words/ MIKE BARRY
Drake’s ability to push the envelope of hip-hop almost never fails to impress, and his latest playlist – no, not album – is an instant classic amongst a successful string of blockbuster releases. The fact that More Life, released March 18, is stylized as a playlist rather than a traditional album recognizes and reflects the dominate format of music consumption in 2017. The collection of songs varies wildly in genres, features and flows, typical of a playlist you would find on any streaming platform today. After all, Drake is the undisputed king of streaming, and playlists are what streaming is all about. He can back it up, too. All 21 new songs are currently charting on the Billboard Hot 100.
More Life is no exception to Drake’s consistently ambitious vocal work; most rappers shy away from diving fully into melodic verses and pop hooks. The playlist arrives after the commercial success of lead single Fake Love, ambitiously sung almost entirely outside of Drake’s comfortable range; it is a testimony to his willingness to push himself as a crossover artist. Despite his lack of natural range, the recognizable tone of his voice – at its milkiest and most addictive on Passionfruit – makes him radio gold.
Pop ambitions aside – More Life is a hip-hop/trap album at its core. Drake comes for the throat off the top, opening with the one-two punch of Free Smoke and No Long Talk (feat. Giggs). Smoothly transitioning into the tropical vibes of Get It Together and Madiba Riddim, diverse musical influences expand, serving up his familiar brand of Torontonian / patois slang, with fresh European inflections, over chilled-out beats. Be ready though – when the beat drops in Gyalchester, your soul might leave your body.
The moodiest cuts on the album, Nothings Into Somethings and Lose You, bring us back to the Take Care days with hazy melodies and extended instrumental breaks that’ll have you in your feels. Both songs showcase Drake’s unique train-of-thought, non-linear lyricism that lets us move through the record alongside him, conversationally. He hits back at detractors and delves into mid-career nostalgia for the come up (man we wrote the book on calculated thinkin’/ and icy Heineken drinkin’ / and rival neighbourhoods linkin’/ and putting your trust in someone with the risk of financially sinkin’). Teenage Fever, another slow jam, combines a J. Cole-style flow with an out-of-place sounding J-Lo sample. It may not be standout, but it fits the vibe and deserves a spot.
Drake comes in strong on KMT and then treats us to a hilarious verse from Giggs (Clapman, dominant murder / I’m a black man, government earner / coulda just slapped man, but he wanted it further / batman, da-na-na-na-na.) Here’s the real question: Is this the best or worst verse of the year? Nobody really knows. We’re just glad it’s here so we can fight about it on Twitter.
Can’t Have Everything is absolute fire and undisputedly an album highlight, good for any mood or playlist. Is it too early to call it underrated? Probably. If you liked 4PM in Calabasas, add this to your library. While Everything wins on every level imaginable – beat, lyrics, flow – Sacrifices (feat. 2 Chainz and Young Thug) and Since Way Back (feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR) fall short, and seem unimpressive in contrast to the rest. Skip.
Portland, newest addition to the immerging flutetrap genre, may not be the strongest record on the playlist but it delivers on captionable lyrics (yeah, my side girl got a 5S with the screen cracked / still hit me back right away) and decent hooks from Quavo and Travis Scott. It’ll probably smash harder than most tracks but won’t have the longevity in Drake’s catalog that might be enjoyed by its deep cuts. This one’s definitely for the kids.
By sculpting individual tracks around the strengths of the featured artist, Drake masters the art of collaboration. Glow (feat. Kanye West) would have fit well just as well on 2016’s The Life of Pablo as it does on More Life. The record is a seamless blend of the two artist’s sounds and flows. Yeezy leads us through an unconventional song structure, swapping and overlaying sing and rap verses with Drake, and it all comes together beautifully. It is, arguably, the best track on the album (fight me). This clean mesh of styles also can be found on Ice Melts (feat. Young Thug) – which sounds more like a Thug song than a Drizzy song, but it works. Out of all collaborators on the playlist, it’s Skepta who comes in hardest, earning him his own song, Skepta Interlude. Clocking in at 2:23, the track is a quick and unexpected highlight that shouldn’t be skipped.
Drake’s willingness to let his feature lead the track may cause missteps at times but it is one of the defining strengths of More Life. On the final track, Do Not Disturb, he can’t resist reminding us that despite all the help, he is king – and curator, you might say – of this playlist. (If we do a song it’s like takin’ my kids to work with me / you a one day star / swear I told you that I’m in this bitch for eternity.) dts score: 8.5/10