By: John Gaudes
Every month, John Gaudes (@johngaudes) writes about a new release from the previous month and spins a mix based on the artist’s influences and peers. We call it the SP Mix.
Considering the dynamics between them, it’s only right that we’re getting new music from Kendrick Lamar and Drake at the same time. Kendrick, as he does, is percolating with enormous ideas ahead of his new album — “The Heart Part 4” and “Humble” are both artistic achievements, literal and figurative declarations of his “greatest rapper” status.
Drake’s efforts, in context, can be misconstrued as quaint. Over the last three years, his celebrity status has voiced socio-economic issues such as gym etiquette and the limbo of patois slang. He also released Views, which was embarrassingly naval-gazing in a forest of artistic ambition. His elite peers in Beyoncé, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West all pushed boundaries last year. Drake released an hour-and-fifteen album about how shitty it is to be famous.
In his own way, though, Drake has always had something bigger driving him. Cliché as he’s made it, there’s truth in his projection of Toronto culture. He’s the city’s global ambassador, and one local sports team has gone so far as to give him money for it. Outside of the island joys of “One Dance” and “Too Good”, we didn’t see much of this on Views. On the new More Life playlist, though, Drake is taking in more voices, more languages, more culture. In North America’s most diverse city, it’s the sounds of summer, and it shows how excited Drake is at Toronto’s evolution, creating a music well beyond Canadiana.
Views, in an effort to show a unified creative voice, eventually crumbled under the weight of its “album” status. Drake, in trying to be himself, sucked the joy out of his music. On More Life, a blender of styles refresh and add joy to the airy, minimalist sound that OVO has become known for.
This shows itself best in the playlist’s first 20 minutes. “Free Smoke” snaps to an Atlanta beat before giving way to the grime of “No Long Talk” (where Drake says “tings” no less than four times). Then, a changeup to the gorgeous island sequence — “Passionfruit” through to “Madiba Riddim”. The former’s production by Nana Rogues is simmering sweet and the playlist’s highlight, also showcasing how far Drake has come with his singing, and how shamelessly successful he can be in chasing pop amidst hip hop boasting.
This sequence also works thanks to outside voices, something that More Life succeeds at throughout. Jorja’s work on the interlude and “Get It Together” introduces some unique vocal talent into Drake’s ecosystem. Sampha’s solo “4422” also breaks up proceedings in stunning fashion.
Drake also bows out for some of the best guest verses since Take Care. “Sacrifices” picks up steam with 2 Chainz, but really soars as it introduces us to vocoder-less Young Thug, who puts down an early candidate for verse of the year, explaining his way through every punchline. Skepta, Kanye West, Quavo, and Black Coffee also breathe some life into the long play.
Toward the end of the 22 tracks, More Life loses a bit of steam, though you’re more open to Drake’s pinings on “Lose You” and “Since Way Back” given the proceedings (and a lively Earth, Wind & Fire sample from Kanye). A playlist of that length should be more exhausting than More Life ends up being, which is great news for Drake — in an era where money’s made off streaming, this will be an enormous cash cow for him.
That’s just Drake, though. Nobody outside of Taylor Swift markets their creations better, or gets more juice out of being self-effacing. Naming your songs “Gyalchester” and “Blem” after two years of derision over culture-jacking is no accident, just as a jokey album cover of him sitting on the CN Tower wasn’t last year.
In the context of Toronto, though, Drake is above derision. With More Life, he’s created something for the masses — and an LP that’s true to himself. Where else can a Jewish black man born in Canada create a Billboard #1 playlist that combines musical sounds from Atlanta, London, and Jamaica?
While others may be more concerned with society, Drake’s ideal is to deliver good music. On More Life, he succeeds — giving us the aux cord go-to for long summer drives and evenings on the patio.
SwuM – Toronto
Drake – Passionfruit
Drake – Too Good (feat. Rihanna)
Drake – No Long Talk (feat. Giggs)
Skepta – Man
Cousin Stizz – Real Life
Drake – Glow (feat. Kanye West)
SwuM – Owls
Drake – Sacrifices (feat. 2 Chainz & Young Thug)