Album Review

‘More Life,’ More Everything

Watch How You Read On His Name

The view is different from up top. A man of fiercely collaborative spirit and good ear has transformed into an opportunist sucking off emerging trends. Moments of vulnerability, what anchored the early Drake as a sentimentalist, is now a marketing scheme, the topping to a fake cake of fake lyrics, fake ideas, and worst of all, fake emotions.

Part of this change in perception just comes with the fame, when I first started looking up Drake, top results were Drake Bell, images of male ducks, and then the Toronto rapper. Since then, Drake has climbed to the top of the sale charts, starting memes and breaking records.

Part of it comes from changes with Drake as an artist, and the audience as listeners. He’s branched out from mixtape Drizzy, loyal pupil to Lil Wayne, expanding his sound to encompass dancehall, R&B, and pop. And it’s really the last part, pop, that’s caused the most friction. Drake has always been fixated on success. Chart-topping, universal fame, endless cash, that’s always been the ultimate goal. One of his best cuts off So Far Gone, “Successful”, says as much:

I want the money, money and the cars
Cars and the clothes, the hoes, I suppose
I just wanna be, I just wanna be successful

At the end of the day, hip-hop was not big enough for Drake, he needed to be a popstar. Drake’s ambition is to be transformative, to break barriers, and to be remembered. The gateway to that is through mainstream appeal and success. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a knack for it, his sing-rap style woos the casuals and impresses the die-hards.

Drake can bridge gaps that seem impossible, drawing crowds from different corners, exposing people to something new, something fresh. At this stage in his career, he has almost unlimited pull, his influence is massive. And he still has that good ear. What better way to utilize this power than with a playlist? Drake’s true calling is to be a master curator. And so with More Life, the tracks range from hypnotic dancehall to slow R&B, from smooth raps to whatever Giggs is doing. Each track feels exceptionally polished and even with their varied sounds, they transition with ease–the echos of Sampha’s voice are barely gone before the high octane of “Gyalchester” kicks in.

But perhaps more impressive, is how Drake maneuvers around these tracks without dominating them. He’s the star of the show, the center of the world, and yet there’s an impressive amount of restraint here, decentering Drake, for the sake of the music. It starts with the labels, the collaborative roots of a playlist, then crediting the album under October Firm, the moniker for Drake and OVO co-founder Oliver El-Khatib (and possibly an extension of Drake’s fetish over all these English). One of the catchiest songs on the project–and a sonic successor to “Take Care”–“Get It Together” is dominated by Jorja Smith, with Drake popping in for the chorus. Even the sound is a direct grab from Black Coffee’s “Superman,” this is less to say that Drake is just appropriating music where he sees fit, but a glimpse of Drake as a director, understanding what sounds good and what to preserve.

There are other cases where Drake relinquishes main authorship to create a better final product. Take “Teenage Fever,” a twist on Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love,” Drake’s expression of love on the vessel of his lover’s former song. Drake is impeccable here, letting his guard down as he starts, “Your heart is hard to carry after dark.” His clarity comes through in the second verse with, “Out of body / That’s just how I feel when I’m around you, shawty.” And yet, it’s Lopez’s haunting chorus that leads the track, that reverberates far after the song ends. Giggs, for better or worse, dominate the conversation for the tracks he’s featured on and “4422” and “Skepta Interlude” don’t even feature Drake.

This isn’t an insinuation that Drake can’t maintain control or dominate with his presence. “Passionfruit” is achingly beautiful. Meanwhile, “Free Smoke” and “Do Not Disturb” has Drake tackling any and every topic with an effortless flow.

I drunk text J-Lo
Old number, so it bounce back
Boi-1da got the bounce back

It’s goofy, it’s funny, it’s boisterous, but it’s weirdly humble. Drake is relatable and out of reach at the same time. It’s a precarious position, and not one that comes without sacrifice. When it works, as it does with most of More Life, it’s piping fun time in “Portland” and karaoke-ready, Hotline-not-quite-Bling “Fake Love.” When it doesn’t work, it falls closer to the painfully conservative Views, its remnants still felt in the occasional lulls that dot the impressive 22-long tracklist.

When gunning for the top in “Successful,” it’s hard to say if he imagined he would get it all, but with the riches around him, something still seems out-of-reach. As Trey Songz–who sung the chorus to “Successful” said–the most impactful part of the chorus was the “I suppose.” The lingering moment after “Cars and the clothes, the hoes,” emblematic of a realization that getting it all may mean losing something crucial. And Drake has lost something on his warpath to success.

As he seeks to appease all crowds, More Life seems to be nobody’s favorite. This is beyond mere disappointment that Drake has transitioned from Young Money rapstar to international music ambassador. He’s become the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button, always able to find what you like, but never what you love. Drake has stopped innovating, perhaps as far back as Nothing Was the Same. His sound is catchy, but his consistent borrowing also means it’s hard to pinpoint where Drake stands. His lyrical content has not developed to anything meaningful; early Drake prided himself on showing vulnerability, showcasing goofiness, and exhibiting spunk, but new Drake locks many of those traits away, relying on nostalgia to guide listeners on who and what Drake is. Even as each song makes a buttery smooth transition to the next, there is no rhyme or reason to the project. The themes are unclear, other than a general anxiety and excitement towards success.

This reflects a larger shift in Drake. He’s always been painfully apolitical, but when even Katy Perry is producing edgier content (with “Chained to the Rhythm”), what does that say? As Kanye probes at Taylor Swift, Drake is singing along to “Bad Blood” in an Apple Music spot. Drake and More Life doesn’t necessarily need edginess or slightly misogynistic aggression, but it needs something. More Life has more of almost everything, but that what seems to matter most, a soul. More Life is extremely competent at what it does because it stands on an iron-clad solid design of commercial bankability, ideological mild-temperedness, and sonic familiarity. But Drake should already knows that, he says as much in “Can’t Have Everything.”

Can’t have everything
Can’t have everything
Want a lot, can’t have everything
But I want everything

This conflict has haunted every action Drake has made, and it forces a choice. More Life is his choice. It’s a grand project, where his vast network is used and harnessed, the tentacles of his sound permeates into all facets of culture, and better yet, vise versa. There’s quotables and sing-a-longs, songs for every mood. It’s plenty entertaining, even if it struggles to hold lasting appeal and buckles under its own tepidness. More Life will always feel one step behind the beat, always following and never leading. Culture vulture or master curator, More Life is certainly more Drake–the good and the bad, and perhaps that’s all he ever really wanted.