My experience with Drake largely stems from the persona he’s embedded into every part of public consciousness. I consume Drake in the way pop culture and Aubrey Graham himself have constructed him. The first point in time I remember knowing musical Jimmy Brooks was Rihanna’s “What’s My Name”, which I’ll admit, is not a deep cut. It comes long after a run of acclaimed material and remains amazing. Musical glimmers like this, the rapidity with which YOLO fell into vernacular, and triumphs like “Take Care”—another Rihanna collaboration—formed the backbone of my formative Drake years. Since then, we’ve witnessed beefs, the rechristening of an entire city, and a viral art project all propel him into every nook and cranny of the culture. Regardless of your opinion of Drake’s music, you have an opinion on Aubrey Drake Graham, and because of this, More Life both succeeds and suffers. In Drake’s never-ending expansion into all areas, he waltzes into many a genre with ease, but at a cost of diluting his credibility and talents.
Listening to More Life in 2017, after nearly a decade of Drake, is like watching Gone With the Wind 78 years after the fact. You know its twists, you know it will still be good, and it will take entirely too long. His issues include pettiness, trust issues, and textbook-level personal problems (“Fake Love”; drunk texting JLo). If Drake wants you to know one thing, these problems are endless—much like More Life’s 121 minutes.
Though I’m the last to begrudge any Skepta or Sampha verse, and Jorja Smith rightfully commands most of “Get Together”, one does wonder why Drake leaves so much of the album to others or to no one at all (that unbearably protracted lead-in on “Passionfruit”). And like a feud he won’t let fizzle out, when Drake lands on a rhyme scheme he likes, he’ll often run it dry to the point where it loses all allure. But as my roommate pointed out, Drake can be put on in the background and match almost any situation, from a chill-sesh to full-on party. More Life holds a diverse palate of influences, from the old-school house on “Get It Together”, to the Weeknd-esque wails on “Teenage Fever”, to the new-age gospel influence of “Glow”. Yet under Drake, it’s subdued so as to allow him, the main event, to shine through. Inevitably, a full play through the record is harmless but also unmemorable.
Only a fool would argue against Drake’s songwriting instincts. One only needs a cursory listen to “Take Care” to know the man knows his way around an earworm. The dancehall kick he’s on provides a great rubric for him to flex his melodic chops; a well-timed woodblock chirp in “Passionfruit” and the lo-fi strings in “Madiba Riddim” demonstrate a keen ear for tasteful and catchy sounds.
Dancehall-Drake comes with at least one caveat, though. I know he gets a kick out of saying “ting” but imagine what the world would do with the soundbite of Drake saying “aboot”? Some argue Toronto’s concentrated Jamaican population influences the speech of many residents, but it doesn’t make it feel any less uncomfortable. To be fair, it’s not as cringe-inducing as “Lose You”, which, true to its name, lost me with an R. Kelly reference. For someone as sensitive as Drake packages himself, this name-check rings as incredibly tone-deaf.
Though More Life has its faults, Drake clearly worked hard on it. If the first thing you notice about this project is its monolithic runtime, the second is how obvious it is that Drizzy is doing his damnedest to get your cosign. That’s because Drake is more than an artist. He’s become an icon, a meme, a movement with countless interpretations, imitators, and haters. While much of it seems like a joke, it’s one that he’s obviously in on. Similarly, More Life is more than just a record, it’s another marker in the seemingly endless influx of Drakeness into our world. The way we interpret it could very well change as we are undoubtedly introduced to more Drizzy shit as the year goes on. Even its designation as a “playlist” emphasizes the shift in how music is consumed. He knows he cannot have it all, every genre or every cosign, but he’s in on it all. Culture has both formed and formed around Drake, and his inescapableness is key to understanding what More Life is about.
To return to that honesty from before, this “playlist” should be called More (Drake In Your) Life, because that’s exactly what it is—a marketing plan as much as a musical project. Whether that’s a good or bad thing comes down to your opinion, but don’t act like you don’t already have one. B MINUS