Last April, Drake released his fourth studio album, Views. While it certainly has hits and quotable tracks, I thought it was an ineffective cross-genre amalgamation attempt, finding Drake spreading himself far too thin. The product struck me as Drake’s desperate effort to prove his “worldly” musical command, but instead made him look like a dancehall charlatan. We all know he’s a Canadian half-Jew, so why was he trying to act like the illegitimate love child of Sean Paul and Rihanna? Who knows. But in order to achieve success, we must fail first. Views, to me, was a failure; Drake’s most recent release, More Life, is a success.
Appropriately dubbed a “playlist,” More Life achieved what Views couldn’t—naturally combining differing genres to create a uniform product. One of Drake’s objectives with this project was to utilize eclectic sounds and vibes to create a ubiquitous life soundtrack that properly accompanies any emotional state—or as DJ Khaled would say, to make it a “major chune.” He achieved that goal.
The sonic aesthetic follows a sine graph of waves and troughs, illuminated by heart-pounding instrumentals that seamlessly melt into dancehall riddims, which are subsequently resuscitated by invigorating trap beats, only to be balanced by introspective, emotional cuts. This project is essentially a really cool, put together schizophrenic. And while the inconsistent auditory trajectory mimics a heart rate monitor, it not only works, it flourishes.
More Life is a musical sponge, absorbing previous versions of Drizzy and current industry trends to ring out a fantastic product. On “Nothing’s to Somethings” we listen to the vulnerable, emotional Drizz that captured our hearts years ago, as he talks about former lovers finding comfort in the arms of other men. Throughout his career, Drake’s struggled to balance his desire for deep, passionate love with a string of heartless one-night stands, causing him to question the validity of his romantic pursuits. It’s in these sobering pockets of honesty where Drake’s struggle is most palpable, and his essence is most relatable. However, this is a life playlist—emotional cuts are merely a pillar for the overall album’s uniquely varied facade.
Songs like “Blem” and “Madiba Riddim” are the successful products of his Views dancehall experiment, finding Drake better handling this unfamiliar texture, and actually making it believable that a black Jew from Toronto could sound like he’s from the islands. He rides the current trap wave on “Free Smoke,” “KMT,” and the fan-favorite, “Portland.” The “Skepta Interlude” and “No Long Talk” show Drake getting his passport stamped at England’s customs desk as he adjusts his grime jacket. The closing track, “Do Not Disturb,” features our protagonist reverting to his classic rapping form, flowing unencumbered over the Snoh Aalegra “TIME” sample, as he discusses wide-ranging issues plaguing his mind from omnipresent rap feuds to failed romantic relationships. “Sacrifices,” potentially my favorite track, is an album microcosm whose varied composition, anchored by trap elements and dancehall vibes, structures the story of his sacrifices that have cemented his current dominant status. More Life is the 50 shades of Drake. Except instead of being equipped with whips, chains, and S&M, it’s furnished by entrancing, dynamic production, world class features, and Drake’s diverging styles. The playlist’s dynamism not only demonstrates Drake’s undeniable talent, it highlights something that’s become increasingly clear over time: Drake is the game’s best chameleon.
Let’s take a quick step back and analyze Drake’s career arc. He came on the scene a wide-eyed uneducated 19-year-old aspiring to follow in his mentor’s (Lil Wayne) footsteps into rap domination. On his first three projects, Room For Improvement, Comeback Season, and So Far Gone, Drake enlisted a consistent emotional hybrid rapping/singing aesthetic that proved there was room in Hip Hop for an individual to shamelessly air out his emotions and vulnerabilities. Drake made it okay to steer into these feelings. However, over time we not only started witnessing Drake’s content transform from insecurity to overconfidence, we started witnessing the evolution of his entire stylistic approach. These changes were marginal at first, borrowing hints of then-current trends on Take Care and Nothing Was the Same, but he completely morphed once he linked up with Future for What a Time to Be Alive. This mixtape confirmed Drake’s sage wisdom and strategy. Noticing the increasing demand for the trap sound, Drake teamed up with a fixture of the sub-genre to essentially co-sign himself as a believable trapper. Since then, Drake’s continued to adopt current trends to bolster his palatability, further diminishing his identity while mushrooming his allure. But ironically, this seemingly diminished identity reveals his truest self: Drake is one of the world’s biggest pop-stars.
Currently, Drizz is Spotify’s fifth most listened to artist at almost 35-million monthly listeners. In less than a week, More Life has already shattered streaming records: it was streamed 89.9-million times and 61.3-million times in 24-hours on Apple Music and Spotify, respectively; its Beats-1 premiere was the show’s highest listened to event; it’s on pace to break other streaming records, most of which are held by Views. We’re witnessing the evolution of music’s most diverse pop-star. He raps, sings, manipulates his style to adhere to popular trends, flows over assorted production both in and out of Hip Hop, and can be featured in almost any setting. He can be found being bumped in any dude’s car; he makes girls wetter than his neighboring Niagara Falls; he can help you overcome a bad day; he can provide the ultimate turn-up music. All of these versions of Drake are incorporated on his most recent project.
More Life shows Drake in his most efficiently differentiated form. He seamlessly and organically transitions from style to style, from flow to flow. However, while Drake has a firm hold on multiple disciplines, he isn't the best at one in particular. Rather, he is the best all-around player. Kendrick is the game’s best lyricist; Future is arguably the best trap rapper; Trey Songz is one of the best R&B artists. But none of these guys can effectively dabble in each other’s craft. Drake synthesizes Hip Hop’s cornerstones into one person, into one project. He’s like the most fundamentally sound basketball player—he won’t go off for 60 points, but he’ll average 22 points, eight boards, and six assists. He’s the guy who will bring home the Larry O’Brien trophy.
A large contributor to his dynamism is the playlist’s mesmerizing and progressive production. With names like Boi-1da, 40, Frank Dukes, Nineteen85, and Kanye West populating the production credits, it’s no surprise that the melodic instrumentals are captivating. However, it’s the innovation and creativity that sets them apart. The samples used on this project are equal parts awesome, fitting, absurd, and head-scratching. Let’s examine some of the more interesting ones: “Roll Up” by Trey Songz and Danny Brown is the blueprint for More Life’s opener, “Free Smoke”; in a huge power move, Drake sampled his own Take Care song, “Doing it Wrong,” on “Jorja Interlude”; he called on the legend Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” for “Blem”; perhaps my favorite sample is from J. Lo’s “If You Had My Love,” used on “Teenage Fever”; and the most surprising and head-scratching sample that somehow fits perfectly is the Sonic the Hedgehog theme song, “His World,” on “KMT.” These wide-ranging samples mirror the playlist’s wide-ranging vibes that are brought to fruition by the diverse featured artists.
More Life is like the exclusive party that everyone wants to attend, but only the coolest are invited. Popular grime artist, Giggs, takes the first feature on the playlist’s second track, “No Long Talk”; Sampha has a momentary show-stealing moment on the beautiful, enchanting “4422” that has been stuck in my head ever since I first listened; “Portland” and “Sacrifices” have star-studded casts of Quavo and Travis Scott, and 2 Chainz and Young Thug, respectively; my mans Kanye makes an incredible appearance on one of my favorite tracks, “Glow”; Partynextdoor flexes his muscle on “Since Way Back”; and Thugger Thugger Baby makes a second appearance on the major chune, “Ice Melts.” Drake not only brings his A-game, he extracts everyone’s best self—he even gets a relatively articulate Young Thug verse on “Sacrifices.” If you were left off the list, my condolences—I guess Drizz just didn’t think you’d be a good house guest.
“‘I know you need a break’ / Hell naw, I feel great, ready now, why wait?” Not only is Drake borrowing from Atlanta’s trap sound, he’s borrowing from their freakish work ethic and voluminous output. More Life is Drake’s third project in the past 18-months. Part of me believes the reason he invested so much time and energy into More Life was to prove to himself and his fans that he could master the multi-disciplined aesthetic that he couldn't on Views. Well, Drake, I think you’ve finally achieved that goal. Say goodbye to creating pregame or party playlists—Drake’s got you covered.