Drake needs a break. I’ve said it, you’ve said it, and the 6 God, ever the silent, omnipresent internet peruser, heard us. He tells us plainly on the final lines of his new album, er playlist—let’s just call it a studio project—More Life. But, as Ricky Rozay put it so poetically once upon a time, “You wanna be the hottest but that shit be complicated.”
When you angle to be known as “top five but really top two, and not two,” the work you put forth is judged and criticized all the more stringently. Mediocrity is death. The king best not miss, and he certainly cannot disappear for a sabbatical after releasing lifeless, autopilot Sunken Place music—which is exactly what we got last year. Aside from the jaded disdain of “9,” or the self-aware but shameless pettiness on display in “Redemption,” Views sounded vacant, like a fighter jet aimed at the highest reaches of the atmosphere, only Drake ejected before it reached its destination, leaving us to contemplate a distant empty vessel. Problematic, for an artist whose appeal is built on over-sharing, commiserating, and relating.
Luckily for Drake, the action is the juice. Faced with the challenge of critically reasserting himself as the best out, he rose up. He listened. He refocused. He flexed, hard. Who else would be so hilariously arrogant to answer complaints of a bloated album with a successor that’s just as long? More Life is a rebuke of everything that was wrong with Views, a revival of everything that was missing last time around—and, smartly, one that doesn’t try to erase it from history. It’s more of a photonegative of that project, bright and light where the other was dim and dark, relaxed where the other grasped too tightly for masterpiece status.
When Drake first announced the “playlist” on his 30th birthday last October, we didn’t know what to expect. He implied it’d be a Dynasty: Roc La Familia-esque OVO Sound compilation. He hinted at going full Carmen Sandiego and incorporating sounds from every region of the globe that sports an accent he admires. But despite Sampha and Skepta solo tracks, two highly unwelcome appearances from grime MC Giggs, and two gorgeous features from R&B singer Jorja Smith, this isn’t Aubrey on Abbey Road. Instead, it’s Drake pulling from every past studio project, re-focusing those strengths and forging new ground, sounds and flows from them. It’s an 80-minute tour through every sonic phase Drake has experimented with in the past 7 years; it’s 80 minutes well spent.
This entire project can be understood as one long examination of the critical response to Views.
The recirculation of Stevie Wonder’s mournful harmonica from Take Care’s “Doing It Wrong” for “Jorga’s Interlude” is the most obvious. But the references to Aubrey’s back catalog run deeper, from the fakeout beat switch on “Since Way Back” that evokes Thank Me Later’s “Shut It Down” to shades of the “Cece’s Interlude” college-lust fanfic that colors “Teenage Fever.” The #SummerFridays dancehall vibe that gave Views its high points gets a suite here, from tracks three to seven (excluding “Jorja”). But where “One Dance” sounded stitched together from somewhat unwieldy parts tailor made with Dubai rooftop parties in mind, "Get It Together" is basically a cover of a song Drake really likes (remember OVO Sound Radio episode 1??) and feels all the more finely crafted and seamless for it. As for the rapping? The best it’s been since summer 2014 through If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
“I was an angry yute when I was writing Views,” Drake admits on the album’s confessional closer “Do Not Disturb.” He went further in his recent interview with DJ Semtex, explaining that the success of “Back to Back” wasn’t without consequences: “To be completely honest with you I was having trouble figuring myself out in rap...I was a very defensive individual just coming off the situations that I’d come off of. I was having trouble trying to make rap music where I was able to peel back the layers.”
Songs like “Hype” and “Pop Style” were misguided concessions to his fanbase, and they play as such, all “Chaining Tatum” bars and zero introspection. The only featured guest rapper on Views was Future, which, after WATTBA, was hardly exciting. Contrast that with the wide net Life casts: enlisting rap’s current dynamic duo (Travis and Quavo), reliable 16 serial killer 2 Chainz, and spotlighting a new, legible side of Young Thug. The returns from reaching outward while drawing from within are bountiful; instead of formula we get intriguing songs like "Ice Melts," a future smash unlike any Drake radio hit before it. And when he’s dolo, we get new flows (“Can’t Have Everything”) and the LiveJournal bars that have come to define some of his best lyrical outings like “Lose You,” a cold missive to his fans. And that outro, damn. If he'd titled it "7AM in Germany" it would've given "5AM" a run for its money as the hardest pinned location freestyle. "Views," the title track, doesn't even sound like a proper Drake outro. But here the subtext of delivering a proper closing statement becomes actual text. This entire project can be understood as one long examination of the critical response to Views—on "Do Not Disturb," though, he gets surgical.
It’s hard to envision a future where Drake stops carving space out to give Meek or Tory or anyone else who’s “worried bout taking his lane when they’re not even on the road” at least half a bar (and who can complain when they’re as slick as “one day star” or as next-level as “garbage-ass Rollies”). But for the most part he seems like he’s trying to take Sandy’s latest voicemail in earnest. Amidst bullish invites for more opponents to get free smoke, the attempts at peace are evident. It’s hard to decide which is more shockingly magnanimous: the Weeknd big-ups on “Lose You” or the inclusion of a Kanye-collab borne seemingly from their inevitably doomed joint album sessions, despite describing his relationship with Mr. West as distant in that same Semtex interview.
"Better attitude, we’ll see where it gets me.” So far, so good. Break earned, Champagne. See you in 2018.