'More Life' — A playlist review by The Daily Arts Firm
“Baby, it never gets old and that’s just how it goes.”
This line is rapped with subtlety on “Do Not Disturb,” the final track of Drake’s new “playlist” / official-studio-project More Life, which was released on Saturday. It acts as a simple bridge between other epic bars that are clearly more intended to turn into viral “tweet-ables,” but it’s Drake’s most honest lyric on the project, vividly capturing his signature charm in one snippy, circular expression.
Why is Aubrey Graham — now almost a full decade into his construction of the Drake caricature — still trying to coin trends (“playlist,” “blem”), fend off non-threatening rappers (Meek Mill, Tory Lanez) and establish pre-meditated hype for his next release (“I’ll be back 2018 to to give you the summary”)? Because it never gets old. That’s just how it goes. At least, it has been so far for Drake.
More Life doesn’t bring anything particularly new to Drake’s discography: Though his lingo has (controversially) expanded to include some exotic slang, the project’s soundscape is still defined (across 22 whole tracks) by big trap drums, “chipmunk” soul samples and island-inspired pop dives. It plays something like a walk-through of his greatest hits, re-creating within their well-tested spaces in a way that’s guaranteed to produce in-character anthems.
“Madiba Riddim” inherits rhythms from “Controlla” much like “Get It Together” takes its concept from “Take Care.” “Gyalchester” shares unique similarities with the “The Language.” “Free Smoke” would fit in fine on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, just as “Jorja Interlude” would on Nothing Was The Same. “Nothings Into Somethings” could be an interlude on So Far Gone. The project’s grand finale, “Do Not Disturb,” is the most obviously sequential of them all, its proper title (“7AM In Germany”) arriving as a lyrical anecdote to ensure that it’s attached, at least spiritually, to Drake’s ongoing series of “freestyles.”
For this reason, many will dismiss More Life as a stagnant release, but that’s too easy of an assessment for a Drake project, especially after all of his lofty predictions have come to blossom. For a singsongy rapper whose main shtick is a sharp smile coupled with slick, boastful wordplay, things truly could not have worked out any better: Mixtape Drake turned into a superstar. Now his braggadocio is at least warranted, his shots that much louder and more chilling.
Alas, still trapped in the same self-indulgent role that he’s inhabited since we met him, Aubrey Graham performs all over the world on More Life, boasting the even-more glamorous luxuries of his most recent commercial success (Views), and taking another expectable turn at curating the future tastes of hip-hop fans. He brings out friends, some of whom now stem from different continents, and tiptoes on tracks that inherently feel like their creations, branding the songs as October’s Very Own’s in an expectable tradition that their artists still seem to be weirdly appreciative of.
Yet, More Life will be remembered as the beginning of a comedown, the visible, tangible, downloadable conclusion to a past chapter of hip-hop wherein “Drake-featuring-Drake” was a sure-fire recipe for a rap hit, and during which every other artist’s feature felt somehow less relevant.
On already-massive hits “Portland” and “Ice Melts,” Quavo and Young Thug outshine him immensely, each adding some extra excitement to the project’s release (which, for the first time in a long time, Drake might have actually needed).
“Sacrifices” sounds like something we would normally expect to hear on a 2 Chainz album, and Drake feels similarly transplanted onto his tracks with Giggs (“No Long Talk,” “KMT”), both of which seem like somewhat forced collaborations (despite their abilities to rattle speakers on command).
Songs from Sampha (“4422”) and Skepta (“Skepta Interlude”) are also included, neither of which feature Drake, but both of which shine on their own terms. No guest, however, manages to outshine Kanye West. His co-produced experiment, “Glow,” is an odd electro-duet on which he and Drake go back-and-forth in a desperate attempt to be iconic, the perfect pair, and it will surely have its credibility debated by rap fans for a while.
The solo Drake cuts on More Life, as usual, have their own ways of making themselves relevant. “Passionfruit” became a guaranteed dance floor sensation the moment that it landed on Beats Radio1 airwaves, and though it may sound strikingly similar to some former Drake hits, just re-packaged and finer tuned for his now multi-faceted fanbase, no one has seemed too hung up on this fact in the days since its release.
More Life offers brief, mostly disconnected tastes of Jamaican dancehall grooviness, British grime aggression, moody Toronto bedroom crooning (which Drake helped coin aside his formerly-underground friend The Weeknd) and, of course, classically American pop formatting. The meager glue binding its 22 tracks together is their overtly-defensive Drake tone, one that we’re all so familiar with by now, defined by its half-witty broadcasting of bank figures and hyper-personal reflecting on the past via trendy singsong features. The only thing new is his (amazingly) ever-increasing clout. Still bragging about the radio play that he and his friends receive, Drake raps, “If we not on the charts, my XO n*ggas eatin’ / 52 consecutive weekends, shout out The Weeknd,” on “Lose You,” the project’s on-cue inward reflection.
The act might get old soon, especially if Drake returns from his now-well-teased hiatus to Toronto, another year older, only to hand in yet another highly-marketed, loosely-organized collection of snarky flexes and seemingly uninspired R&B efforts. (I am not sure anyone can handle another Drake track on which he wonders: “How come we can never hook up and stay friends?”). But in the meantime, while he still has the world’s attention, Drake offers us a playlist — not exactly an original project, but a collection of styles and ideas that he expects to catch and keep his brand afloat.
Like he said: “That’s just how it goes.”