Views was the biggest musical event last year but the music ultimately didn’t live up to the hype. It was supposed to be Drake’s unanimous classic body of work & it did spawn Drake’s biggest single till date; ‘One Dance’. But moments on the album that could match his big single were far too few. Drake has a free pass to spill his emotions and paranoia all he wants, it’s his trademark and he whipped it out on Views but Drake’s choice of using overly bloated, gloomy quiet-storm palettes for the most part was the album’s undoing.
Drake has always absorbed & incorporated blueprints from other artists, genres and cultures to create his music. He’s always eschewed traditional rap rules, rather bending it to fit his larger agenda. This guy claims he and his go-to producer, Noah ‘40’ Shebib made ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ while on their Michael Jackson and Quincey Jones shtick; a statement by an artist that doesn’t want to be just a rap star. Many of Drake’s biggest moments have come when he’s leaned towards pop tendencies, he still has a thing for rapping obviously but he understands the transient state of music listening in these times – you’re only as good as how big your last musical moment was.
The idea of calling More Life a playlist instead of the traditional album title is another not so controversial left turn, people will talk and any publicity is good publicity. The project is 22 songs long with a runtime of almost 90minutes, that’s a football match right there. It is obviously curated for mass appeal, pick your poison and discard the rest – that’s how most people listen to albums nowadays.
More Life follows Drake’s melancholic and self-indulgent songwriting pattern but his tone and chosen turn into Grime, afro-pop and Caribbean pop sounds adds some bright hue to the album’s confines. Instead of constant bludgeoning with wallowing in self-pity both lyrically and sonically, there’s some brightness attached to the project that makes it seem like Drake has accepted his problems and wants to stop being an angry youth (See final track: ‘Do Not Disturb’). Case in point, after sounding vengeful and full of spite on ‘Can’t Have Everything’, his mother acts as a guiding light in the dark alley with the words “When others go low, we go high”. The following track, ‘Glow’ sounds way more optimistic and even pulls out a Graduation shmuck type verse from Kanye West.
Unlike Views which totally relied on a sulky Drake, the bevy of guest artists and genre-hopping on More Life adds an impressionistic versatility to the record. Drake even (wisely) cedes control of some songs to guest artists who make praiseworthy contributions. Sampha adds another superb highlight to his burgeoning repertoire as a soul artist with the solo cut, ‘4422’. Cloudy, woozy, synths wrap Sampha’s voice which bleeds gorgeous heartbreak pain. There’s no unnecessary sentimentality attached a-la Drake, just sheer brilliance. Grime golden boy, Skepta brings beautiful aggression with ‘Skepta’s Interlude’. The cut adds more credence to Skepta’s brilliance which goes beyond rapping over quickfire grime-type beats and the hook is so damn catchy, “Check my account it’s a madness/Block that account it’s a catfish”.
19year old British singer, Jorja Smith takes center stage with her clean drawly vocals on ‘Get It Together’, relegating Drake to background support. ‘Get It Together’ uses DJ Coffee’s ‘Superman’ as its spiritual and sonic backbone, an interesting and rewarding foray into South African house music. ‘Get It Together’ is sandwiched between two of the project’s best spots – ‘Passionfruit’ and ‘Madiba Riddim’. The former is the opposite thematically of ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’ but a not-so-distant aural cousin. The production’s adult-ish swing nicely contrasts Drake’s break-up gab. The Frank Dukes and Nineteen85 produced ‘Madiba Riddim’ contains shoulder-loosening highlife guitar licks and a drum that’s all boom no bap. Drake’s gigantic paranoia is vivid in his lyrics but the production keeps things moving and enjoyable.
Rapping Drake surfaces more times than he did on Views. More Life does kick off with back to back rap tracks. Opener, ‘Free Smoke’ mixes reflection and braggadocio, the drums pound and the ominous keys roll for Drake to quip about any & everything, including Meek Mill. ‘Portland’ taps into trap’s recent love for dancey flutes (See Future’s ‘Mask Off’), Quavo is undoubtedly the star of the show with a dexterous verse, “Iyke Turner with the Left hand/Griselda Blanco with the trap moves”. Quavo’s hook about barring others from riding your wave is ironic considering how two songs prior – ‘Gyalchester’ – Drake literally uses Migos’ trademark triplet flow. The triumphant ‘Sacrifices’ is powered by shuffling keys & slightly off kilter drum programming features a calm clever verse by 2-Chainz. Young Thug’s feature on ‘Sacrifices’ uncharacteristically has very minimal vocal gimmicks and while it does contain some giggly lines, it is quite impressive. His second feature on ‘Ice Melts’ goes back to the vocal calisthenics Thugger is better known for, bouncing along with the reggae groove.
More Life obviously has points shaved for its length and jumpiness in sonic boundaries, but it is the kind of experiment artists like Drake should be allowed to try. Very few artists can embody the ethos of being a chameleon the way Drake has done with previous projects, More Life is a deserved feather to his cap after an eerie stumble with his last project.
Words by Peter Adedotun Dennis (@ayo_dennis).