Ever since it was first announced the elephant in the room for More Life was its distinction as the follow-up to Drake’s 2016 release Views. Regardless of what people thought of Views, it was a landmark album. It was an hour and twenty-one minute release from one of the biggest names in music who at the time was under fire for having ghostwriters and ripping off other artists (namely the D.R.A.M. versus “Hotline Bling” conflict). It had been hyped for two years, it had a television commercial, and debatably Drake’s two biggest hits ever “Hotline Bling” and “One Dance” leading its march. So when the overall response to Views was “…meh. It’s too long and kind of boring,”it left people wondering whether or not Drizzy was going to bounce back with his next project. Enter More Life, emblazoned with a beautifully composed, suave photo of Drake’s dad on the cover. The covers of More Life and Views are a good indicator of the difference between the two albums. While Views took itself too seriously for an album released by the cheesy grinning guy from Degrassi, More Life is willing to let its hair down and stylistically capitalize on the fact that it is unabashedly a Drake album.
A large part of what works so well on More Life is the employment of dancehall music, which has populated most of Drake’s catalog since “Hotline Bling.” Whereas it used to seem like kind of a gimmick, Drake has vocally and lyrically* figured out a way to flow well with the Jamaican beats. “Passionfruit” glimmers like a starry night on a dock and “Madiba Riddim” grooves through handclaps and a fuzzy, almost afrobeat guitar lick. But the presence of dancehall is not worn out on More Life, there is a great balance between the more exotic flashes and the pop rap that Drake has built has career on. The more mainstream rap songs on the album benefit greatly from the feature verses, which include heavyweights Kanye West, Young Thug, 2 Chainz, Quavo, and Travis Scott. Of the rap tracks, “Portland” (feat. Quavo and Travis Scott) barrels through as the standout, with the three blockbuster rappers trading verses over a booming ocarina driven beat. “Portland” is destined to be a hit behind Quavo’s uber confident verse and chorus complete with some of the silkiest “skrrt skrrt” ad libs to date. Kanye is in full form on “Glow”, in which he and Drake warn the listener that they are each “about to glow.” As far as songs about the complications of rising to fame go, “Glow” works extremely well thanks to a good chemistry between Kanye’s fierce delivery and Drake’s soft crooning. What works best about the features on More Life is that each of the guest artists gets to put their signature on their parts. Whether it’s Sampha pouring heartbreak into “4422”, Young Thug running rampant on “Ice Melts”, or Travis Scott brooding through autotune on “Portland”, everyone gets a chance to make the songs just as much theirs as Drake’s.
While the featured artists and Drake himself may take top billing the real stars of More Life are the album’s beats. In total the album has thirty-two producers, and yet it never feels crowded. Granted no one’s going to mistake More Life for being produced by one man, as there are a lot of different types of production that populate its twenty-two songs, but the beats flow well with each other and none of them seem out of place. There are bits of everything from ominous, industrial bursts in “Teenage Fever”, Gucci Mane-style trap beats on “KMT” and “No Long Talk”, and sunburnt wavy pop on “Fake Love”. While Drake himself may not be a “musical chameleon”, he has enough great producers in his arsenal that he can effectively play around with music styles.
Amidst the many producers and featured artists at the end of the day this is still Drake’s album. Even though he keeps calling it a playlist for whatever reason. It is hard to separate More Life from the rest of Drake’s career, because there is nothing particularly new on this release. Also, like Views, it clocks in at an hour and twenty-one minutes. While the album could be a hell of a lot shorter, it does not get nearly as tiring as its predecessor. What More Life does do is take the best elements of Drake’s career to this point and mixes them into one album that feels united and complete. We get the same nasal voiced but confident rapper from “Forever”, the sensitive Toronto native from “Know Yourself”, the lover boy from “Best I Ever Had”, and the dancehall fanboy from “Hotline Bling” all in one place. Though on the note of his love for dancehall, it can still be annoying at times when he pulls out Jamaican vernacular like “ting” and “badmon”, which he does on most if not all of More Life’s dancehall numbers. He will always sound like the nasal voiced Canadian that the public has come to know and love, it’s never going to sound natural for him to use that kind of speech.
Regardless of the length and bits of Drake-ness that have come to make him something of an easy target in the era of social media and memes, More Life is his best release since 2013’s Nothing Was the Same. Drake is not someone who can be pinned down into one particular niche, he wears many masks and on More Life he flaunts and fully utilizes all of them. If you are coming for rap bars, they are here. If you are coming for flares of tropical dance music, they are also here. If you are coming just to see what all of the fuss is about, you are going to find out about seven minutes into the album when “Passionfruit” kicks in. This is the album that will take Drake from being a cultural icon based on his voice, looks, and marketability, and make him an icon for creating one of the most versatile pop releases of the last few years.
Review Score: 8/10