Drake wants to make one thing clear: “More Life,” the 22-song project he unveiled on his OVO Radio program Saturday evening, isn’t an album. Arriving nearly a year after the superstar rapper’s staggeringly successful album “Views,” it’s instead described as a “playlist” curated by October Firm (a.k.a. Drake and OVO cofounder Oliver El-Khatib).
But what does that mean, with its appearance across multiple streaming platforms, and the inclusion of chart-toppers like “Fake Love”?
Terminology aside, it’s a sprawling, star-studded release, and an impressive achievement — one that signals a new level of ambition for Drake.
There are some standard-issue Drizzy tracks in the mix. The muscular opener, “Free Smoke,” finds the 6 God gazing down from his throne atop Toronto’s CN Tower, itching to take on any and all perceived threats, while the infectious, R&B-hued single “Fake Love” (debuted last October) is a blatant attempt to replicate the success of his culturally ubiquitous “Hotline Bling.”
But what’s most invigorating about the release is its startling scope. Across an extensive 81 minutes, Drake tries on every genre he’s toyed with in the past, segueing from trap to dancehall to Afrobeat and London grime with the hyper-efficient versatility that’s become one of his artistic calling cards.
The sand-and-sun fantasia “Passionfruit,” the most immediately striking song on “More Life,” might also best exemplify this approach. On it, Drake’s smooth vocals are carefully layered beneath light keys and a chilly, tropical beat. The track, wedged between the hard-charging “No Long Talk” and the straightforward rap cut “Jorja Interlude,” is the first instance of many here in which Drake takes a backseat to production that, channeled from a singular geographic influence (on “Passionfruit” it’s the Caribbean, while “Gyalchester” is Atlanta to its core), broadens his sonic palette.
For a star who’s voiced vexation over being framed solely as a hip-hop/rap artist, it makes sense that he’d deliver something like “More Life,” as stylistically expansive as anything he’s ever done. The playlist unfolds like an hour of Drake radio, overflowing with tracks that display not just his own genre-bending ambitions but also the voices of other, less globally visible trailblazers.
As such, “More Life” finds Drake more willing than ever to surrender his spotlight. He has earned a reputation for amplifying other musicians through remixing, ghostwriting, and sampling, but “More Life” is the most pronounced extension of that tendency to date. British crooner Sampha, whose pleading “Saint Pablo” served as a post-release bookend to Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo,” is granted a solo track, the indelible “4422.” West himself shows up, sounding shockingly like his “Late Registration”-era self, on the far-too-short “Glow.” Jorja Smith’s soulful vocals glide across two early tracks, one of which is elevated by the presence of South African house whiz Black Coffee. Meanwhile 2 Chainz and Young Thug are permitted to outshine Drake with their verses on “Sacrifices,” and Quavo and Travis Scott show up to dominate flute-accentuated trap jam “Portland.”
Surprisingly, it may be Drake’s fascination with UK grime that stands out most on “More Life.” London emcee Giggs is the gritty, bar-spitting core of both “No Long Talk” and the bruising “KMT,” while the up-and-coming Brit Skepta gets an entire “Interlude” to himself. Drake never quite gets a handle on the South London slang he reaches for on the skittering, romantic “Blem,” though “I need you to stop runnin’ back to your ex, he’s a wasteman” may be the best, Drakiest lyric on the whole project. Still, the fact that he makes such an effort to showcase the London rap scene suggests a genuine affection for both performers’ uniquely rough-hewn styles, and a willingness to give them a leg up.
Ultimately, it’s Drake’s perception of himself as both transnational tastemaker and music-industry monarch that best explains why he’d follow up “Views,” the biggest album of his career, with “More Life,” a sprawling, genre-bending playlist that leans on intricate arrangements by innovative producers and the vocal abilities of other artists. “There’s real ones around me,” he raps on the slick closer, “Do Not Disturb.” “I want to make sure they learn from me.”
With its record-breaking chart performance and command over the radio, “Views” cemented Drake as one of modern music’s biggest artists, and that career high — after years spent collaborating with scores of other musicians — may have instilled in him a sense of responsibility to pay it forward. From his high perch, Drake is working to craft the kind of legacy befitting a pop star with truly global ambitions: one majestic enough to seal his sovereign status, and magnanimous enough to prove him deserving of it.Isaac Feldberg can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @i_feldberg.