The Canadian former child actor Aubrey Graham has had a meteoric rise since debuting as the rapper Drake in 2006. His records sell by the boatload, and his blessing can make careers. He’s not the best singer, and he’s definitely not the best technical rapper, but Drake has a quality that’s magnetic–making him an endlessly malleable subject for memes like the ones surrounding his feather-light 2015 single “Hotline Bling” and its hypnotic video.
At a time when viral currency is the coin of the realm, Drake has become a quasi-mythical figure, one so beloved by millennials that his album release warranted a custom filter on the self-destructing-photo app Snapchat. Paparazzi photos depict him consistently enjoying life, smiling big while courtside at NBA games and with bold-faced names like Serena Williams and Rihanna on his arm. Yet his lyrics belie inner torment and insecurity. Take the opening line of his new album, Views, released April 29 as an exclusive on Apple Music and iTunes: “All of my ‘Let’s just be friends’ are friends I don’t have anymore,” he croons over lush strings. How much you like Drake can depend on how much you’re willing to indulge his flights of ego.
Views is a lengthy statement–its 20 songs clock in at roughly 90 minutes–and at times it feels zoned out, with tracks cloaked in a smoky haze punctuated by the occasional blast of deep bass. There is bravado to liven things up: Drake boasts about fame and riches (including the line “Views already a classic”), while “Child’s Play” finds him fighting with a girlfriend at the “place for families that drive Camrys and go to Disney,” i.e., the Cheesecake Factory. (“You know I love to go there,” he pouts.)
Some of the best tracks on Views echo the ’80s quiet-storm mood of his earlier release “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Over the gently murmuring beat of “Feel No Ways,” Drake sings about a woman he misses even though he found her slacker lifestyle unappealing (“I tried with you/There’s more to life than sleeping in/ And getting high with you”), while “Fire & Desire” uses a sumptuous Brandy sample to send a message to a woman who’s since moved on, even though he clearly hasn’t.
Then there’s Rihanna, a frequent collaborator who’s been entwined with Drake off and on since 2009. Earlier this year, Drake provided the male perspective on her sinewy chart topper “Work”; she returns the favor on “Too Good,” a bouncing dance-hall track in which the two play the roles of star-crossed lovers talking past each other. It’s the Views offering most likely to snag the jam-of-the-summer crown, pairing irresistibly danceable beats with lyrics that hint at deeper turmoil beneath the surface.
That’s why it’s probably the ideal breakout single for Views, which chronicles Drake’s messy relationships with former paramours, other rappers and, most important, himself. It’s by no means a perfect album. It’s too long, and Drake’s attitudes toward women who don’t have the status of Rihanna leave much to be desired. But it’s still a fascinating document–one that will no doubt influence other artists and the audiences that follow them. Drake, meanwhile, follows his muse.
This appears in the May 16, 2016 issue of TIME.
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