Photo by Jake Kivanç via Drake's Instagram.
At about 5:30 pm Sunday evening, I found myself walking through an inconspicuous parking lot in downtown Toronto when I heard the muffled sounds of "Blasé." I followed the music to a little fenced off show area, a stage easily visible to anyone walking by. "What's this?" I asked the nearest person. "Oh, it's a Ryerson thing," he said, referring to the university student union's 6 Cent Concert. "That's Future's DJ, but there's supposed to be some big special guest."
But then I thought again: it's just hours before the Raptors game, where Drake will sit courtside as the official ambassador, and the same weekend he already performed surprise sets at Jurassic Park outside the Air Canada Centre and at his official release party. Would the biggest artist in Toronto really show up here on a rainy evening to a crowd of a couple hundred at a university union party? The same university union party he played an unannounced set at last year?
DJ Esco finished his set and the crowd gathered around the fence, phones in the air. And then... out came the rapper SAFE, hoodie over his head, never explaining who he was or why he was there. Was this the special guest?
Nothing on the official hashtag except for some speculation and a bunch of noise complaints.
And then... Drake! After a game day-appropriate rendition of "Jumpman," the hometown rapper explained "They asked me if I could come down and play one song. I don't play one song!" When all was said and done, Drake played seven.
Though he spent the weekend playing across Toronto in support of Views, strangely he didn't play much from Views. Instead, he stuck mostly to the harder-hitting material from If You're Reading This It's Too Late and the pair of Meek Mill diss track loosies "Back To Back" and "Summer Sixteen." The new "Pop Style" fit right in, while "One Dance" might have slowed the energy if Drake didn't let the crowd sing basically the whole rendition.
So what does that say about Views? Maybe it just means he hasn't stage-honed the new songs yet, but it seems conspicuous given the mixed response the long-hyped album seems to be getting from fans and critics. Personally, I think Views is half a good album. Lighter, Caribbean-flavoured songs like "Controlla," "Too Good" and the aforementioned "One Dance" would anchor a very strong pop album if he could pare down all the bloat. But those songs aren't the ones that will get a crowd screaming along like it's their civic duty. Views is a grower, but it's the headphone songs that grow.
A video posted by Richard Trapunski (@richtraps) on
That said, the way most people interact with Drake makes quality almost secondary. For a Toronto music fan, Drake's album drops might as well be updates to the dictionary. They're not just songs, they're how people will be talking about the city until the next Drake release. And seeing an album with a song called "Weston Road Flows" topping the global charts is a cool feeling when you're from Toronto. So is stumbling across a set by one of the biggest rappers in the world in a parking lot on an early Sunday evening.
Still, it feels like Drake knows he can't rest on Views. "Yo, Imma tell you like this," he said before he left the stage. "Just because Views came out, that doesn't mean there's not new music on the way, so I'll see you soon."
After this weekend, you should probably take him at his word.