Drake finally released “More Life”, his long awaited follow-up to Views on March 18th, via OVOSOUND Radio on Apple Music to widespread acclaim. The internets exploded in a fervor only to be soon matched by Kanye’s next rant or Beyonce giving birth. This was set up to be Drake’s Magnum Opus, a layup opportunity for a star with growing global influence. An instant classic. Drake fans are everywhere. There are teenagers in every corner of the world with Drake or his lyrics tattooed somewhere on their body. Aubrey Graham has been in the news near constantly in the last 2 years, mostly through much publicized beefs with Meek Mill and Cudi, and sometimes possibly Kanye West, who is featured on the album.
From here on out, I’ll stop referring to the album as an “album”. It’s titled as “A Playlist by October Firm” and a quick listen confirms that is exactly what it is. Drake is attempting to shed himself of the limits of an “album” concept, where a cohesive narrative is still very much valued by the hip-hop community at large. October Firm is the name of Drake and right-hand man, behind the scenes orchestrator Oliver El-Khatib, who it can be inferred creatively directed the vibe of the project. Drake has struggled with the idea of a narrative album, in my opinion most notably on “Views”, his last project, which to me undermined his coronation as the biggest in the game. The playlist concept proved to work on the “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” mixtape, which cemented Drake’s status as a hitmaker and permanent fixture in popular culture.
Drake fully embraces cultural influences from all corners of the world in this album, with distinctly dancehall sounds, afropop, and grime features. It’s a conglomeration of Drake’s claimed musical influences, and the culture of the city of Toronto. Immigrants from Jamaica, Africa, Haiti, South Asia, and the Middle East all against a Canadian backdrop. Drake has drawn criticism for suddenly adopting these cultural influences out of nowhere, and it’s fair to say this criticism has hurt his career somewhat. “More Life” is Drake going against any denial. Drake adopts a variety of sounds on the playlist, making some dancehall songs here that I could do without in terms of the front to back listen. The best tracks are produced by Murda Beatz, the 23 year old Canadian who’s produced hits for Migos among others. “Murda on the Beats so it’s not nice” is now the new “Metro Boomin want some mo” and it’s a beautiful thing with Quavo and Travis Scott backing Drake on vocals. “Portland” is the confirmed hit from this project and rightfully so. Murda masters the flute over a remarkably bouncy beat that makes the song undeniable, and Quavo demonstrates more star quality on an instantly infectious hook. Travis Scott demonstrates one of his little known skills, actually rapping, and makes me proud to be a consistent fan of his. He shows out on a song with two of the hottest out like he knows he’s a top 5 artist, and he is on this one.
Back to the strong worldwide influences on the album, the grime features on the album add an instant authenticity to the record that reflects the streets of Britain as much as it does the hidden hills of Calabasas. For those of you who didn’t know who Giggs was before now, the grime icon is featured twice on the playlist, with his typical low menacing tones masterfully riding arena production. KMT is a pretty blatant Xxxtentacion bite, but the beat and Giggs verse make it pretty hard not to listen to. Still #FreeX and everything, but “BATMAN, DAH DAH DAH, DAH-DAH” has never been said before on a rap song, and the fact that it’s Giggs on a Drake album sort of feels right in 2017. It’s good that grime is finally getting the worldwide exposure it deserves. These guys live and breath authenticity, and Skepta has been the leading figure in grime’s worldwide image for a while now. His album, “Konnichiwa”, has been in my frequent rotation since it dropped last year, and is honestly one of my favorite albums ever. “Skepta Interlude” is Drake giving Skepta an entire song to basically just go off, and therefore giving him the perfect platform to broaden his reach and the reach of grime. He destroys it, as typical, and for those of you who can’t get with the accent, do your research, listen to a grime playlist one time, and you’ll get it. The energy is on another level, especially given the current slow lean obsessed state of popular hip-hop in this country.
The 2 Chainz feature is notable and shows that the Duffel Bag Boy is in a zone leading up up to his next album which is expected to come out in the near future. 2 Chainz really doesn’t care, and his talent is just spilling the contents of his vibrant imagination in hilarious and sometimes very poignant bars. He got famous for being infectious, and his presence is felt on the album. Young Thug also spits a verse that makes you think you can understand exactly what he’s saying on first listen, run it back, and then realize he’s actually speaking much more clearly for some reason. But it’s actually fire, and catchy in typical Thugger fashion. Drake got everybody on this one, even Kanye West on “Glow”, an undeniably catchy song that feels like it was recorded in one night. Kanye leads the track with a classic few bars about when “me and being broke broke-up” that again validate Kanye as an artist who is still doing it on an iconic level. Kanye’s legacy to me is going to forever be more influential than Drake’s, just because Kanye has otherworldly talent that Drake hasn’t demonstrated.
Drake works hard, and consistent improvement in numbers and reach every album proves that despite the criticism. It’s hard to listen to a Drake album and love it as a fan of music knowing that he might really only be responsible for the vocals. I’m not trying to be all pro-Meek Mill, but that controversy never really came to an actual resolution for me. Quentin Miller and his reference tracks are real things. The fact that Drake pulls from so many different influences, and throws a wide variety of features on the 22 song playlist make this album similar to Views for me. Yeah it’s what Drake’s giving us at this point, and there will be some songs off of here that’ll be spun into oblivion for the next 8-12 months. But is it a classic? After at least five front to back listens at this point, I have to say no. It’s a playlist in the truest sense, just a mix of vibes and attempts at capturing all sides of culture. It’s the play of a man on the road to world domination who’s plagued by too many insecurities to trust himself to innovate in his own lane. There are fewer and fewer people doing it now, and it’s an actual problem for the integrity of music. The innovation is happening on Soundcloud and overseas right now, and Drake is smart enough to realize that and use it to his advantage.
“More Life” is good in the sense that it gives these artists a bigger platform, but bad in the sense that it borrows too much from them. Again, how many of these songs will you have in pop up back in regular rotation a year and a half from now? If you’re already a die-hard Drake fan, a lot of them, and if you’re a skeptic like me, you’ll just keep going back to Skepta and Giggs while telling yourself you’re not really listening to the last Drake album again. “More Life” is a Jamaican saying to wish someone well, and Drake doesn’t exactly project positivity on this one project. He goes at Kid Cudi again, a possible veiled Jay-Z diss on “Free Smoke” and repeated Meek Mill shots. He thrives off of vulnerability, and he reflects the emotional state of many people in 2017. Anxious, self-conscious, sometimes irritable, it relates well to so many that this record will definitely go platinum in streams. I feel old when I wish that the invulnerable 50 Cent era was back, and rappers were still superheroes. The people need a voice, and Drake has been chosen. And if he doesn’t turn into Will Smith and just act forever now, one thing’s for sure: there’ll be More.