To start: this isn’t a playlist. It’s a damn album. So was If Your Reading This It’s Too Late, so was What A Time To Be Alive, and no number of sycophantic Complex editorials, vague statements from Nineteen85, or poorly executed album covers will change that fact. You don’t pay for a mixtape, and the “playlist” idea seems to be a half-formed concept straight from Drake’s head that somehow managed to survive solely because it came from Drake. This is an album. With that said, let’s begin.
More Life is Drake’s 10th full length release, coming less than a year after the poorly executed Views. Long-delayed, the album premiered on OVO Sound Radio in place of normal programming on the 18th. It’s been the subject of controversy- the early single “Two Birds, One Stone” spawned a small backlash among alt-rap fans over the shots Drake took at Kid Cudi on the track, which some listeners felt trivialized mental illness. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this cut was left out of the final tracklist, along with the uninspiring 21 Savage collab “Sneakin.” A second hiccup occurred when footage of Drake performing what turned out to be “KMT” during his Boy Meets World tour- listeners pointed out that his flow on the track seemed almost identical to imprisoned Florida rapper XXXTentacion’s on his hit “Look At Me!” While the accusation was nothing more than speculation (and Lil Uzi Vert used the same flow before XXX), it fed into accusations of wave-riding that have been plaguing Drake of late. But the cut was left on, perhaps as an act of defiance towards detractors.
Unfortunately, the album displays weakness right off the bat. Openers “Free Smoke” and “No Long Talk” sound like cuts straight out of 2015’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, re-done with grime slang and outros in place of the Jamaican slang that would have originally appeared. Grime’s begun to make headway into the United States, courtesy of the efforts of Skepta, and Drake appears to be riding this wave as hard as he can, throwing in Londoner slang that will have his legions of suburban fans scrambling through Genius and Urban Dictionary in a hurried effort to understand what he and featured artist Giggs are even talking about. The tracks are well-produced, mixed, feature the same workmanlike bars Drake always delivers- but it feels like a gag of sorts. “Mr. Graham’s World Tour” would have been a more appropriate title for the project, because that’s what this album feels like- Drake re-packaging the familiar introspection, distrust of others, and “no new friends” sentiment of his previous works in copious layers of dancehall, tropical house, and grime.
The Kingston/London-in, Atlanta/Houston out process continues throughout the album, with “Get It Together,” “Passionfruit,” and “Madlibba Riddim” sounding all like sister tracks to Graham’s previous smash hit “One Dance.” “Jorja Interlude” and “Blem” sound like Take Care cuts on a tropical IV, “Gyalchester” is another grime redux of IYRTITL. The pattern continues for the first half of the album, before Skepta comes in on his self-titled interlude to deliver a grime track that at least has authenticity to it. Both this cut and “4422” don’t feature Drake at all, with Sampha handling “4422” entirely. It sounds as if it were a leftover from his debut album Process, and while that’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t fit in here.
Throughout the album’s second half, things pick up. Drake reels in the style-swiping, but when he does bite sounds, the result are far more interesting. Travi$ Scott and Quavo collaboration “Portland” is (yet another) track with tropical flair, but sounds like what you’d imagine Migos-gone-tropical-house would be. It’s infectious, bouncy, and the flute/recorder melody in the track trails perfectly on the heels of Future’s “Mask Off.” Follow-up “Sacrifices” sounds like more natural Drake, blending the somber atmosphere of 2011 Drake with the energy of a London On Da Track beat, which is fitting- the cut features Young Thug himself, along with 2 Chainz.
It’s at this point Drake begins to channel some of his older style. “Nothings Into Somethings” could have fit onto Take Care, Nothing Was The Same, or IYRTITL with no difficulty, while “Teenage Fever” fits squarely onto his sophomore album. Aside from “KMT,” “Ice Melts,” and previously-released “Fake Love,” the final third of the LP shows Drake employing familiar Take Care and IYRTITL vibes. The standouts here are “Ice Melts” and Kanye West collaboration “Glow.” Young Thug again channels the sing-song energy that turned “Wyclef Jean” into a smash hit on “Ice,” and it perfectly sustains the tropic-trap vibe of “Fake Love” while calming things down for more somber album closer “Do Not Disturb.”
After a few listens to this project, however, an idea forms. Drake, like frequent collaborator Future, has developed a formula. He’s got an established audience of fans, all of whom devour the solution of somber love songs and street-rap infusion that he’s always concocted. The truth is, at this point, Drake doesn’t need to innovate. Middling reviews and remarks that he had fallen off with Views didn’t stop the project from going platinum in just a week, or prevent any of the singles he released at the close of 2016 from charting. He has a Rolodex others would kill for, and only needs to swipe enough styles and dial the right numbers to keep his material sounding surface-level-fresh enough to pass muster. Even the subliminals in the album (expertly broken down by the good people at Genius) dwell on the past, referencing the infamous Meek Mill beef multiple times. The only new target is here is Hov, who’s been sending subs at Drake for awhile. The fact that this project doesn’t actually push his subject matter forward and relentlessly borrows styles won’t effect its success at all- Drake’s got the pop/rap audience in a chokehold, and until they break his grip, he doesn’t need to change a thing about it.
If more Drake is what you want, then More Life is the fix you need. But in the end, More Life is just more of the same.