Is he the archetypal rapper he so clearly thinks he needs to be to keep his head above the hip hop water – the ultra-competitive alpha male who reels off details of wealth, women and status with casual arrogance? Or is he the man trying to drag the genre, kicking and screaming, in another direction entirely, one where emotional literacy is the most valuable currency? He’s been playing at both roles right from the start, and whether you view that as flexibility or indecision probably indicates the regard – or lack thereof – in which you hold his work.

For better or worse, though, that’s always been his calling card. His first mixtape, So Far Gone, put him amongst a new vanguard in hip hop, one where introspection, not extroversion, was paramount (see also: Kid Cudi’s superlative A Kid Named Cudi.) Drake had hardened a little by the time Thank Me Later, his debut proper, dropped – still thoughtful, but no longer afraid to brag. That, inevitably, made him a record executive’s dream; here’s a guy who can have massive singles on both sides of the coin, who can have the confrontational crackle of “Over” come off the same album as the schmaltz of “Find Your Love” – two different flavours of radio smash.

And the thing is, when he’s at his best, he can do either, both, in convincing fashion. Take Care’s title track, built around that fabulous Gil Scott-Heron sample, was a razor-sharp modern love song, and yet it sat on the same record as obvious club staples like “Headlines” and “H.Y.F.R.” Great from a commercial point of view, but it left the album itself – and its follow-up, 2013’s Nothing Was the Same - crying out for cohesion. It really felt like a case of so near yet so far, both times; just as either release felt like it was about to hit its atmospheric stride, there’d be a track that punctured it and spoiled the good work – a badly-placed banger after a succession of soul-searches, or a woozy downer stopping a cocky strut dead in its tracks.

It was always the lack of a throughline that rankled; it never felt as if Drake was anywhere close to a substantial reconciliation of these two sides of his musical personality. The frustrating thing is that it was never Jekyll and Hyde stuff. These weren’t two wildly different characters – it wasn’t Eminem doling out stony-faced advice to his young daughter one minute and comparing the relative merits of a range of celebrity arses in an uncategorisable accent the next. You sensed that if he really put his mind to it, Drake could make a record that blended his identities and, in the process, cut away the considerable fat from his full-lengths. As far as he was concerned, though, it seemed as if the policy was that never the twain should meet, and that he was quite happy with that, thank you very much.

Until last year, when he released If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, not quite an album, but meatier than a mixtape. Suddenly, he sounded pointed, urgent even, and the confidence he exuded seemed considerably less affected. He didn’t exactly marry the Drake that picks over failed relationships to the Drake that beats his chest and declares to the world what a big deal he is, but he did bring them closer together, and there’s clearly some irony to the fact that he seemed to do so almost inadvertently, because the quickfire nature of the release meant that he had to focus, and couldn’t indulge his every whim like he had done in the past. What was supposed to be a placeholder of sorts, to carry us over until his next real album, ended up becoming arguably his most engaging work.

In the months that have followed, he’s spent time publicly feuding with Meek Mill, another development that suggested this new, never-more-cocksure Drake was here to stay. “Hotline Bling”, ostensibly the lead single from his next LP, was the sound of last summer. All indications were that he had closed the book on the first chapter of his career, and was ready to start writing the second. His collaborative effort with Future, What a Time to Be Alive, was forward-thinking enough to lend credence to that idea. Views from the 6, as this fourth album was known until the eleventh hour, missed its proposed late 2015 arrival, but after a clumsy, The Life of Pablo-esque build-up that saw the actual date withheld until days in advance, the album that’s now simply Views is here, and guess what? There wasn’t any need for the cloak and dagger after all. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that Drake has, after promising things might be different this time, reverted to type.

Views is a record cut very much from the same cloth as Take Care and Nothing Was the Same. For a start, it’s far too long – 82 minutes, if you count “Hotline Bling”, which has now been awkwardly tacked on at the end. You have to wonder if Drake has some sort of contractual obligation to have his records pass a certain running time, because none of them have been better off for being so distended. He drip-fed information about Views in the immediate build-up and, pressed by fans on the track listing, said that “there’s like twenty songs on there for y’all to enjoy,” like he’s doing us all a favour, and not just being, you know, wildly self-indulgent.

Once again, the Drake that has his game-face on sits awkwardly alongside reflective Drake. The out-and-out self-possession that characterised much of If You’re Reading This is only one facet of a record that has Drake assume a host of different personalities, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the cuts that might have slotted cosily onto that release that make for some of the standouts. “Hype” is lean and pointed, sharp flows over a menacing beat, and “Grammys” is similarly belligerent – another hook-up with Future, on which both men take steely pride in being unchanged by success, even if it’s manifested itself in different ways (Drake has a Grammy to his name, Future’s never so much as been nominated.)

It’s peculiar that Drake did away with the original title so close to the album’s release, because his hometown of Toronto, which he’s nicknamed ‘The 6’ for reasons best known to himself, is all over Views. One of the guises that he’s most comfortable wearing has him being biographical, looking back at where he came from as well as where he’s going, and that approach yields the two genuinely indispensable tracks on Views. “Weston Road Flows” is a lyrically deft paean to his childhood and ascension to superstar status that makes fine use of a Mary J. Blige sample, and it’s when Drake’s in this mode, exuding childlike excitement, that he seems to be at his best as a writer. The title track, too, plants itself firmly in the same kind of territory, chopping up The Winans’ sumptuous “The Question Is” and spinning a richly detailed, self-referential account of Drake’s rise through the ranks that nods to everything from the Mill beef to the Kanye West verse, on “Pop Style”, that was axed from this record.

Much of Views, though, has Drake in the same navel-gazing mode that’s inspired countless memes, and it’s on this front that he’s beginning to flounder – the ideas are starting to run out. There’s only so many ways that he can feel resoundingly sorry for himself over a moody instrumental, and it’s telling that he only occasionally cuts through the gloom with something insightful on those tracks here. “Redemption’s clever skewering of exes who’ve gone to the papers with their stories is a case in point: “they would sell my secrets for a tropical vacation / sell my secrets back to me if I was paying.”

Album opener “Keep the Family Close” is supposed to sound cinematic, but instead meanders awkwardly with little sense of any real flow. Lyrically, meanwhile, he has now officially crossed the line from contemplative to just straight-up whinging – “how do you not check on me when things go wrong?” This is something that Views is scored through with – whining self-pity. On “9”, nobody in Toronto’s giving him enough credit, whilst “Feel No Ways” has him being held back by an old flame who apparently isn’t ambitious enough for him. The heart bleeds. “Faithful”, meanwhile, sees our hero embrace monogamy with the sort of weary sigh that suggests he regards the basic human decency required to not cheat on his girlfriend as constituting some sort of Herculean feat of selflessness that deserves a slew of humanitarian awards. The track also comes with a disastrously ill-advised feature from the late Pimp C, although the questionable resurrection of artists no longer here to say no to Drake is, at this stage, nothing new.

Which brings us on to what many will consider the elephant in the room with Drake; that his music can, to use the internet’s favourite word, be problematic. Said elephant duly appears on Views, and manifests itself in a couple of different ways. There’s a clutch of songs here – most notably,"Controlla", which features Beenie Man – on which Drake is trying to channel a dancehall vibe. That’s not necessarily an uncomfortable prospect in and of itself, even if it’s hugely incongruous with the rest of the album, but you do wonder whether the patois and affected accent are really necessary, especially given that he pulls them off about as convincingly as Ali G. There’s also plenty of detractors who feel, with some justification, that Drake’s well-established sensitivity and vulnerability are actually just a vehicle for a more insidious brand of misogyny than the type that hip hop is generally known for. Anybody in that camp will not have their mind changed by the stupefyingly offensive "Child’s Play", which opens with a spoken word snippet effectively suggesting that women have no place at major sporting events unless they’re dating one of the players and goes on to tell a thoroughly distasteful tale of Drake effectively dragging his girlfriend around on a lead and treating her with utter contempt, all the while threatening to “give her back to the hood” and deprive her of this fabulous, high-flying lifestyle should she step out of line – so classist as well as sexist, then. All the while, he repeatedly assures us that because his mother raised him right, all of this is above board – he might as well have just gone the whole hog and rapped, “how can I hate women? My mum’s one.”

And yet for all his flaws, and as difficult as some of them are to overlook, Drake remains one of hip hop’s most engrossing figures. Views, like Take Care and Nothing Was the Same before it, is brilliant in places and thoroughly bloated in others. Most interesting is how Drake manages to vacillate so dramatically between being so likeable one minute and so off-puttingly self-involved the next. Views, you suspect, might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of the world’s capacity for stories about how, yes, he’s rich, successful, famous and apparently the official mascot for his basketball team, but that doesn’t mean he can buy love and happiness, don’t you know? That particular story is getting old, and fast. Views does nothing to dispel the idea that Drake has a truly great record in him, but it can’t be as long as this, it might require a producer who can rein him in – 40, for all his sparkling work on this album, clearly isn’t capable of that – and it will definitely need him to recapture the swagger that defined If You’re Reading This and parts of What a Time to Be Alive. Until then, you could always assemble a veritable highlight reel of a playlist from the more inspired moments on these last three LPs, and hope that, one day, Drake learns to take that approach into the studio with him.