Drake takes a global victory lap on ‘More Life’

Drake has been in a tricky spot for the past year, simultaneously at the peak of his commercial success and in the middle of a creative rut.  After a string of remarkably consistent releases that demonstrated both artistic and commercial growth, the Toronto rapper dropped his much-anticipated album Views in 2016. Originally titled Views from the 6, the album was supposed to be Drake’s defining artistic statement about his city. What it ended up being was a bloated, half-baked rehash of many of his older sonic and lyrical themes. “Views trash” memes flooded social media in the weeks after its release, and many called it his worst project ever. And yet, despite the mixed reviews, Views was Drake’s most successful release ever, with his dancehall smash “One Dance” topping charts internationally and becoming the most-played song on Spotify ever with over one billion streams.

A tour-heavy year later, and Drake has responded to this criticism and unprecedented fame with his new album, More Life. On More Life, Drake no longer seeks to conform to traditional hip-hop norms; instead, he embraces his status a full-blown pop star. He addresses the confusion he experienced last year on closer “Do Not Disturb”: “I was an angry youth when I was writin’ Views / Saw a side of myself that I just never knew.” On More Life, Drake avoids the preconceptions of “realness” and authenticity associated with hip-hop by transcending the genre entirely into the realm of pop. Labeled a “playlist,” More Life clocks in at over 81 minutes with 22 songs – an obvious attempt at greater streaming numbers, but this time, it doesn’t feel bloated or monotonous. Rather, More Life is an international tour-de-force, meandering from region to region, style to style, almost effortlessly, with longtime collaborators like 40 and Boi-1da creating seamless transitions between songs. It carries an ethos akin to that of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, unexpectedly flowing from idea to idea in an unfinished, but consequently organic manner.

However, despite the diversity and scope of the playlist, More Life might be the most “Drake” project Drake has ever released. Unchained from the high expectations accompanying his hip-hop status and the album format, Drake has room to explore new styles and fit more comfortably into his true identity. More Life lives up to its name; on breezy Afrobeat cuts like “Passionfruit,” “Madiba Riddim” and “Blem,” Drake sounds more lively and excited about his music than ever before.

Drake gleefully embraces a new identity as world traveler and sampler. He raps, “I switch flow like I switch time zone” on the frantic, slang-heavy banger “Gyalchester.” Meanwhile, he quips, “I wanna move to Dubai so I don’t ever have to kick it with none of you guys” on “Free Smoke,” using his internationalism as a means of escape from persistent hip-hop beef. Moreover, Drake takes his ear for talent abroad, introducing the mainstream to a bevy of young, international talent. Two of the playlist’s strongest tracks – “4422” and “Skepta Interlude” – are performed by rising U.K. artists Sampha and Skepta, respectively, and grime artist Giggs has standout verses on “No Long Talk” and “KMT.”

In this way, More Life bears more resemblances to The Life of Pablo; the features are the best part of the project. Drake often plays second or third fiddle on these songs, recognizing his artistic limitations as a rapper and instead providing an inexplicable “Drake-ness” to the sonic palette.

Quavo and Travis Scott stretch their auto-tuned voices in all directions over a recorder loop on “Portland,” while resident trappers 2Chainz and Young Thug deliver incredible verses on the brambly “Sacrifices.” Even Kanye West pays a visit to the world tour; the mind-boggling chemistry between Yeezus and the 6 God on “Glow” serves as a tempting teaser of what could have been, as their plans for a joint album were recently scrapped.

Despite its length, More Life contains very little filler. At times, Drake’s attempts at accents are borderline-offensive and fall flat (“No Long Talk”), and the R&B moments on the playlist (“Nothings Into Somethings,” “Since Way Back”) evoke the déjà-vu that Views suffered from, but aside from these misses, More Life is unbelievably consistent.

In fact, More Life is everything Views should have strived for: a reconciliation of art with fame and an acceptance of pop as a means of artistic progression.

Drake breaks away from traditional hip-hop norms to embrace his pop star identity on an emblematic new album, ‘More Life.’ Photo courtesy of genius.com