This weekend, Canadian rap deity Drake released 22-track “playlist” More Life. Son Raw delves into a sprawling, grime-influenced odyssey that finds the rapper battling the same old problems, but honing in on what he does best – giving a platform to his expertly curated guests.
Despite his portentousness and monomaniacal obsession with rap’s throne, Drake has never never possessed the gravitas of Nas, Jay-Z or Kendrick Lamar, nor the style-bending inventiveness of Lil Wayne, Quavo or Future. Instead, his talent lies in fusing the pop rap of Nelly or Ma$e with the underground’s self-awareness and anxiety and setting it to beats breezy enough to divert you from the fact that the man’s a bit of a dickhead.
More Life plays to these strengths, acting as a travelogue of Drake’s various interests, merging them into an overarching ur-genre of black pop, one reference point at a time. One moment he’s ‘pon road with Giggs scowling, the next he’s lounging by the bar with Moodymann, or taking a quick flight to Joburg with Black Coffee before dipping back to Atlanta via Jamaica.
It would be easy to bemoan the lack of authenticity, but the first half of More Life is pretty much what you’d expect a globetrotting careerist rap superstar with a think tank full of tastemakers to sound like, in a best case scenario. It’s also a fairly accurate reflection of Toronto – an immensely multicultural sprawl without a single dominant personality where a popular hoodie defensively reads “Toronto vs. Everybody.”
But while Drake sounds completely laughable acting road, particularly next to a tough-as-nails Giggs, the breezier material on More Life marks a welcome return to form for a yacht rap superstar who’s recently spent too much time convincing himself he’s Canada’s answer to 2Pac.
It’s music for swimming pools and luxury hotels, and guest spots by Sampha, Skepta, Giggs and Atlanta’s finest ensure Drake never has to do much heavy lifting. And thankfully we don’t have to hear the Canadian crooner complain about women driving his car to the drugstore to pick up feminine supplies. Sure, he probably shouldn’t have called a track ‘Gyalchester’ without giving Spooky a credit, but compared to Views’ never-ending stream of misery, it’s at least fun.
Unfortunately, More Life is about 20 minutes too long, something that rapidly becomes apparent on the album’s back half when Drake abandons his tried-and-tested tropical house grooves and returns to the nocturnal musings he’s delivered one too many times. Here, it becomes impossible to separate Drake the hitmaker from Drake the narcissist; all of the Jennifer Lopez samples and Kanye West guest spots can’t save him from his worst impulses – from narcoleptic production choices to callous immaturity masquerading as depth.
The most telling line on More Life is hidden halfway through ‘Do Not Disturb’, the grandiose closing statement we’ve come to expect from an OVO project. In what’s meant to be yet another jab at Meek Mill, Drake lets slip that he’s “a reflection of all of your insecurities.” It’s a statement that when applied to the listener, accurately reflects why Drake has held pop culture in a chokehold for so long. We listen to Kendrick or Beyonce to feel empowered and righteous, but we listen to Drake because deep down, given the chance, we’d gladly wallow in our own misery if it came with a private jet and luxury accommodation.
Drake isn’t the first rapper to lay bare his poor decisions by any means, but while many rappers are shunted into a self-destructive lifestyle by harsh economic conditions, Drake doesn’t have any excuses. This makes him a supremely unlikeable man, but he knows that plenty of others would make the same choices and set to the right beats, we can’t help but listen. He’s probably not the chart topping pop rapper 2017 needs, but he’s almost certainly the one it deserves.