On Drake’s ‘More Life’ and playlist albums
Adam Ramos | Tuesday, March 28, 2017
“More Life,” Drake’s latest playlist — yes, “playlist” — is a strong outing for the former “Degrassi” star. Though a positive review of the work doesn’t say much, all things considered. At 22 songs (too) long, “More Life” finds the Toronto rap star — accompanied by the hottest collaborators and producers in the game — synthesizing some of hip-hop’s most exciting elements into a likely commercial smash. In this way, the inevitable success of “More Life” — be it commercial or critical — does not necessarily reflect anything about Drake, but rather about today’s diverse hip-hop landscape more generally.
Drake’s last album, “VIEWS,” while commercially successful, was met critically with mostly yawns. For a man famous for spilling his heart out, Drake turned inward for the 20-song album. The guarded and edgy persona he developed on the record was more tiresome than anything else and the overarching collaboration with longtime producer Noah “40” Shebib lost any semblance of its spark. His latest collection of songs, “More Life” — with its warmer beats and intimate feel — is a return to form in many ways, but it ultimately fails to redeem “VIEWS” and continues to raise questions regarding Drake’s legacy.
Just as Kanye is an expert at getting the very best out of his collaborators, Drake is an expert at getting the very best collaborators. On “More Life,” the inclusion of each guest feels precise. With the fresh success of his recent debut, Sampha’s crooning vocals and sparse piano lines absolutely shine on the beautiful “4422.” Quavo, Travis Scott, 2 Chainz and Young Thug provide the playlist with a bustling who’s who of southern trap, arguable the most buzzed subgenre today’s hip-hop has to offer. Even lesser-known talents are sharp, like South London’s Giggs — featured on two tracks — and Jorja Smith, whose beautiful vocals over Black Coffee’s lush house beat creates an obvious standout out of “Get It Together.”
The many different genres and aesthetic expeditions Drake channels through his collaborations in “More Life” — whether it’s East London’s Grime, Atlanta’s exploding trap or South Africa’s polyrhythmic house — are immediate draws to the bouncing playlist. For better or worse, each of Drake’s collaborators has full reign in their respective track, often forcing Drake into the peripheries — or in the case of “Skepta Interlude” and “4422,” out of the spotlight altogether. Ultimately, Drake’s side-line presence gives the work a more manufactured rather than organic feel, as if the once 6-God is now simply fishing for hits through propagation. The irony of Quavo signing “Never let these n—– ride your wave / Nope, no way, nah,” on track “Portland” is almost as laughable as the idea that Drake had any input at all on the groovy Earth, Wind & Fire sample in “Glow.” (I see you, Ye.)
The one credit Drake deserves stems from his commitment to taking dancehall, however ubiquitous as that genre has become, to the forefront of popular music. Drake is obviously familiar with turning the subtle bass and breezy rhythms of Jamaican dancehall into hits (see “One Dance” and “Controlla”), but on “More Life” he attempts to capitalize on this ability. The bouncy synths of “Passionfruit” are magnetic behind Drake’s sultry vocals, reminiscent of his top vocal performances from tracks like “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” or “Marvin’s Room.” “Madiba Riddim” and “Blem” also feature similar dancehall structures, which is pleasant, if a bit redundant.
Whether it’s a marketing scheme or simply an excuse for the lack of cohesion, Drake labeling his work a “playlist” instead of an album or mixtape is curious. While “More Life” has generally a warmer feel than its predecessor, nothing binds it together — which is an issue. One of major strengths of Drake’s 2015 surprise record “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” was the confined subject matter and inspiration. The aggression and frustration was guided and engaging, each word felt meaningful. But now we have a playlist and a decent one at that. Unfortunately for Drake though, the reality is that anyone can make a playlist — but it takes an artist to make an album, especially in hip-hop.
Album: “More Life”
Label: Young Money / Cash Money
Favorite Tracks: “4422,” “Passionfruit”
If you like: Young Thug, Sampha
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5