Review: Drake Shows Versatility and Awareness of His Status on “More Life”

Drake is a legend and it’s time to respect and approach him as such. Even If we’re going off of even the most google-accessible facts, the kid from Toronto has remained a fixture in the upper-echelon of rap since his 2009 breakout hit “Best I Ever Had”. Whether you like him or not you have not been able to escape his music since then and there are no signs of that slowing down. He is not only rap’s quintessential hitmaker, but also one of the most prolific crafters of hits ever. You may think I’m exaggerating this so before we go any further allow me a brief moment to break this down.

Drake has managed to remain on the Billboard Top 100 for over 400 weeks as of January 2017. If you’re like me math is a foreign language, so I’ll tell you that translates to over 7 years. The last time Drake didn’t occupy a slot on Billboard the IPad was just making its debut, Simon Cowell was still an American Idol host and Tiger Woods was on the forefront of a certain sex scandal. Even – “Hide Ya Kids, Hide Ya Wives” – Antoine Dotson was a thing back then. If that doesn’t seem like an eternity ago in a culture that shifts as much as Hip-Hop’s I don’t know what does. The only people who even come close to Drake’s 400 week billboard run are some familiar faces in Wayne (326), Rihanna (216) and Nicki Minaj (207).

Now, to say he is a legend is not to say he comes without flaw. For every hit is an accusation of being a culture vulture, a bully and, of course, someone who doesn’t write their own bars. Topping things off of his list of negatives is the strong opinion from most listeners that Drake is currently coasting off of his weakest overall project to date in “Views”. Heavy is the head that wears the crown and Drake wears his along with a sense of vulnerability. It’s seems as though he is aware of his downfalls, and even more so aware that he has managed to keep overcoming them all to continue his reign.

It’s in this level of awareness we seem to find Drake as he approaches the next entry in his musical diary, “More Life”. The “playlist” acts as his version of a mixtape, but does so in a sleek way that allows Drake to both express himself differently artistically, and make a shit-load of money by branding it in line with Apple Music’s model. Furthermore the 22 song tracklist grants Drake the chance to cater to all of his fans. As one of the more versatile artists in the game, and a self-aware one that knows he has fans in each respective style, he ensures he caters to all with “More Life”.

The Album starts off with “Free Smoke”, which adds to Drake’s track record of traditionally strong intros. It sets the tone with a bevvy of rap lines dealing with his current position in the culture in comparison to his past. Drizzy hammers this home with lines like “Weezy had all the authority, Women I like was ignoring me now they like, ‘Aren’t you adorable?’ I know the question rhetorical”.

One thing that must be commended is Drake’s detail in transitioning the tracks of the playlist. They blend together flawlessly and without seeing the names of the track many times you can’t even tell the song changed. “Free Smoke” goes into the braggadocious “No Long Talk”, which finds Drake focusing on more of his Jamaican influence with help from London-born rapper Giggs.

From there the playlist takes on a more lighter vibe with songs that have been deemed “make up tutorial music” by the always kind people in the Twitter universe. Seriously though, if you’re a fan of the “rappity rap” version of Drake this portion of “More Life” is not for you. Songs like “Passionfruit”, UK singer Jorja’s interlude, and the Black Coffee-assisted “Get It Together” all bring about the emotional, melodic sounds that were heavily featured on “Views”. Though these efforts certainly aren’t bad, I found myself toe tapping to all of them, they just aren’t what everyone tends to want to hear from Drake.

It seems Drake knows this, as he quickly goes back into his island vibes on both “Madiba Riddim” and “Blem”. It’s from there we start to reach some of More Life’s high points, the first being “4422”. On this track Sampha is the leading vocalist as he brings some of his patented crooning. The song is creative and well put together, reportedly taking its name from the following bible verse, Isaiah 44:22: “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, Your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” It’s in this frame of mind that Sampha speaks on his issues of trust and how the song’s muse influences them so heavily. This is one I’ve found myself listening to on repeat.

The smooth transitions continue forth as the playlist leads into “Gyalchester”. This is basically the rap-ready version of 4422’s instrumental and Drake does a fine job over it. He shares a few bars about being “top 2 but not 2” which I’m sure will go down as one of the top quoteables.

We delve back into his extensive influence from U.K. culture that resides throughout the project on “Skepta Interlude”. Skepta gives us some of his trademark rhymes, leading into arguably the strongest stretch of tracks on the playlist. The following two “Portland” and “Sacrifices” are instant standouts that seem as though they will be getting heavy rotation for months to come.
On both Drake showcases a smooth flow, which gets balanced by some of the more lively personalities in the game. Quavo continues the Migos-mania that has overtaken America with an infectious hook on Portland, with Travis Scott adding his touches. Both 2 Chainz and Young Thug add verses to “Sacrifices” that have great replay value. The pair of songs are without question in my top 5 and possibly my top 2 (see what I did there?).

Drake’s versatility remains on display as we approach the later portion of the set list. He brings the woozy, syrup-laden vibes of the “Take Care” era on songs like “Somethings to Nothings”. Drizzy continues his penchant for sampling tracks from the 90’s and early 2000’s on “Teenage Love”, the track which stirred up much attention due to a rumored fling with J. Lo. While originally rumored to be a full collaboration, Drake uses her “If You Had My Love” single to craft the backdrop for his new joint. While it personally isn’t my cup of tea, I can see hit single potential for Teenage Love.

Giggs makes a second appearence, the last clear cut allusion to our brethren overseas on “KMT” before the aura takes a more introspective vibe. Songs like “Lose You” and “Can’t Have Everything” find Drake focusing squarely on lyrics and he definitely addresses an array of things. Certain lines like “Winning is problematic, People like you more when you working towards something, not when you have it. Way less support from my peers in recent years as I get established.” go a long way into showing a more honest side of Drake, while still showing the knowledge of his position.

Kanye West makes a high profile appearance on “Glow”, a track that was probably recorded in the process of their rumored collaborative album we will more than likely never hear. It did take a while for this one to grow on me, with two of my favorite rappers opting to sing melodies more so than drop bars. Still though the song has potential to be a mainstay throughout the summer months especially. A sample of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Devotion” makes this one fit for BBQ’s and kickbacks.

PARTYNEXTDOOR and Drake rekindle their chemistry on wax with “Since Way Back”. I’ll be honest, I’m a fan of the song but I felt it would be better served as a solo track from PND. His contributions stick out more to me, though I am admittedly a borderline stan when it comes to Party’s music. The references to R. Kelly mix well with the subtle sample of Kelly’s “Clipped Wings”.

The familiar sounds of “Fake Love” follow next in the playlist, making it the only previously released track to make the cut. It’s a banger though and fits the vibe of the playlist well so I can understand it’s inclusion. “Ice Melts” trails with Young Thug making his second appearance on More Life. He handles hook duties on a song where Drake caters more to his female fan base. The island-influenced production jogs memories of Thugger’s “Wyclef Jean”, just done in a more marketable fashion.

We approach the end of Drake’s 22 track opus on “Do Not Disturb”. He closes strong with the type of record we are really used to from him. Allen Ritter, Boi-1Da and 40 cook up mellow production for which Drake gives us the rundown on being on top, old relationships where he would cop fake Chanel as a gift and towing the line of observance/paranoia as a man with his status. It’s all raps on the outro, no hooks as he opens up with confessional-style transparency. “My life is centered around competition and currency. Taking summer off, because they tell me I need recovery. Maybe getting back to my regular life will humble me. I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary, more life.” With those words he closes the project, declaring that he is taking time off musically (yeah, right.) to refocus and live.

If there is any flaw I can throw out on this project, from my own perspective, its what he speaks on in those last bars. It’s important to know your space and as I stated before Drake is a legend. The thing is his music is starting to lack vulnerability, the same vulnerability we fell in love with in the early stages on projects like So Far Gone. Long gone are the moments where he questions things for the most part as we digest more tough talk and expressions of his dominance than ever.

Perhaps some time living “more life” breaking away from creating music as much as he does would give us the opportunity to hear more innovative topics and song structures than we have recently. Drake gives us an impressive project for the 298,638,372,957 people who have been fans of him from the jump, but does little to convert the ones who have long disliked his approach. Every song on the playlist I found to be enjoyable and some to be instant classics in my book, but none seemed to provide something I didn’t hear from Drake before, albeit better. That would be my main critique.

All-in-all though, if I were Drake, a man who hasn’t left Billboard’s hot 100 since before Kobe won his final ring, why would I stop the formula? The music is not bad. The music is still selling. What motivation would there be to risk straying too far left and alienating your fan base? This playlist has already broken records with over 600 million streams the week. Perhaps he should just continue to live more life the same way he has been.

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