lines from “Ghetto (Tired of Crying)” on “Know Yourself,” and sampled dialogue of the artist speaking in the 6 in the 876 webisode directed by OVO Niko. Their various interactions over the years seemed to be building up to a major placement on Drake’s “Controlla.”

In the end, the Caribbean influence on Views is not nearly as pronounced as anticipated, though there are a few touches. On “9,” the second track on Views, Boi 1-da uses Serani’s swan song chorus from Mavado’s “Dying” to comment on Drake’s description of the state of affairs in his hometown. The album also features production credits from Black Chiney’s Supa Dups (who co-produced “Controlla” with Boi-1da) and Stephen McGregor, aka Di Genius.

And a consolation for Popcaan’s absence on the new version of “Controlla” is a sample of Popcaan’s “Love Yuh Bad” on “Too Good,” a collaboration with Rihanna. Drake also echoes Poppy’s line saying, “cock up yuh bumper sit down pon it.” Maybe imitation is the highest form of flattery. Depending on whose view, of course.