First Listen Reviews Don’t Cut It For These Projects
Let’s get one thing out of the way: don’t bother listening to Drake. This isn’t a “playlist project”. It isn’t an album either. It’s a collection of every single Drake that his fans have been introduced to in years gone by, all packaged together to absolutely smother all of us in his music. This is the first “made for streaming only” body of work by a huge artist, and it is a sign of the times, and a shining beacon of how people should be releasing music in the digital era.
There’s absolutely no way to listen to this project using the Headphone’s Knee-Jerk Review format because, as is the way nowadays, you’re not supposed to sit down and wade through all 22 tracks of More Life. While this is still a cohesive enough listen from back to front to my ears, I respect “October Firm” (a fancy name for Drake, Oliver El-Khatib and long-time production partner and probably chief sound hunter Noah “40” Shebib) enough to sit on this and let it marinate. As I write this, I’m on my fourth listen. You may be thinking “but Bheki, that’s not enough time to really let 22 entire tracks sink in, surely?” You’re right, it isn’t, but that isn’t the aim of this review. This review aims to gauge how successful October Firm has been at possibly changing the way artists and labels operate in the new era. This review aims to answer whether these three juggernauts have successfully killed the cohesive album experience.
Fact: Drake is the Biggest Star of His Generation
There really is no getting away from the solid fact I wrote above this. There is no Hip Hop artist with the influence, impact and reach that Aubrey Graham has. Even after Meek Mill ill-advisedly attempted to out Drake as a mere show pony for other people’s bars, and after fans of the seriously problematic XXXTentacion alleged that his now-revealed verse on KMT alongside Giggs, was a rip-off of the former’s flow on the track Look At Me, The Boy managed to yet again break streaming records that he already held with his prior effort, Views. In one day. While there are, arguably, far more musically gifted artists roaming the musical landscape right now, Drake stands head and shoulders above his peers in terms of sheer mastery of giving people what they want. People on my Twitter timeline whose derision for Views apparently carried on into More Life were underwhelmed and disappointed by the latest effort in its first few hours after release. Hours later, they had found what Drake put into the project for them. Be that Rap Drake, Jamaican Drake, Rudeboy Drake from Tottenham and South London at the same time, or Take Care Drake.
The masterstroke of More Life is that it isn’t restricted by a theme, or an obligation to listen to everything at once. People who don’t mind doing so, and who appreciate Drake’s many vibes, such as myself, will have no issue listening to the project cover to cover. Everyone who hated this project at first, suddenly found out that indeed, Drizzy had “more choon” for their headtops, so they needed to “watch how they speak on his name, uno”.
If you hate Rap Drake but love Caribbean and Dance House Drake, the opening few tracks on this project will have you twirling with joy. Blem is an absolute joy to listen to, even more so than the ever-welcome Passionfruit. It may be even more infectious than Controlla.
So Many Drakes, So Many Cultures… Where’s the Vulture Talk?
Firstly, while I genuinely do appreciate Drake’s growth as an artist and his appreciation of cultures outside his own, I will readily admit that I don’t think that I have a complete grasp as to what exactly people are angry at where The Boy is concerned. Secondly, I have certainly tried to be offended by Drake’s clear love for the UK, but it’s been so healthy for the UK Rap scene that I myself fell in love with, after watching Skepta “bill a fat spliff” over a searing instrumental while delivering simple, cutting bars on Ace Hood Flow. His Blacklisted album was an introduction to a wormhole of brilliantly original culture, from music, acting and language to art, poetry and general social media conversation. Words such as “bruv”, “Mandem” and “ting” have successfully found their way into my every day conversations. I can’t be mad at Drake for falling in love, because I myself root for and wish for nothing but the biggest success for the scene Drake has shone a huge light on. I’m Zimbabwean. In my country, our biggest genre is built off Jamaican Dancehall, complete with completely fake Patois, mannerisms and even dodgy religious affiliations likened to Rastafarianism. It’s also excellent fun, and has lifted many of its biggest artists out of poverty and into a semi-rewarding career. What’s there to be mad at?
I had a discussion with someone on Twitter who leans on the angle of Drake being a culture vulture who hijacks cultures for his own gain while belittling the people in those cultures, because he has the platform to do so. Basically, Drake is a thief who rides waves for his own benefit while aping those cultures and stealing ideas from people within those cultures. What the gentleman I was tweeting back and forth with forgot to mention, rather conveniently, was that grime started going worldwide after the Skepta and Drake link-up began. Shutdown is, by far, the best-known Grime song in markets outside the UK. While Stormzy’s smash Shut Up is huge, it’s definitely not as big as Skepta’s break-out hit is. Drake is the voice at the beginning of that track. The world beyond us enthusiasts, and UK natives would have absolutely no idea who Giggs, Sneakbo, Santan Dave and others were without Drake’s involvement. In fact, beyond Stormzy, I can’t think of many Grime or UK Hip Hop artists popping beyond the enthusiast’s ear. Has Drake helped the scene? Well, just ask Krept, of Krept and Konan.
Graham’s influence has less of an impact on Dancehall, which was and still is a huge genre worldwide. While his work with Popcaan certainly boosted the latter’s career, Drake certainly can’t, and doesn’t get any credit for blowing Dancehall up.
Teamwork Made The Dream Work
It’s clear that Drake has his finger on the pulses of fanbases worldwide, because he roped in just about everyone who has decent buzz around their names in addition to introducing the world to Giggs, Sampha and Jorja Smith. Quavo, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, PARTYNEXTDOOR and Young Thug lend incredibly focused and high-quality turns to the project. Thugger, in particular, completely outdid himself on Sacrifices. In a completely lucid and decipherable manner, Thug whips out simile after simile, following a shared flow between the eponymous 2 Chainz and Drizzy verses. It’s a surprising shout from Thugger, but when Drizzy asks you to give him a verse, you put in that work, clearly. Chainz, whose music has leveled up insanely since 2015, offers us his sharpened lyrical pen with his wry humour – “yeah I love my fans/ but I won’t take a picture in the restroom”.
Elsewhere on the project, Kanye West goes back to the Kanye who we all thought was the biggest Hip Hop artist right now and until he decided to go pro-Trump, then delete his stance, then go blonde and release more aesthetically nuanced clothing (he isn’t dope anymore, no matter how hard his fans try to sew up the Yeezy Season 3-sized holes in their arguments). A clear, concise, sufficiently braggadocious verse brings back the good ol’ days before the hair, rants and unfortunate mental breakdown (and in all honesty, The Life of Pablo and Yeezus).
Did the Project Work?
In my opinion, this project is a resounding success. Not only is it racking up numbers beyond those put up by Views in its early lifespan, it’s much, much better. I, unlike many other music fans, enjoyed and still enjoy Views. I said that it’s got some of the best production of any of Drake’s albums, and I enjoyed his sonic turns. More Life keeps everything that was good about that album, adds more verve and light to the soundscape, and gives me breaks from 22 tracks full of Aubrey by stacking the project with well-placed guest spots that are delivered with energy and flare. Quavo on Portland complements Travis Scott so well, you don’t even mind that Drizzy sounds a little uninspired. Giggs, widely derided by (surprise, surprise) American fans for having an unfamiliar flow from what ‘Murrcans are used to, like Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage, absolutely crushes his features. KMT is a towering, snarly and triumphant “fuck you” to fans who aren’t ready to take Hollow Man in. He flows with his usual paced, deliberate authority, accompanied by his classic ad-libs. He raps like a man with nothing to lose, or to prove. Truth be told, I would have thrown my phone out the window if CASisDEAD appeared after Giggs on that song. I don’t blame Americans for not liking Giggs. He’s way too cool for most of them to enjoy, anyway. Rap’s Gustavo took ownership, and that’s probably the biggest success of More Life. The features here absolutely put their best feet forward. 40 and Oliver definitely gave us an incredible palette to take in with the soundscape. Drizzy floated where he needed to and took a back seat where it was right to do so.
More Life is a success because October Firm know how to make good music for everyone to enjoy. People have said Rap Drake didn’t show up, but after Lose You, Can’t Have Everything, Free Smoke and Do Not Disturb, I can’t really take those people seriously. Just say you wanted more.
This is probably right up there with If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and Nothing Was The Same as the most listenable and wide-reaching Drake projects out. I don’t hate Take Care, but it’s certainly not as approachable as these projects are. You can dive in anywhere and enjoy yourself with these. There’s something for everyone on this, a Drake compilation of Drake songs with friends done very well. More Life has given every Drake fan, and every version of Drake, the project they deserve. I can only think the rest of Rap should follow this example going forward.
Fire Flame Emojis: 4 out of 5
Free Smoke; Portland; KMT; Teenage Fever; Glow; Can’t Have Everything; Passionfruit; Do Not Disturb