Release Date: Mar 18, 2017
Record label: Young Money
When you're Drake, you're held to a certain standard when dropping a project. It's a standard that rightfully comes with being one of music's most influential culture shapers for the past eight years. That's why when his supposed magnum opus, Views, didn't live up to the self-inflicted and ultimately unfeasible hype, he faced criticism (for his craft) like never before.
Everything Toronto rapper and R&B artist Drake does is a social-media firestorm. The rollout for last year's Views and its single "Hotline Bling" was massive, though critics' response to the project was often tepid. With Drake's new playlist, the sprawling and rich More Life, people are scratching their heads again. Is it an album? A mixtape? A Spotify playlist of his favorite songs? With Thursday's news that More Life could soon make its way to the standard CD format, maybe his intention all along was to first gauge interest on streaming formats before hitting the traditional route.
Drake calls his superb new More Life a "playlist," not an album or even a mixtape, yet that might be why it sounds so expressive, so emotional, so quintessentially Drakean. When you get right down to it, Aubrey Graham is a playlist - a true pop visionary who's always a fan at heart, an omnivore with a raging appetite for his next favorite sound. More Life is his finest longform collection in years, cheerfully indulgent at 22 tracks and 82 minutes, a masterful tour of all the grooves in his head, from U.K.
Since the beginning of his career, Drake has followed one simple blueprint; to make music that reflects the season Toronto finds itself in, literally and metaphorically. While VIEWS served as an ominous soundscape to a never-ending winter and reflected a booming hunger in the city, his newest release, More Life, presents the fruits of that labour in a sunnier, more celebratory arrangement. As Drake pays tribute to the GTA by acknowledging places like Galloway, the Skydome (aka Rogers Centre) and even Palazzo Nightclub, he continues, more importantly, to speak in a coded language only certain communities fully understand, as on the high-powered "Blem.
In a way, Drake - a global superstar - sidesteps serving as the true focus of this new "playlist" experiment. Instead, he allows the various sounds, guest features and flavours of the production, which he and his crew adopted from all over the world, to steal the show. Though a bona fide boss in hip-hop, Drake has often had his skill and authenticity called into question; his diss track feud with Meek Mill began when the latter implied that Drake employs a ghostwriter to craft bars he claims as his own.
D rake may be an international pop star able to sell albums at will, but often his best work appears outside of official avenues on mixtapes, one-offs and collaborations. Earlier in his career, his OVO blogspot page offered up between-album tracks that hinted at potential new musical directions. In 2015 his summer anthem 0-100/The Catch Up arrived via Soundcloud and so did Back to Back, his Grammy-nominated Meek Mill diss record, neither of which ever found a jewel-cased home.
Drake's VIEWS was a commercial pinnacle and a creative and personal dead end. He scored the biggest hit of his career with "One Dance," but the album surrounding it was so aggrieved and solipsistic you felt like you were insulting Drake by listening to it. His telepathic bond with producer Noah "40" Shebib had turned stale and over its punishing 80-plus minutes he wrung every last drop of sour grapes from his Beta-Male Conqueror persona.
I've been a Drake fan since Take Care. I spent that whole year thrilling to the beat of "Headlines" and alternating between laughing at or empathizing with the melodrama of "Marvin's Room." The jump from Thank Me Later to Take Care happened a second time with his third album, Nothing Was the Same, wherein both Drake and 40 carved out their own territory of soulful beats/tunes that I've come to associate with the sky blue of the cover. Since then, Drake's gone by way of Madonna's assimilation of contemporary sounds as his own.
Purely as a rapper, Drake has perhaps never been less compelling than he is on More Life, his latest project - technically billed as a playlist - which clocks in at a behemoth 22 tracks and 82 minutes. Views was similarly overlong, doubling as both his most commercially successful and least compelling album, but while it's understandable to be hesitant about another dancehall and grime-tinged Drake release less than a year later, he smartly uses this looser format to take somewhat of a backseat and showcase more a understanding of the former while still clinging to his awkward love of the latter. The album's titular credo is an ode to continued success and celebration in the face of adversity that is so vaguely grandiose and oft repeated it feels cribbed from a DJ Khaled on an elliptical.
Drake wants to rule the world. Nothing has ever been more clear. Last year's Views essentially abandoned any pretense of rap ambition into a bland 'something for everyone' - really, everyone - mixture, with a bloated tracklist fit to reap streaming dollars and take advantage of the clumsy new charting system designed to embrace the same. He has only bolstered the 'playlist' (as he's insisting it be called) this time around; More Life boasts 22 tracks and clocks in at nearly a damn hour and a half.
They want me gone, wait for the kicker; Bury me now and I only get bigger. The problem with Views? If You're Reading this it's Too Late, a stripped back, barely there, braggadocios curio, was everything it should've been. Replete with geographical references to Toronto and densely worded tributes to family and friends, it cemented the 180-degree character turn from Degrassi to 6 God; the realization of Drake being an all shit-talking, no-nonsense, anti-hero rapper's rapper. On "Legend," he boorishly bragged about the lavishness of his lifestyle; on "Energy," he name-checked his enemies with some degree of pettiness; on "Know Yourself," he trotted out his nasty flow and blew up a Socratic saying.
B illed as "A Playlist by October Firm", these 22 tracks of new music from Drake and guests reflect the desire of a big hitter - who "keeps the lights on in the building" (Can't Have Everything) - to put out an album without industry song and dance. Cohesion is not vital, so grime MCs such as Skepta (Skepta Interlude), UK "road rap" proponents like Giggs (duetting on No Long Talk, grandstanding on KMT) and a South African producer called Black Coffee on the excellent Get It Together (feat Jorja Smith) sit alongside sweeter-sounding tropical pop cuts. Quite what Nelson Mandela has to do with Madiba Riddim, an archetypal Drake rhyme about not trusting anyone, is a moot point though.
After releasing the hugely popular but artistically underwhelming Views in 2016, Drake went back to the mixtape approach for his next release, 2017's More Life. Over the course of 22 songs and almost an hour and a half of music, Drake shows again why he's one of the most frustrating rappers in the world. The main problem is that he's a better hip-hop-inspired R&B singer than he is an R&B-inspired rapper, but he refuses to acknowledge it.
Pop music, at least its apex, is the province of the audacious, from Elvis twisting his hips, to Prince, Madonna, and Janet Jackson rearranging sexual norms, to Missy Elliott writing hooks consisting of gibberish and backwards vocals. The best pop stars do things we don't expect because they are also things we can't conceive. In this grand lineage, I submit a Drake album featuring a song titled "Madiba Riddim." I'm kind of kidding, but as Drake continues to cement himself as a generational star, it's worth taking stock of the exact nature of his audacity as a pop musician, the divisiveness of which seems to track exponentially alongside his commercial success.
Opinions may differ on who is the best or most important artist in hip-hop, but one fact that cannot be disputed is Drake‘s distinction as the biggest rap star on the planet at the moment. The pride of Toronto has evolved from a wonderkid with rap aspirations looking to transition from a career as a thespian into the most powerful artist in terms of name recognition, influence and cache in all of music by far. However, heavy is the head that wears the crown and Drake has had a lot of mental baggage weighing him down, a sentiment that underscores the sonic globe-trotting he partakes in on his new project, More Life.
Over the years Drake has often been accused of being a "culture vulture" - the Canadian kingpin wears isn't shy about wearing his influences in plain sight, making hits by borrowing off everyone from Mac Dre to Migos. More recently though, he's been focussed the UK and the Caribbean to source his sounds from, which naturally has people questioning his intentions. It all boils down to personal opinion, and the artists he's been co-signing certainly approve of the global platform he's offering; commonly praising his love for the sound and culture.
An album. A mixtape. An audiobook in which he annotates his old scripts from "Degrassi: The Next Generation." At this point, it doesn't really matter what form a new Drake release takes. The Canadian rapper and singer -- and former teen actor -- is so popular that whatever he puts out is almost certain to attract listeners in record numbers.
Drake wants to make one thing clear: "More Life," the 22-song project he unveiled on his OVO Radio program Saturday evening, isn't an album. Arriving nearly a year after the superstar rapper's staggeringly successful album "Views," it's instead described as a "playlist" curated by October Firm (a.k.a. Drake and OVO cofounder Oliver El-Khatib). But what does that mean, with its appearance across multiple streaming platforms, and the inclusion of chart-toppers like "Fake Love"? Terminology aside, it's a sprawling, star-studded release, and an impressive achievement — one that signals a new level of ambition for Drake.
"I make too much money these days to ever say 'Poor me'" When you make the kind of money Aubrey Drake Graham b/k/a Drake makes, you also get to make up your own reality. That's why Drake has described "More Life" not as an album but as "a playlist between albums." That's fine to say if you want to Mr. Graham but "More Life" is still being sold like an album and still has singles being released off of it like an album.
My experience with Drake largely stems from the persona he’s embedded into every part of public consciousness. I consume Drake in the way pop culture and Aubrey Graham himself have constructed him. The first point in time I remember knowing musical Jimmy Brooks was Rihanna’s “What’s My Name”, which I’ll admit, is not a deep cut.