Little needs to be said to introduce Drake, but there’s rather a lot to unpack when it comes to the context surrounding his latest musical project, More Life. This largely arises from the fact that the artist is insisting that this collection of 22 songs be referred to as a “playlist”. Drake’s reasoning behind this has been incredibly vague and, ultimately, there is no real artistic reason for this project to be called a playlist when it is essentially an album in reality. That’s not to say that calling More Life a playlist is completely redundant, however, as this idea is likely a reflection of the way in which people, particularly the younger generations and those listening to Drake, consume music. Streaming platforms such as Spotify have a great deal of power and influence over what people are listening to due to the rise in popularity of the playlists they offer as part of their services. Many customers will open their Spotify app and, instead of picking out a particular album or artist that they wish to listen to, choose a playlist that reflects the style of music that they fancy at the time. It’s easy to see the appeal of such an attitude towards consuming music, in that most of these playlists will likely contain a mixed bag of songs that the listener is both familiar and unfamiliar with, giving them the opportunity to discover new music whilst nevertheless listening to a specific style controlled by themselves. In this regard, More Life seems to latch onto this trend, in that it provides a variety of different styles, including hip hop, grime, R&B, dancehall, reggae and Afrobeat, and features a host of guest artists, some of whom even appear on their very own tracks with no presence from Drake. Therefore, from a marketing perspective, More Life may be an ingenious idea and, indeed, given that this playlist has dominated the charts since its release, perhaps the artist is onto something. However, whilst the rapper’s ability to tap into people’s evolving listening habits may engender a formula for commercial success, critical success is another matter. When it comes to the quality of the material on More Life, it is certainly what one could expect from a generic playlist, in that it quite easily blends into the background for the most part. However, this is me being generous, as, ultimately, what Drake accomplishes on More Life in his attempts to work with musical stylings previously untouched by the rapper, the results are amateurish at the best of times and, more often than not, incredibly clumsy. More Life is far from a cohesive release, but considering its playlist status, perhaps this can be forgiven slightly. However, this does not change the fact that, on an individual level, many of these tracks come across as either filler or an awkward attempt at foraying into new genres. More Life could be called a playlist, a mixtape, an album or whatever else, but the quality of its content is not made any less sloppy by its label.
One thing that becomes clear from listening to More Life is that it seems to be a project hinged on crafting an atmosphere rather than any significant substance with these tracks. Indeed, given its position as a playlist, More Life seemingly wants to fade into the background as a selection of songs that people can vibe to, rather than bring any interesting ideas to the table. As such, a great deal of this playlist feels like filler, with many of these tracks being completely throwaway, in that Drake’s verses and delivery, and the beat over which he is spitting or singing, are incredibly rudimentary, and are often innocuous to the point of being mundane. When paired with this playlist’s 81-minute runtime, exactly the length of his previous underwhelming project, VIEWS, More Life not only gets tiresome very quickly, but lacks much, if any, replay value beyond being used as a wall of ambiance at a party. In these regards, this project encompasses many of Drake’s worst habits that have seemingly been exacerbated as he has become more popular: the struggle bars; the humdrum beats; the abundance of filler; the bloated runtime; the poor appropriation of a variety of musical stylings; the terrible fake accents; the lack of cohesion or satisfying momentum, etc. With so many sweeping criticisms to be made of More Life, it’s difficult to gauge where is best to start, but, ultimately, many of the playlist’s most glaring flaws can be boiled down to the fact that this project sounds woefully incomplete. Indeed, many of these tracks feel like they were leftover from VIEWS, whilst others come across as a desultory detour into a style of music on which Drake has yet to capitalise. As a result, the overwhelming majority of the songs on More Life are essentially skeletal ideas that have been padded out by looping any old instrumental, copying and pasting a throwaway hook, or brazenly recycling an old idea. Teenage Fever, for instance, is almost entirely founded on a few drab synth bass notes, with the instrumental progressing simply by adding generic rhythmic embellishments, over which Drake delivers some sleepy sung verses that seem barely cohesive with the beat. Ironically, the best part of the song is the hook, which is simply a pitched-down sample of Jennifer Lopez’s If You Had My Love. Even most of the playlist’s more competently assembled tracks feature unashamed padding that, if anything, hinders the progression of the piece. As an example, Passionfruit, although being incredibly lazy in its development and running on for far too long, features one of Drake’s better sung performances on More Life and an instrumental that more effectively creates the type of ambiance that this project was likely intended to supply. However, even considering the fact that the main body of the song runs on for far too long as it is, Drake has the audacity to interrupt the introduction 30 seconds into the cut with some purposeless rambling that lasts another 30 seconds before the instrumental starts all over again. At other points on More Life, the guest artists seem to be thrown in at points that don’t suit the performances they deliver, almost as if the way in which they would be incorporated into the playlist was an afterthought to simply getting them on board. Kayne West’s feature on Glow is particularly jarring given how awkwardly it is married with Drake’s sung performance, not to mention the fact that the incessant repetition of the few flows that he brings to the table get irritating quite quickly. Ultimately, for a project so lacking in consistent themes, it’s a shame that the one theme to recur throughout the playlist’s runtime is laziness. Practically every song on More Life is rather insular in the few coherent ideas they convey, leading to most of these cuts being padded out unnecessarily as to extend the playlist’s duration. Even the few good ideas of note are done no justice by the fact that they are swamped in the bland beats and weak refrains that ensue as a result of the haphazard attempts at lengthening these tracks. Overall, these criticisms all link back to perhaps my salient reservation for More Life, that being that its modus operandi seems to be almost entirely focussed on crafting an atmosphere rather than any substance, making this project essentially completely disposable.
Of the many shortcomings displayed on More Life, none are quite as egregious as Drake’s superficial attempts at incorporating new musical stylings. Having kickstarted the trend of neutered dancehall music topping the charts following his cursory appropriation of it into his music, Drake tries his hand at some more genres, including Afrobeat and, most notably, grime, even enlisting the help of a selection of UK MCs. Ultimately, his attempts at adopting the tropes of such stylings amount to being as banal and perfunctory as his treatment of dancehall, even resorting to a lot of the same tactics. The track No Long Talk is a prime example, given that Drake drops his fake patois accent to imitate the delivery of a grime rapper, utilising an atrocious cockney accent and awkwardly incorporating certain slang pronunciations, the most laughable of which being his persistent use of the word ‘ting’. Of the other excursions into genres outside of hip hop and R&B, the instrumental on Ice Melts is largely successful as a reggae-infused track and Young Thug does an impressive job of amending his style of delivery accordingly, although Drake makes no effort to alter his usual approach and sounds completely out of place as a result. This leads to another key criticism I have with much of More Life, that being that it barely feels like a Drake project, given that he routinely sounds like a feature on his own songs and is often the worst aspect of these tracks. Almost every stand-out moment on this playlist has absolutely nothing to do with Drake. Skepta’s appearance on his very own cut, Skepta Interlude, is perhaps the best track on More Life, largely because it is essentially just a Skepta song that could have fit perfectly comfortably into any of his previous releases. In fact, the only song on the playlist that rivals Skepta Interlude is 4422, which, again, doesn’t even feature Drake, rather it boasts a beautiful and impassioned guest vocal from Sampha, which even tops many of his performances from his latest record, Process. Although such moments really are very good, they also give rise to rather mixed feelings for me, as the fact that guest artists have to offer relief from Drake’s performances says quite a lot about how poorly he oversaw the assembly of this project.
The more I listen to and learn about More Life, the more it seems to me as if it was given the label of a ‘playlist’ as a means of deflecting criticism. Indeed, under this title, disparaging this project for its lack of cohesion or its evident incompletion can simply be brushed off as moot points, because the same calculated analysis of other album’s cannot be applied to More Life, and I have already seen such platitudes employed to swerve valid critiques of this project. Given that, as far as I can tell, no comprehensible or even coherent reason has been provided for this project’s status as a playlist, I see such criticisms as completely valid. What’s more, even on an individual, track-by-track basis, there is little of note to be found on More Life that provides substance past its superficial attempts at creating a disposable sonic experience to vibe to until something more preferable comes along to replace it. As unlikely as Drake is to admit it, I ultimately feel that the purpose of this playlist amounts to exactly that and, whilst there’s nothing wrong with this in principle, that’s no reason for it not to be scrutinised like any other release in the music world. As such, More Life is perhaps a smart project from a marketing perspective, but outside of the boardroom, there is little impressive about this playlist.
The Vinyl Verdict: 3.5/10