Drake's eclectic "More Life" is too scattered to be a classic, but it's just what he needed after "Views."
More Life starts with a College Dropout-style blast of chipmunk soul that quickly transitions into a standard, minor key Drake banger. On the next song, he's going full roadman next to UK veteran Giggs. "Passionfruit," a near-perfect pop song with house undertones, follows. House music gradually gives way to breezier strains of afropop and dancehall on the ensuing run of songs. Another faux-grime track, "Gyalchester," is sandwiched between solo joints from Sampha and Skepta. We then get a dose of very modern American rap posse cuts on "Portland" and "Sacrifices." "Nothings Into Somethings," a track that sounds like it could have been on So Far Gone, comes next.
Do you realize how insane this all looks on paper? We're barely halfway through the album, and already Drake's dipped his toes into multiple cultures, genres, sets of slang, and eras. Anyone else in music, period, would look like an utter fool for attempting More Life's melting pot aesthetics, and sometimes Drake does come off a little lame, touristy, or spread thin, but the sheer catchiness and ballsiness of this project renders those chinks in his armor a little less important. Drake already made himself as uncool as possible on Views-- what more does he have to lose in the eyes of the consumer?
Despite being called a "playlist" rather than an album, More Life flows better than Views and contains more risks. With the exception of the flat What a Time to Be Alive, Drake's most recent low-stakes releases (If You're Reading This It's Too Late being the other) have trumped his last album in terms of quality. On More Life closer "Do Not Disturb," he talks about being "an angry yute when I was writing Views," and that petty rage, mixed with fear of failure, led to a commercial full-length that didn't live up to its hype or sales numbers. At this point, Drake's trapped himself in the tallest tower of the rap game and is afraid of any move that would topple him. He's so insecure that he went totally safe on parts of Views when he probably wanted to try something new. That realization leads to more self-loathing on "Lose You," when he nostalgically remembers a time when he "would write and not think about how they receive it," which is now only a distant memory of a less stressful past.
So yes, despite all of More Life's interesting sounds and segues, Drake's still Drake in all of his final-hour-of-Doctor Zhivago paranoia, holed up in a snowy mansion wondering when the rest of the world will either catch up to him or haul him out of the paint. His heart's too cold to be broken, but if you get him crossfaded enough, he might-- might-- just say how he feels. This is the pessimistic Drake fueled by negative energy that we first heard on IYRTITL, the one that his mother warns him about at the end of "Can't Have Everything," and if that mood cast another pall over the majority of a project as eclectic as More Life, we'd simply have another Views on our hands. Luckily, most songs on here are too short and too unrelated for Drake to construct a cohesive narrative or even an overarching mood. That would be a knock against most albums, but when the creator's his own worst enemy, it actually works out in More Life's favor.
Instead, we get Drake mining not only every era of his own music, but also every subculture that he finds attractive. "Free Smoke" and "Can't Have Everything" boast IYRTITL-style chilliness, "Lose You" is pure So Far Gone, "Do Not Disturb" is totally another "[insert number 1-12] am/pm in [insert location]" track despite its title. Beyond that, Drake even samples parts of his old songs on two occasions, ripping Stevie Wonder's "Doing It Wrong" harmonica solo on "Jorja Interlude" and strains of "Jungle" on "Glow." Can vultures be cannibals too?
More Life's casual globetrotting has already been expertly parodied by some genius Spiderman memes, and expertly critiqued by a music writer who emigrated from Jamaica to Toronto. Any attempt by someone like me (or Anthony Fantano) to call out a black resident of North America's most metropolitan city for "culture vulturing" is inherently idiotic. Drake uses hot artists and sounds to get ahead-- as was yet again suggested in a new interview with iLoveMakonnen-- but whereas that's led to some awkward tracks in the past (like his lazy, faux-Jamaican verse on "Work"), all of this vibe-snatching seems to come naturally to Drake on More Life.
This "playlist" paints Drake as what we've all known him to be for years, but what he's never owned up to: an expert curator who's at his best when he's baring his soul, whether via emo bars or forelorn singing. "Passionfruit" and "Get It Together" are not only catchy, they're well-written and poignant odes to failing long-distance relationships. "Portland" and "Sacrifices" are not only fun bangers, they're the most autobiographical posse cuts Drake's released since "All Me." "Teenage Fever"'s flip of a J. Lo classic isn't just nostalgic, its lyrics perfectly fit the song's tone. "Lose You" and "Do Not Disturb" aren't just plays to appease day one Drizzy fans, they're an attempt by him to give us the actual scoop on his life in way he rarely does these days.
More Life is too long and too all-over-the-place to be a classic by any stretch of the imagination. But it contains some truly great music, and more so than most recent Drake releases, it's a blast to listen to. Drake continues to do things that no previous rapper has ever thought to attempt, and that, more than any single dominant project, will be his legacy.