In 2016, Drake’s Views saw the Canadian rapper painting himself into a corner. His fourth (proper) album was, by all accounts, a juggernaut, going Platinum four times, nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys — even going on to win Favorite Hip-Hop Album at the American Music Awards. And yet… nobody really liked Views. Except People Magazine, who named it the fifth best album of 2016. Which should tell you something (#2 was a Jon Bon Jovi record).
The Drake on Views dipped into self-parody, which eventually bled into his real life. The former Degrassi: The Next Generation star seemed to turn up everywhere, usually dressed in one of his oversized sweaters, either awkwardly dancing or hawking cellphone plans. Sometimes both. Sure, there were the hit songs, like “One Dance” and “Hotline Bling,” but the surrounding songs reeked of stagnation. Even worse, he knows that you grew tired of him. On More Life, Drake’s new, um, “playlist,” he even titled a song “Lose You.”
“More Life” is Jamaican slang to wish someone well. Which maybe explains the more chummy-sounding label of the playlist (“Album” can only be considered a commercial property). Drake is gifting us his new work (you can also buy it, but that’s beside the point), however, we aren’t the only ones benefiting from his newfound charity. More Life is filled to the brim with guest rappers, producers and musicians. And everybody has brought their A game. Even Drake’s mother makes an appearance via answering machine on “Can’t Have Everything,” counseling her son by noting “that attitude will just hold you back in this life, and you’re going to feel alienated.” For the first time in his career, Drake is here to make friends.
The disappointment of Views hovers over More Life. Lead single “Fake Love” has Drake complaining “I got fake people showin’ fake love to me.” It’s hard to imagine the singer of “Blaze of Glory” (Jon Bon Jovi) complaining about such admiration.
Drake takes a backseat to 19-year-old British singer Jorja Smith on the dazzling South African club track “Get It Together.” Another key track, the eerily sexy “Blem,” finds Drake a little drowned, both in intoxicants and in love. Having a coze with a former sidepiece, he straight up wants to know “how come we can never splash and stay friends?” He promises her everything — islands, no spray tans — yet she keeps running back to her ex. But she ain’t buying.
The atmospheric “Since Way Back” stretches the fabric of its own groove, finding fellow Canuck rapper PartyNextDoor crooning about past romantic conquests. The song meanders before Drake takes over in the second half, taking his shot at winning her over. “Scared to see what I left behind / It’s weighin’ heavy on my mind.”
“Free Smoke” has Drake waxing nostalgic about dining out at Applebee’s and Outback, the time he drunk texted J-Lo and the time he turned Meek Mill to a wet puddle. It’s a classic hip-hop opener, all spitfire gasconade with a simple drop beat and twinkling keys.
The label of “playlist” makes sense for More Life with its genre hopping and criss-crossing from hip-hop, dancehall, trap, sparkling pop and grime. The closest equivalent is Quentin Tarantino’s multiplex blendering in Kill Bill. And like all Tarantino movies, More Life is a bit too long. It’s indulgent, almost giddy with its own abilities. But More Life soars where Views floundered by letting others shine. Just as Tarantino might write that wonderful dialogue, we sure as shit don’t want him on camera saying it. By taking the pressure off himself, Drake has freed himself up to produce his most spry, self-assured work yet.
Mike Postalakis (@mikepostalakis) is a writer, director and comedian living in Los Angeles. He doesn’t have a Netflix, Hulu, Amazon or HBO Go account. Instead, he spends his extra money at the Gap.