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. I didn’t care for either If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late or What a Time to Be Alive beyond the occasional hook or banger (“Know Yourself”; “Jumpman”), and I was hoping his next proper album—Views—would course correct back to the Drake I wanted. The skinny version: it didn’t. Letting said appetite run rampant, Views was Drake’s most direction-less album yet—a Toronto winter album (especially in songs like “Weston Road Flows” and “Pop Style”) whose best songs (“One Dance,” “Too Good”) rose above the grayness of it all because they went in the opposite style. I guess, in hindsight, the ridiculous cover was appropriate.
The positive reports of More Life have declared it better than Views. A logical comparison, and I find myself trying to match up songs against one another to see how they compare: “Passionfruit” is about equal to “One Dance” in the potential for a summer jam; “Gyalchester” is a significant improvement to “Grammys” as a trap banger. Not only does this one have more highs, but a better batting average too. But the same main issue persists: Drake can’t sustain interest for 80-some minutes; few artists can. Of course, it turns out Drake’s going by way of Jay-Z of being a businessman first and musician second. More Life’s length turns out to be strategic as Forbes’ Hugh McIntyre reports because of the number of tracks here he “now holds the record for the most simultaneous hits on the Hot 100” with 24 of the top 100 songs in the U.S.
The negative critics have it easy for them: Drake’s bolstered his love for the Caribbean with a faux-Jamaican accent, and he’s marketed More Life as a playlist whose purpose seems only to distinguish how much “better” this is than your average mixtape. Nah, it is a mixtape, people, but that lets him get away with dedicating a few tracks as showcases for other artists. Not the first time he’s done the latter: he gave PartyNextDoor the entirety of “Wednesday Night Interlude” on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and Majid Jordan on “Summers Over Interlude” on Views. Here, Jorja, Sampha, and Skepta get their own songs, and Drake barely shows up on “Get It Together”. Fine by me as more variety of voices usually means more variety of colours.
Plus, there’s a slightly larger appetite this time around. In addition to the usual suspects of muted introspection, Atlanta trap, and Caribbean influences, there’s also an appreciation of UK grime (via Giggs) and South African house (“Get Together”). (It makes you wonder what regions he’ll touch on next time, whether Drake will be recognizable at all if he keeps going with this method.) The variety makes for a better listen, to say nothing of the care taken into sequencing the playlist. Starting off with a lovely sample from Hiatus Kaiyote, Drake snaps in with one of his sharpest flows on the album, threatening anyone who comes near on “Free Smoke” (pronounced “Shmoke”). After “No Long Talk”, there’s a block of rhythm-based tracks before Sampha’s “4422”, a pained ballad that segues perfectly into trap banger “Gyalchester”. And after “Skepta Interlude,” two back-to-back posse cuts near the dead center of the album. And so on.
The filler is merely soporific. I’d exorcise the six-minute “Since Way Back” and “Lose You” (leaning too heavily on the off-beat ping-pong ball sound to carry its five minutes). I keep waiting for the melodic backbone of “Blem” to resolve itself, but it never does. Other issues: the Kanye West-Drake duet of “Glow” has some fantastic elements going on, from the odd waft that passes through (listen through headphones) to how it segues perfectly into the sampled outro, but there isn’t time in the song for forced “Started From the Bottom” namedrops. Meanwhile, single “Fake Love” wasn’t much to begin with outside of the strange melody of the beat; the music video capitalizing on the sorry cheesecake line from Views didn’t help my appreciation of it. Drake does get a bit cheesy here too, but nothing so egregious: “If it’s a chit-chat ting, better talk nice / Murda on the beat, so it’s not nice / Skull gets hot, then I’m not nice” and “How you forget to fill up with gas on the road to riches?” More commendably, he manages to stand above the beat to make “I don’t take no naps” some sort of brag.
By contrast, the highlights don’t justify the runtime. I say this, no matter how many times I predict I’ll hear “Passionfruit” in house parties, or how surprised I am by 2 Chainz’ dexterous verse, or how I look forward to a hopefully long-lasting relationship between Young Thug and Drake. Drake’s idea of “more life” is “more everything”. My idea of More Life is less music, and the best thing about this playlist will be the one I eventually build for myself.