After countless delays (something which is seemingly becoming an unfortunate feature of all Drake releases these days), More Life was finally released on 18th March. My excitement was palpable to say the least. In my opinion, Drake’s work often falls victim to his own procrastination and hype, raising expectations to unattainable heights and, before even listening to his latest offering, I already had countless questions: Will it live up to the massive expectations? Who or what is this mysterious ‘October Firm’? What makes this release a playlist, not an album? More Life is a gargantuan 22 tracks long so there’s a lot to unpack. Let’s get into it.
Drake kicks off More Life with Free Smoke, a hype track whose intro is a sample of Nai Palm’s soulful voice from Hiatus Kaiyote’s track, Building a Ladder. After this smooth intro, we hear “And more chune for your headtop, so watch how you speak on my name you know”, a soundbite of Drake’s ominous message for his competitors from his acceptance speech at the American Music Awards. Drizzy then launches into straight bars, using the rest of the track to proclaim his dominance over the rap game and even sneaking in a few more shots at Meek Mill in the process (“How you let the kid fightin’ ghostwritin’ rumours turn you to a ghost?”). The high-energy start continues with the thumping 808s of No Long Talk, one of my favourite tracks on More Life, and the first time we hear UK rapper Giggs on the playlist.
After the hyped start to More Life, Drake switches up the vibe with the smooth, summery, R&B ballad, Passionfruit, a track which sees him detail the difficulties of long-distance relationships. Drake delving into his feelings is, of course, not unheard of and More Life is full of emotional tracks where we hear him croon about his troubled love life. To name but a few, Nothings Into Somethings (where we hear him reveal the tension that exists between himself and an ex – thought to be Serena Williams – who is now engaged), Lose You (where we hear him bemoaning the fact that his commitment to rap has caused distance from family, friends and lovers) and Since Way Back (where we hear him link up with PARTYNEXTDOOR). I would argue 808s & Heartbreak by Kanye West was the first successful emotional rap album, but Drake has since turned ‘emo rap’ into his own niche on which he’s been able to build the foundation of his career and, in turn, influence countless artists. In a genre in which hyper-masculinity is the norm, he’s made it acceptable for rappers to show vulnerability and emotion through their music. Lyrics like “I just take the dreams I’ve been sold and sell ‘em for more” on Glow (the Kanye-assisted track where they rap about how far they’ve come in the industry and how they’re going to continue to shine, or ‘glow’, for years to come), “Out of body / that’s just how I feel when I’m around you shawty” on Teenage Fever (an R&B ballad which samples Jennifer Lopez’s classic If You Had My Love) and “Everything these days is textual / I just want to get a lil’ sexual with you” on Since Way Back sound like ready-made Instagram captions and make me want to text exes I don’t even have. Somehow, Drake has made being moist cool and he continues to exploit this to great effect throughout this project.
Drake’s recent obsession with UK urban culture and its subsequent influence on his music is evident throughout this project. UK singer-songwriter Jorja Smith has a track named after her (Jorja Interlude), and we hear her silky vocals take centre stage on Get it Together. There’s also the hauntingly beautiful 4422 sung entirely by UK singer Sampha (whose debut album, Process, bangs by the way) and Grime king Skepta spits some venomous bars on Skepta’s Interlude. Promising young South London rapper Dave (whose track Wanna Know got the ‘6 God remix’ treatment) can even be heard talking on the outro of Teenage Fever. We were told in advance by Nineteen85, producer and member of OVO R&B duo dvsn, that Drake would use More Life to “introduce new music and new artists to the rest of the world”. Drizzy clearly felt the need to shine light and show love to the Grime & UK music scene as a whole, hence the strong UK presence on the playlist. However, this tactic may have backfired on Drake, with many American fans taking to Twitter to complain about the amount of Grime influence on the album. Giggs in particular has received a lot of backlash online from American fans who simply don’t understand why lyrics like “And you already know I love them breasts, lookin’ all perky” and “Batman, da-na-na-da-na” on KMT get us UK fans so gassed.
On More Life, Drake also shows his appreciation for the Caribbean influence that has become such a staple part of his recent music and success, with the ‘Jamaican Drake’ that we were introduced to on Views taking the reins for Madiba Riddim and Blem. Both tracks feature smooth, tropical, dancehall-type beats similar to that of his 2016 hit Controlla and I suspect that this new Jamaican Drake is here to stay. Drake can easily adapt to make any genre his own (just listen to his guest verse on his recent collaboration with Wizkid, Come Closer), and his ability to try his hand at new genres yet simultaneously keep it quintessentially Drake is a testament to his versatility as an artist. Having said that, Drake needs to be careful that, by dabbling in all these different genres, he doesn’t become a ‘jack of all trades but master of none’ parody of himself.
Drake is often criticised for being a ‘culture vulture’ – someone that jumps on the wave, exploiting whatever craze is popping in rap for as long as it’s popular before moving on to the next fad- and, although I think labelling him a ‘culture vulture’ label is harsh, I do think that Aubrey is a bit of a beg, to put it bluntly. Although receiving a co-sign from the 6 god can seem like a dream come true for an artist, this seemingly selfless act of ‘putting an artist on’ has actually proved to be self-serving on Drake’s part, with artists like iLoveMakonnen falling foul of the 6 God co-sign curse in the past. This makes me even more sceptical about his bizarre obsession with UK culture. It was recently revealed that Drake has bought the rights to and will be starring in season 3 of Top Boy, the gritty Channel 4 drama about London gangs. He’s also apparently opening an OVO store, the first of its kind worldwide, in London. With Drake, we know that, in order to remain at the summit of hip-hop, every move has to be meticulously calculated and I can’t tell if Drake’s recent infatuation with London is genuine love or all just a marketing ploy.
On Portland, Drake links up with Quavo and Travis Scott (who are rumoured to have a joint album coming soon) to rap about their success and originality. The track features a catchy flute sample, which seems to be the key to making a hit hip-hop record these days (Future’s Mask Off, 21 Savage’s X and Kodak Black’s Tunnel Vision all feature flutes in their production) – the flute is just hot right now. Quavo and Travis together on a track is also a recipe for success – the duo simply does not miss. Quavo + Travis + flute = fire! The track’s title is seemingly a reference to the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team, suggesting that Drake, Quavo and Travis consider themselves trailblazers in hip-hop culture. However, with all the controversy surrounding More Life and many pointing out that Drake’s flow on KMT sounds suspiciously similar to upcoming rapper XXXtentacion’s on his single Look At Me, it is ironic that Drake calls himself a trailblazer. It also makes the hook to Portland, where we hear Quavo sing, “Hell nah, never let a nigga ride your wave” all the more ironic, when it could be argued that Drake has ridden waves in the past. Even the penultimate track, Ice Melts, sounds slightly similar to Broccoli by D.R.A.M. (who claimed Drake “jacked” his song Cha Cha for his 2015 hit Hotline Bling). It raises the question, when does drawing inspiration from something simply become imitation and is Drake’s music guilty of the latter? The saying goes “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, but this is not the case in the competitive world of hip-hop. I would argue that Drake doesn’t overtly ride waves, he simply keeps in touch with popular trends and positions himself in such a way to ensure his music always remains relevant, a necessary skill and something he does better than any other artist.
Once I overcame my initial hope that, by delivering a playlist instead of an album, Drake would treat us to something completely different and unexpected, I was able to enjoy More Life for what it is: a stellar, albeit typical Drake project. As he’s done on previous albums, Drake uses the final track, Do Not Disturb, to unload, letting fans hear him at his most pensive and vulnerable. He raps “Last verse I gotta do is always like surgery / Always tryin’ to let go of anything that’ll burden me / That’s the reason you can feel the tension and the urgency” before proceeding to fire some thinly veiled disses at fellow Toronto rapper Tory Lanez: “Last chance I get to make sure you take it personally / Take this shit to heart, it’s always executed perfectly / If we do a song it’s like takin’ my kids to work with me / You overnight celebrity, you one day star / Swear I told you that I’m in this bitch for eternity / I am a reflection of all your insecurities / Behind closed doors, a lot of 6 god worshipping / Done talk now, ‘cause there’s other shit that’s concernin’ me”. These are Drake’s most direct shots at Tory Lanez (whose real name is Daystar Peterson and whose debut album is titled I Told You) since his “New Toronto” reference on 2016’s Summer Sixteen. This is typical of Drake in the sense that, throughout More Life, he sticks to familiar material, namely pensive musings about his relationships, success and his rivals (on Gyalchester, he spits “I know I said top five, but I’m top two / And I’m not two and I got one / Thought you had one, but it’s not one, nigga, nah”, reminding us of his success and further asserting his superiority over his rivals in the genre). For almost a decade, Drake has been rapping about what it’s like to be Drake, taking us through the ups and downs of life as the 6 God and we’re still all ears. Drake is just that guy. It’s the reason I cringe whenever he does his London accent yet I still listen to every track he drops. He even managed to get Young Thug to spit the most eloquent verse of his career on Sacrifices (as a Young Thug fan, I’m weirdly proud of him for coming from mumble rap at its finest to actually speaking English – or as he calls it “Talkin’ neat like a geek” – on a verse). 2 Chainz is also featured on that track and the man simply hasn’t missed the mark with a feature in like 6 years. We’re not bored of this Drake formula for success yet but will we soon tire of it? Artists like Kanye West are constantly pushing the boundaries by regularly reinventing their sound and surprising fans with a fresh approach to their craft and I believe that, for his music and artistry to reach new heights, Drake needs to artistically challenge himself more.
After countless listens, I still don’t really know the difference between a playlist and an album. Perhaps, by dubbing it a ‘playlist’, Drake meant More Life would lack the cohesion or clear theme/ genre of an album. Instead, he delivers a real blend of genres, with Jamaican, London and Toronto Drake all co-existing in beautiful harmony on this project. In many respects, More Life succeeds where his previous offering, the solid but somewhat underwhelming Views failed. Although it is 2 tracks longer than Views, More Life doesn’t feel excessive and better manages to grip listeners from beginning to end. Despite the fact One Dance is an absolute tune, it could be argued that it lacked originality and was simply a rehashing of Kyla’s 2008 UK Funky house anthem, Do You Mind. In contrast, on More Life, Drake better tows the fine line between appreciation and appropriation, ultimately succeeding in paying homage to his numerous musical influences. Since his magnum opus, 2011’s Take Care, I’ve been waiting for Drake to produce a cohesive body of work which matches its quality and subsequently has a similar seismic impact on the culture. He previously came close with 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and, in my opinion, More Life also comes very close and deserves a seat up there with some of the best work of his stellar discography.