Drake is the Tom Brady of hip-hop—you can resent his privileged background and his questionable work practices, but it’s difficult not to respect his level of success.
The definition of a mixtape has grown murkier over the years, with artists like Chance the Rapper releasing mixtapes that sound like albums and artists like Future releasing albums that sound like mixtapes. Historically, a mixtape is a project released by a rapper for free which is essentially a compilation of throwaways he or she has no intention of including on a proper album.
Drake called “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” a mixtape, even though there was a focused aesthetic, recurring themes and it was sold. Also, many consider “IYRTITL” as one of his strongest efforts. Let’s face it, it was an album. Drake calls “More Life” a playlist, but for all intents and purposes, it is a mixtape.
The 22-song-long “More Life” comes less than a year after the self-important mass appeal of “Views.” With the stakes lowered, he is free to let loose and have fun. “More Life” is not meant to be interpreted as one whole piece of work. So, without further ado, I am going to interpret it as one whole piece of work.
“More Life” acts as a sampler platter; there’s a little something for everyone. The first third is mostly dancehall. “Passionfruit” is groovy and delicious. The next third is straight bangers. “Gyalchester”-“Skepta Interlude”-“Portland”- “Sacrifices” is one of the most exciting stretches in any album this year. Toward the end there are a few more ballads and pop singles sprinkled in.
A few of the songs sound like alternate renditions of songs from “Views.” “Get It Together” sounds like a different version of “Too Good,” except no Rihanna, therefore, it is inferior (BTW screw you Drake for ruining that enchanting will-she-won’t-she chemistry). “Madiba Riddim” sounds like a different version of “One Dance.” “Blem” sounds like a different version of “Controlla.”
He features artists like PARTYNEXTDOOR and Sampha who started out collaborating with him and have since had their own careers. The rest is a who’s-who or who’s hot in hip hop, including Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Travis Scott and Quavo.
With his appearances on “Sacrifices” and “Ice Melts,” Young Thug proves once again he is one of the most intriguing artists out there in terms of flows, cadences, melodies and innovative vocal switches. God, if you’re out there, please let Young Thug stray away from regular trap sonics and release a truly experimental album. Imagine Thugger over some Madlib or Flying Lotus production. Someone needs to replace his lean with acid. The world is ready.
My biggest complaint is lazy hooks and weak singing (or singing obviously edited to not sound weak). Otherwise, his lyrics are punchy and clever.
Drake’s culture vulture status is in full force on this project. His exploitation of Jamaican and British sounds is real. The faux accents and all the “chunes” and “tings” grow a little cringeworthy. At least he provides a spotlight for the grime artists like Skepta (whose song is magnificent), Giggs and English singer Jorja Smith. However, history tends to remember artists who create waves, not those who capitalize on them.
“I’m so hot, yeah, I’m so right now” he says on “Gyalchester.” At this point in his career, Drake understands what he’s about. If he’s derivative of other artists or of himself, he doesn’t really seem to mind. He has no intention to create his “Sgt. Pepper’s” his “Kid A” his “To Pimp a Butterfly.” He makes music for freshmen to Snapchat themselves singing along, with the occasional glimpse into his genius, which is fine, I suppose.
Drake has realized his legacy is not built to last, so he might as well cash in while he’s still relevant. “More Life” isn’t a playlist or a mixtape as much as it is a victory lap of his outrageous celebrity and billions of streams (yes, that’s with a B). Drake is no longer really a man, but an idea, a conduit for other songwriters and producers and a platform for new artists.