Following the lukewarm critical, but commercially scorching, reception to last year’s uber-anticipated Toronto love letter Views, Drake wasted little time getting right back in the booth to put in work on what was marketed as some sort of OVO-branded “playlist.”
People weren’t sure what to expect. Was it going to a showcase of OVO acts like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Majid Jordan and Roy Woods with the occasional feature from the 6 God himself? Perhaps a collection of songs from international artists like Skepta and Wizkid he was really feelin’ at the time? Could it be a Firm-like supergroup with Drake assuming the role of Don Nasir Jones?
Make no mistake about it: More Life is very much a Drake album.
Sonically and spiritually, More Life feels like a full-length follow-up to Views and one that hits higher notes than its predecessor in so many ways. It’s kind of funny really, it seems like a lot of Drake’s best work comes when the hype dial is set to minimum and this release is reminiscent of his 2015 surprise mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in that sense.
The major difference between More Life and a lot of Drake’s previous catalogue entries is that it sounds grander and more expansive than anything he’s ever done. At this point in his career, he’s a globally recognized megastar selling out international arenas and that sense of experiencing different cultures outside of North America is really what informs the sound of this project.
The first part of More Life is especially influenced by grime, dancehall and afrobeat and Drake’s affection for London in particular is clear as day with features from high-profile U.K. artists like Giggs, Sampha and Skepta along with multiple appearances from a very soulful up-and-coming British R&B artist named Jorja Smith.
Opening to a sample of Hiatus Kaiyote lead singer Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield’s beautifully understated vocals on “Free Smoke,” the song hits the breaks and takes a hard left as it morphs into a Boi-1da banger with Drake offering some bars for any rapper trying to dethrone him. Of course, it’s only fitting that some not-so-subtle shots at Meek Mill would be included on lines like: “How you let the kid fightin’ / Ghost-writin’ rumours turn you to a ghost?”
After the Giggs-assisted “No Long Talk,” Drake dabbles into tropical dance mode with tracks like “Passionfruit,” “Madiba Riddim” and “Blem,” which feel like they could’ve been recorded in the same studio session as songs like “One Dance” and “Controlla” from Views.
The latter part of More Life still has some of the playlist’s early international vibes on it, specifically on the other Giggs feature on “KMT,” but it’s more of a traditional Drake sound with OVO production general 40’s influence more prevalent. Even the Hagler-produced “Teenage Fever,” a quintessential Drake track with a sleek J-Lo chorus sample from her 1999 smash “If You Had My Love,” sounds like a 40 beat from the Take Care era.
Guest appearances from the likes of Quavo and Travis Scott on “Portland,” fully equipped with a flute that sent Twitter into a frenzy, are a welcomed departure from the overseas tone and send Drake back into the American club scene. On “Sacrifices,” 2 Chainz and a toned down, mellowed out and fully articulate Young Thug are the perfect supporting cast on a playfully piano-driven T-Minus beat.
Strong as the aforementioned features are, the real standout is the appearance of a reinvigorated Kanye West on “Glow.” It’s one of the only times on the project where the guest fully outshines Drake because the song sounds tailor-made for West despite being co-produced by 40. West’s singing has never sounded sharper and the Earth, Wind and Fire “Devotion” sample at the end ties the uplifting tone of the track together quite nicely.
Closing out the project is “Do Not Disturb,” a classic Drake outro joint where he delves deep into his personal life with a host of bars that tackle a variety of issues including women (of course), beefs with Meek Mill and Tory Lanez (subliminally, in typical Drake fashion) and just about everything else on his mind at the time of recording — which is a lot.
More Life is as much a celebration of success as it is an admittance of failure. Paradoxical as it sounds, that’s exactly what it is and exactly the kind of the emotional gray area Drake operates best in. He’s braggadocious and insecure at the same time, but this time around he’s just a little more seasoned, a little more grown and a little more worldly.
Words by Patrick Cwiklinski.