“I get a blank page when I try to draw a comparison/I’m getting straight to the point with it,” rapped Drake on the title track of last year’s blockbuster VIEWS. Sadly, his much-hyped fourth studio album was too-often exactly the opposite: needlessly long and just like his previous work. Had hip-hop’s reigning prince finally lost his throne? The largely excellent, explorative, and energized More Life offers a clear answer: no, he has not. And don’t you dare suggest otherwise.
A large part of the creative resurgence More Life represents can be credited to Jamaican dancehall. Though Drake sipped from the Caribbean cocktail in 2016—“One Dance”, “Work”, “Too Good”—he downs the whole damn pitcher in 2017 with more than five tracks featuring tropical influences. New single “Passionfruit”, with the lyrics “Listen/Hard at buildin’ trust from a distance/I think we should rule out commitment for now/Cause we’re falling apart” is yet another ode to commitment and trust issues—a trope used all-too-frequently by Drizzy, to be sure, but somehow unusual enough to be fresh when backed by Hotline Bling-esque pan flute and cool drums. Drake’s singing continues throughout the dancehall tracks on More Life, notably on the best one-two punch on the album, where the rollicking guitars and calypso claps of standout “Madiba Riddim” transport you straight to the tropics before you’re thrown into a Caribbean winter with the frosty, All-Night-Long-sampling “Blem.” British dancehall also winds through the album with the weight room banger “No Long Talk”, one of two duets with London rapper Giggs and a chance for Toronto-born Drake to (somewhat pathetically) attempt patois, and an unbelievably groovy afrobeat cover of Black Coffee’s “Superman” by UK singer-songwriter Jorja Smith called “Get It Together.” Though it’s easy to assume Drake is just a spiteful, defensive rapper after listening to VIEWS—and indeed, he says as much in album closer Do Not Disturb (“I was an angry youth when I was writin’ VIEWS/Saw a side of myself I just never knew”)—these tracks finally show him the same way his Instagram does: relaxed, happy, and actually having fun.
Though attention is frequently showered on Drake’s semi-recent incorporation of tropical dancehall beats into his music, his well-documented love for the UK has an equally as important influence on More Life—both because of the the country’s Caribbean-inspired slang and its homegrown artists. On standout “4422”, British singer Sampha’s fragile voice is a fountain of emotion as he mourns a failing long-distance relationship between himself and a girl from his hometown of Sierra Leone—Freetown’s area code is 44 while the United Kingdom holds the country code 22. Over plaintive piano and spacious electronic beats, he laments his partner’s refusal to work for their relationship—“44, 22/You build it up to break it halfway through/Just make the call, 22/But you’re just the same as I ever knew”—but, in what could be one of several religious nods on the album, may reveal his forgiveness through the title if it’s interpreted as a reference to Isaiah 44:22. London rapper Skepta, with whom Drizzy remixed Wizkid’s “Ojulegba” in 2015, also receives his own track and wields his thickly accented rhymes—“Died and came back as Fela Kuti” is surely the most obvious example—like a dagger with which he punches through a pulsing, grimy beat ripped straight from London’s underground clubs. Even the Manchester-inspired “Gyalchester”, which sounds like it was booted from VIEWS on non-6-centered name basis alone, sounds, if not fresh, at least edible sandwiched between these bite-sized pieces of foreign cultures.
Of course, even these new influences can’t keep a Drake album from being, well… savage. Drizzy uses the critical disappointment of VIEWS and subsequent insults from other artists as fuel for his fire and spins out some of his best disses to date—yes, including “Back to Back.” The entire album opens with Drake seemingly innocently recounting his rise to the top before brutally attacking Tory Lanez, Meek Mill, and notably Kid Cudi (“Please come outside and show yourself/So I can say it to your face” he smirks in response to Cudi Tweeting Drake to make his infamous comments about Cudi’s mental health struggles to his face) on “Free Smoke”, a boast about his ability to lyrically murder artists that oppose him. Though Tory and Drake’s feud is a relatively new one, he again lashes out at the younger Canadian on the deeply personal standout “Do Not Disturb” with the declaration, “If we do a song it’s like takin’ my kids to work with me/You overnight celebrity, you one day star/Swear I Told You that I’m in this bitch for eternity/I am a reflection of all your insecurities/Behind closed doors, a lot of 6 God worshipping/Done talk now, ‘cause there’s other shit that’s concernin’ me.” Enough said. And, last but certainly not least, Meek Mill continues to be Drake’s favorite punching bag on “Can’t Have Everything”: “Tell your big homie I’m all for goin’ there again/He ain’t even die and I ball with his inheritance/All that’s in my account at the bank of America.” At the end of the track, however, Drake includes a touching voicemail from his mom in which she expresses concern and disappointment over his public feuds and says, “I know you can reach your desired destination and accomplish your goals much more quickly without this confrontation I’m hearing in your tone these days. When others go low, we go high”—a possible indication he’s ready to fully fall into the Caribbean bliss and ignore the haters.
Though More Life is extremely long—22 tracks in total—it is absolutely packed with rhymes, rhythms, and, unusually for Drake, relaxation. With fun tracks like bouncy Young Thug duet “Ice Melts”—the type of positive ode to love that could only be another one of Drake’s D.R.A.M. knockoffs—and the highly anticipated Kanye collaboration “Glow”, which contains an incredible “Gold Digger” reference in the line “Used to work the fries/Now we supersized” rounding out the playlist, Drake shows off the much needed range VIEWS lacked and proves himself worthy of hip-hop’s throne once again. Who knew all he had to do was escape the 6?