Drake has fun again on ‘More Life’

Young Money Entertainment/Courtesy
Drake More Life | Young Money Entertainment
Grade: B+

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Drake is a one-man industry magnate, a master of horizontal integration hell-bent on unifying the divide between pop and rap and conquering both in the process.

It’s worked out thus far, even with some minor roadblocks. His 2016 blockbuster Views fell flat with insularity and a dreary introspectiveness. Views overstayed its welcome — a love letter to the 6 that read like a late-night DM, a slog of cinematic proportions that alienated his devout fandom and rightfully welcomed the same criticisms that have been tossed at him throughout his campaign to the top.

Views’ success was indomitable, nevertheless. It assured his place as the world’s biggest rapper and pop star: Drake is the first artist ever to land a billion streams on Spotify for one song. But what’s the biggest musician in the world to do after singlehandedly conquering the music industry?

With More Life, Drake is having fun again. It’s the much-needed exhale after fulfilling the almighty, monolithic ambitions he set forth on Views. He’s taken off that stuffy turtleneck and kept his gold chains intact.

Drake leads off with a voice that isn’t his own; that honor goes to Hiatus Kaiyote lead vocalist Naomi Saalfield. It’s the first time this has happened in a Drake album since 2012’s excellent Nothing was the Same. The implication is clear: Drake no longer wants his music to be as solipsistic as “Drake featuring Drake.”

Throughout the 22 tracks, he runs through genre after genre with the enthusiasm of a friend skipping through songs on a playlist 30 seconds in. Drake and his OVO brain trust don’t commit to a single sound on More Life, and the result is largely satisfying, trotting through trends and genres with the same noncommittal mood as the relationships he croons about.

Drake marketed More Life as an extension of his OVO Sound station on Apple Music, a claim that doesn’t feel entirely unwarranted. He inverts a song by former fling Jennifer Lopez on “Teenage Fever,” a sly tactic that culminates in something that wouldn’t sound out of place on Nothing Was the Same. “Portland,” with its pan flutes and instantly memorable Quavo verse, bears a striking familiarity to Migos’ “Bando.” Drake’s flow on “KMT” is an obvious dead ringer for the rumbling triplet flow in “Look at Me!” the underground smash from incendiary Florida rapper XXXTentacion.

More Life, at its dizzying best, recalls The Life of Pablo in its transient, liberal showcase of rising star talent. 19-year-old British ingénue Jorja Smith gets her shine on the delightful “Get it Together,” as does perennial collaborator Sampha. Drake, for once, has stepped back and opened the curtains to expose the machinery behind his magic. The Kanye connect is apparent on “Glow,” where Drake plays hookman to Kanye rapping Drake hooks — two legends messing around on karaoke. Neither have sounded as lighthearted as they do here.

On its lows, Drake’s cultural pilfering of international genres continues to be dubious. Drake’s newfound interest in grime takes full form here, where it largely manifests with his liberal use of patois on tracks like “No Long Talk” and “Blem.” It’s not great, but on the flipside, he big ups grime icons Skepta and Giggs repeatedly.

Drake fares exceptionally when he forays into club music, global or otherwise. “Madiba Riddim” enters familiar Drake territory (“My heart is way too frozen to get broken,” he sings) but is buoyed by a breezy Afrobeat riff. But the (rightful) heir to Drake’s moody club anthem throne is the delicious “Passionfruit.” Drake leans into his most winsome traits, wrapping a slinky, sexy electronica pulse into a passive-aggressive barb.

Don’t let the “playlist” moniker fool you: This is a Drake release, with all of its usual trappings. He throws too many subliminal jabs at old partners. There’s still a run-off smash from last year trailing in the backend here. But old habits, like old flames, die hard, and Drake’s conquests have never sounded sweeter.

Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected]. Tweet him at @joshuaboat.