Music review: Drake's 'More Life' playlist

Music review: Drake's 'More Life' playlist

October's Very Own always manages to split opinion, but after four studio albums it's always interesting to hear what the Canadian-sensation has to say to those doubters.

charlie-brown
Charlie Brown

Only a year on from Views, a long-awaited album that divided fans and critics alike, Drake makes headlines again with the release of More Life which looks set to take over the sound of this summer

As chef Aubrey Graham mixes R&B, hip-hop, dancehall, trap and even a little grime into his pan, you could almost say he covers all grounds. 

Similarly to frequent-collaborator DJ Khaled, who pleased fans of old school, conscious and trap hip-hop on 2016's Major Key - an album that Drake himself featured on.

From Jay Z, Nas and Busta Rhymes to Kendrick Lamar and J Cole to (lots of) Future, Yo Gotti and Kodak Black, it was an odd combination.

"A playlist by October Firm", the slogan of More Life; it's well-suited too with a lengthy 22 songs and influences from different corners of the globe. 

Pre-release saw the circling of 'Fake Love', 'Two Birds, One Stone' and 'Sneakin', but the last two haven't made their way onto More Life.

Features

Adhering to the U.K. scene has seen Drake turn to artists such as Skepta to put a stamp of approval for doubters in recent years -- ever since Kanye West (who also features) brought out a host of British talent at 2015's Brit Awards. Now Giggs makes his way onto a Drizzy record, twice too.

Trap duo Quavo and Travis Scott drop in to add an American hip-hop flavour with the woodwind inspired 'Portland' - the same could be said for the following track, where 2 Chainz and Young Thug feature.

Nominated for BBC's sound of 2017 at the young age of 19, Jorja Smith is perhaps an unknown quantity for most listeners, but her inclusion is sure to fire her into a world of fame.

Ever since Sampha's double appearance on 2013's Nothing was the Same from Drake, his reach has extended from the streets of London to ambitious heights of the U.S.

Making his way into a third Drake project in a row is PARTYNEXTDOOR, who as usual provides a more spacious and vocally-focused track.

Bright and British Beginnings 

'Free Smoke' sets the tone perfectly for Drake, as he raps about where he's come from over a hard-hitting trap beat - produced by fellow Canadian Boi-1da, who has been behind bangers such as 'Headlines',  '0-100/ The Catch Up' and 'Forever'.

On here he's basically saying to anyone in the rap game that if you come for him you'll turn into a 'ghost' by the 'free smoke' of his lyrically-charged gun.

So, don't be a Meek Mill: "Ghost-writin' rumours turn you to a ghost? Oh, you ****** got jokes, free smoke, free smoke".

Drake loves to begin his albums with a reminder of his power in the game, and despite the message of this song being one of achievement, he's also reminding us that he started from the bottom: "Used to get paid for shows and front-door money, five, ten, twenties, hand sanitise after you count that"

"MORE LIFE" screams Baka (friends with Graham) on 'No Long Talk', birthing a British Drake, it seems, as he uses Grime/London dialect alongside Peckham's Giggs. 

Perhaps on first listen it'll be difficult for many to take Drake seriously, even Giggs for that matter since there's been a backlash from the American audience - some have never heard of this style. 

CuBeatz and Murda who produced the track hail from Germany and Canada -- but you wouldn't think that; you could easily imagine any number of U.K. Grime artists flowing over the beat they laid on No Long Talk.

Third track 'Passionfruit' positively sounds like the antithesis of its predecessor, drawing Jamaican influence in title and sound. 

Drake explains how his love is too long-distance for him, similar to the passion fruit in The Caribbean.

Passionfruits' instrumentation is light but heavy at the same time; the tropical keys that ooze around a simple drum-beat are eternal but nonetheless brilliantly executed.

It's a relaxed 'One Dance' or 'Feel no Ways' in many aspects, since Drake is talking of struggling in a long-term relationship a la Feel no Ways. As for One Dance, it was in your face, quick-paced and thorough in comparison to Passionfruit, but with a similar aura. 

If you take out the commentary near the start - something that appears a lot on More Life - this song really wouldn't stick out in the middle of Views; potentially it's a leftover, given the rate at which Drake creates music. 

'Jorja Interlude' is one of two self-titled interludes, and as previously mentioned it's what DJ Khaled did with his compilation album drafting in J Cole for a couple minutes of raw-rap on 'Jermaine's Interlude'.

Except in Drake's case his intentions are to introduce us to Jorja Smith - a soul singer from Walsall, U.K.

Her voice is beautifully mastered to sound nostalgic, fitting adeptly with the call-back to Take Care's 'Doing it Wrong' that appears near the close.

An end that courses so smoothly into one of the stand-out tracks that actually gives depth to More Life - 'Get it Together'.

Smith's voice that was so carefully masked previously now comes to life ever so eloquently. Drake takes a sample from house-DJ Black Coffee and uses it to his full advantage, akin to Take Care with Rihanna, where he also contrasts male and female soulful-vocals against a booming-bass. 

Although Drake doesn't contribute much on Get it Together, it works. Maybe that's a sign of his sometimes-corny lyrics being a deterrent on tracks like this.

It's interesting that Rihanna wasn't given the role of accompanying Drake on here; after all, she collabed with him on 'Too Good' aswell.

A song that funnily enough sounds all too similar to 'Madiba Riddim', despite the former detailing Drake's inability to balance fame and relationships as opposed to him being 'too good' for someone.

The similarity in beats is scary, especially when you take into count Nineteen85's involvement in both tunes -- only the pitch really changes. 

Although, the slowed-down and saddened outro to Madiba Riddim is key to note, it's as though the mood shifts to the next track from a jovial place to somewhere more sour.

Onto More Life's seventh instalment, 'Blem', where a darker vibe consequently surrounds lyrics of Drake's state being one of high on drugs: "Who keeps bringing me more? I've had too many". But also now aware of what he wants: "I know how I wanna live my life, I don't need no advice".

The idea of a woman choosing to live her life with another man has always been difficult for Drake to accept; lines on Blem aren't too dissimilar to that on 'Marvin's Room' for example. 

Another U.K artist in Sampha appears on '4422', marking the end of what feels like the first chapter of More Life. It's believed that the title refers to Isaiah's 44:22 verse in The Bible, since Sampha Sisay's sweet soulful tones guide us through a tale of forgiveness and trust: "But you're just the same as I ever knew". 

4422 dwindles into 'Gyalchester' in a sense like Sampha's relationships have faded, so he tells us. It's a nice change in pace but perhaps lacking in substance; 4422 could easily have been cut and we'd feel no different.

Mediocre Middle 

Gyalchester wakes us from its sleepy predecessor with Drake back on his self-made rap-throne.  Free Smoke focused on his success while daring the rap-game to respond, with the ninth track he boasts of being so talented when you "bury me now...I only get bigger"

Drake's flow on here is much the same to that on 'Hype' where he also brags about his wealth and fame.

The name "Gyalchester" refers to all the 'gyals' that come to his concert, in particular Manchester - although trying to draw a link from that to the lyrics is a waste of time.

Perhaps his place of inspiration for the song came in England, leading us into 'Skepta Interlude' which obviously features Grime artist Skepta - of course, he delivers some classic bars: "Got the Austin Powers, a man's extra groovy".

Makes you wonder why Drake didn't give Stormzy a call in the wake of all his U.K. inclusion; his music has been kind of a catalyst for British hip-hop in recent times.

'Portland' drops on the back of some flute instrumentation; many of the songs on More Life roll into one another, hopefully Drake uses this weapon in his next studio album - makes for a more cohesive project.

Again, its title doesn't enhance any of the lyricism but with two emerging artists that feature, perhaps Drake is comparing them to the city of Portland that's famous for its unique and fresh youthfulness. 

Portland is a passable track however, Quavo and Scott do what you'd expect them to do with any of their features - catchy chorus, but meaningless words. 

The only saving grace is the expertly produced beat that accompanies the infectious flute rhythm - you'll have it stuck in your head all day.

That recurrent woodwind jingle fades into a soft piano solo, as we switch to 'Sacrifices' with 2 Chainz and Young Thug. A more reflective Drake ponders on how he's made sacrifices to get to where he is, when people see him "first thing they say, 'I know you need a break', hell naw, I feel great".

It's almost as if Young Thug wrote Drake's verse though, both using a hefty amount of similes with close resemblance in their roll of tongue. 

Like Portland, you could take Sacrifices off and feel no ways about it, don't excuse the pun. 

Unfortunately things don't take a step up, as 'Nothings into Somethings' offers up, well, nothing. Sounding as if it was ripped from the B-side of Take Care, this 13th track is unfortunate.

Not only is the beat effortless and void of anything interesting, Drake's lyrics offer little - fitting, I guess. 

You can see what the OVO rapper was going for, a sonically drowsy approach to match his emotions and state from the opening line: "Big cup of Ac', I'm drowsy, I'm still posted up where you first found me".

On a playlist it's a bit confusing why, half-way through, you'd include what sounds like an outro track on a full-length album. 

In some ways the mood builds up to 'Teenage Fever', where Drake makes use of another simplistic groggy instrumental. This time there's some context to the lyrics, Jennifer Lopez is sampled to juxtapose with Drake's lines of being with someone he crushed on as a teen. 

An entire 18 years have passed since Lopez made her hit-single 'If You Had My Love' - used for the chorus on Teenage fever - to put that into perspective Graham would've been close to 13 when he first heard this song.

Now he can only revel in his fortunate situation: "This sh** feels like teenage fever, I'm not scared of it, she ain't either"

Another one of Drake's flows greets us with 'KMT', once again featuring Giggs, both rapping quick-fire lines out over a dirty trap-infused beat.

The grittiness of the instrumental matches Giggs' lyrics pretty damn well; not sure you could say the same for Drake but what he does change is the pitch.

From Drake's verse to Giggs the tone shifts slightly darker, probably for the best too; the latter raps bluntly about subjects ranging from drugs to earning in the U.K as a man of black ethnicity - not exactly the sort of topics Drake's likely to be dropping anytime soon. 

Giggs even compares himself to Gustavo Gaviria - not for the first time either - in that he's the overlord and most successful in his game, as was the drug king-pin. Unless you're a fan of Breaking Bad, then maybe you could change that for Gustavo Fring

He closes out with "Batman, da-na-na-da-na", a humour-driven lyric also seen on 'Man Don't Care' with the ever-exceptional JME - another grime artist and brother to Drake's new best friend, Skepta. 

'Lose You' follows and on first glance it's a similar stance that Drake's taken to that on 'Two Birds, One Stone', talking on the issues that surround him on a daily basis to other musicians biting at him. 

The song that didn't make it onto More Life received an angry backlash, with its bad timing of release, as Drake takes aim at Kid Cudi around the same time of his acceptance into rehab.

More Life's sixteenth track instead asks the question: "Did I lose you?". With the point of view that being successful results in less time for the people around him. 

Drizzy even questions himself and his own actions along the years: "How you forget to fill up with gas on the road to riches"

With this metaphor he's practically saying that while he's on the tour-bus heading for wealth, if you don't stop to look around once in a while you'll breakdown; looking back in hindsight to the people you should have paid attention to and the problems you needed to solve - in this case, needing a full tank to get there.

Even going back as far as 'Over' from Thank Me Later, Drake sings/raps about how he could be in a room full of people and not know them, but uses it as a celebration -- perhaps Lose You is a consequence of all his partying.

It demonstrates an uncertainty about where he is in life, where he stands on situations going on around him. Drake uses so many of his hits to remind us of the success made from putting the work in, Lose You shows the other side of said-success.

It's one of the more personal moments on More Life, so of course Noah "40" Shebib is credited for producing and writing, as Drake's right hand man in all his triumphs.

More Life's Outro 

'Can't Have Everything' carries on this notion of fame deducting certain qualities of life. Drake's use of a claustrophobic and intense beat is either unintentional or genius; it's as if the beat is every bit of pressure mounted on him from the world. 

His words of "beef forever unfinished" that go hand in hand with the moody melody show us that Drake's worries in life are building, on from Lose You: "I don't stop man, I'm stuck on go, always hug the row".

Along with that, the ambitions he has in life are a constant blockage to him: "Want a lot, can't have everything, but I want everything", similarly the beat is blocking anything from escaping in the song, even Drake's vocals are scared to shout louder than it.

The negative tone taken on Can't Have Everything is explained during the outro, where Drake's mother is concerned about him, his alienation and attitude, but reassures him that "when others get low, we go high".

Kanye West makes a strange appearance on 'Glow', with an even more mysterious instrumental.

West's acceptance of Drake's talent and prosperity is clear to see, as they're aligned on each verse in their line of "watch out for me, I'm about to glow" where the latter actually sounds a lot younger - which would make sense given the lyric.

Thankfully West only raps for one verse; hopefully he didn't put much effort into lyrics such as "used to work the fries, now we supersi-i-ise" and "fu** you haters still, that's an FYI-I-I-I" - honestly-y-y, it sounds as awful and unoriginal as his feature on Katy Perry's E.T.

PARTYNEXTDOOR, the first artist to be signed with Drake's OVO Sound label features on the lengthy 'Since Way Back'. More Life's nineteenth track is an incredibly slow ballad about losing a lover, only to never get over them: "Six months since I've been back in the Six, I can't help but wonder how you've been, babe".

When these two artists collab it usually provides pretty uneventful songs; Since Way Back is nothing new on that front. 

'Fake Love' is the only official single on More Life, and considering the gap between its release and that of the playlist, it's easy to forget the song exists. 

What's also somewhat surprising is how far down on the track-listing Drake puts Fake Love, given that it was met with chart success globally. 

Possibly, on 'Ice Melts', Drake is addressing his past ventures with Rihanna: "Look, I want you to myself, but I know you just left someone else...he did a number on you".

Young Thug on the hook describes this mystery lady as a "diamond out the rough", after all, Rihanna loves to shine bright like a diamond. 

It's no secret that the two stars have had a long history, it could be said that Drake addresses this: "But you icy like 1017, Icy like there's nobody you'll ever need...I'm here as patient as can be, man". All on top of an uplifting Jamaican-esque trap-beat, the sort of backing track that Rihanna would love to sing over. 

Drake loves to end his albums with extended reflective rap outro, 'Do Not Disturb' is the same case as there's no flashy chorus or change in flows.

Easily comparable to 'Views', the title track on his last project, or '6PM in NY' on 2015's If You're Reading This It's Too Late, even on the braggadocious What a Time To Be Alive with Future '30 for 30 Freestyle' provides that.

The issue with More Life's closing single is that while it's nice having artists detail their lives over the past year or so: "1da doin' the beat and I open up like a double click".

This isn't anything new from Drake, you could say some subjects are fresh and interesting, for example: "I was an angry youth when I was writin' Views".

We get to know that putting the pressure on musicians to make music so rapidly each year for our entertainment as an affect on the person writing: "Saw a side of myself that I just never knew" isn't the result that a fan should hope for their idol.

Also the line he tells of "last verse that I gotta do is always like surgery", basically explaining that the "burdens" he let's go of near the end of albums always come back around. 

Perhaps it's time to address those issues during the 80-minute runtime, because with Do Not Disturb not many are going to be hanging on after 22 songs every time they want to play More Life. 

Cut the various tracks about relationship problems and address these more important personal issues from the off; everyone's heard about your problems with the ladies, Drake.

Not to say there's something wrong with emotional music, Drake is brilliant at expressing emotion -- just perhaps he's made songs that have freakishly similar context.

What's good about More Life?

There's definitely fun to be had by taking away individual singles; after all it's a playlist so that's most likely what Drake wants us to do.

Songs that stand out start with More Life's opening track Free Smoke; when Drake wants to rap he really can, ghostwriter or not.

Along with that, Passionfruit for its relaxed vibe, simplistic lyrics but ones that cut to the truth - this song could easily be blazed on a beach and everyone's mood would be improved just from the smooth sounds.

Jorja Smith's career will hopefully reach the stars; her feature is able to astronomically improve Drake's sound with not only Get It Together but also her interlude.

The single will be heard on radio for months to come, since that beat is contagious and that's what's dominating the charts right now.

Akin to Passionfruit, there's the right amount of Drake on this club-banger. Both also add context to the playlist's title, like Fake Love, they add More Life to your evening with their irresistible melodies.

Blem's message of being more confident when high/drunk and revealing your true feelings is as vivid as the coursing rhythm. 

Gyalchester is the 0-100/Back to Back Drake that we all know and love, as sweet as the beat is perhaps we've seen the best of production for Drizzy already. 

Skepta produces a typically raunchy verse on his own interlude, as he attempts to adhere to the American audience with "stand up tall, right next to Kobe" and "block that account, that's a catfish"

It could easily be a leftover instrumentation from his most recent album Konnichiwa, however.

Despite the cringe-worthy name, KMT showed how two artists can go verse for verse with different tones and flows, but still sound harmonious from either side of the pond.

Some lyrics on Do Not Disturb deserve a mention, but they've already been given one. 

With More Life, in parts it paints a picture of an album unpolished; as though Drake could've made a feature project but instead strapped songs together and labelled it as a "playlist".

What's Wrong with More Life?

It comes down to a few things, the extended run time always creates a problem, calling itself a playlist when a lot of the songs roll into one another -- should a playlist really do that? 

Some sounds could easily make their way onto Views such as Passionfruit and Madiba Riddim. Others could just be cut entirely, for example 4422, Sacrifices, Nothings into Somethings and Since Way Back - these tracks would be passable on any Drake album, let alone a playlist.

Perhaps Drake felt the pressure to release more music to keep up with the rap game, since the likes of Future are putting out albums like singles. 

But it'd be better to take a couple years out to create more cohesive and stand-out music, it seems as though Drake wants to milk the fame as much as possible.

A lot of his music talks about being wealthy and staying at the top which in a way backs the point up; some musicians want to create art, others want to create a product ready for sale.

To answer this question further, it's best to pose another: Where did Drake (slightly) fall off?

Harsh, maybe, but Drake is a phenomenal artist, his discography is full of hits. Yet, the past few years have seen him derive success from all sources of talents - using the Grime scene to pick up an even stronger U.K. fan base, creating Jamaican-inspired dancehall despite being Canadian, taking people's sound and style and forming his own similar version.

Yes, More Life has hits on it, and Drake pulls through on a number of tracks with the odd ferocious verse to remind us he can still rap, but his desire to branch out and experiment with other styles is causing him to lose uniqueness as an artist. 

He defined himself as a musician with Take Care and even Nothing Was the Same, but perhaps has lost sight of that in recent years.

Once again we're reminded that Drake's at the top of his game, but even he himself admitted that wasn't him writing to his full potential on the heavily-critiqued Views. 

Take one step back and If You're Reading This It's Too Late only serves up a few note-worthy hits, although to his credit with that album he kept it strictly hip-hop. 

Despite always telling fans that rappers are chasing him, Drake is always chasing other artists; 'Hotline Bling' stolen from D.R.A.M's 'Cha Cha', KMT stolen from XXXTENTACION's 'Look at Me' along with Migos and Big Sean recognising their flow was stolen at some stage.

It's sort of like being in a classroom, where you might not have the loudest voice to tell the class something smart, but if someone's able to, they'll take the plaudits that come with it. 

Mark Zuckerberg may have not thought of the idea for Facebook, but he sure knew how to sell it to the masses.

Ironically Quavo sings "never let these ****** ride your waves" but that seems to be Drake's only intention.

Not only that, More Life is no advancement on Views, if anything it's a side step at best. The best in the game create something original, sounds we've never heard before with their new releases.

In some ways it seems as though it was only turned into a playlist to deflect criticism, after the backlash that Views faced.

Kanye West's The Life of Pablo may not be perfect but at least it's different to Yeezus, which is also a complete turnaround from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly sounds like a completely different artist to the one that appears on hip-hop classic good kid, m.A.A.d city.

Drake's competition are never lacking in creativity, but we're all too busy revelling in Drake's catchy-singles and diss-tracks to ask whether his music is creative - More Life isn't. 

Arguably his closest point to perfection was the moody atmospheric Take Care, even there the majority of beats were gifted by fellow Canadian artist The Weeknd.

To stop this feeling like a Drake put-down, it's important to know that instead of looking at is as a diss, it's best to view constructive criticism as just that.

Clearly Drake is talented and even on More Life he creates brilliant singles, just perhaps more should be asked of a man who claims to be "top two"

A last bright aspect of October Firm's playlist is its exposure of U.K. artists, in particular Jorja Smith, who along with Sampha in the past should enjoy the global appreciation.

Of course, we'll all be waiting patiently for that next Drake release already, to which he'll feel that ever-present pressure to put something half-hearted out -- let's make a change and be patient for October's very own.

VAVEL Logo