Things are complicated between me and Drake, and judging from the subject matter of a vast majority of his songs that is probably the way he likes it. I thought of this as I lay in bed listening to More Life the morning after it was released. (I probably would have listened to it as soon as it hit the Internet but I had belated St. Paddy’s Day plans the night before). I was excited about a new Drake album…er playlist. So excited in fact that I signed up for Apple Music in case it was a streaming exclusive (and quickly got rid of it a few days later when it messed with my meticulously organized iTunes library).
I’ve been a fan of Drake since around 2009 when I heard “Best I Ever Had”. I even paid thirty dollars (twenty plus a cab ride) to see him stand behind a velvet rope at Club One and possibly indulge in some soon to be not illegal substance…(…thanks Trash…). No one should ever pay thirty dollars to go to Club One but to be fair, it was during the Junos in 2010, just before Thank Me Later dropped and my friend heard he would be performing there. I felt like that was too good to be true, but I also knew this former Degrassi star was going to blow up and this was my chance to potentially see him perform in a small club. Drake didn’t take the stage that night; at least not as long as we stayed there (and to my knowledge we stayed until close).
The disappointment did not stop me from picking up Thank Me Later the day it came out, in fact, I’ve done that with every Drake release since. The complicated relationship with Drake isn’t just because I paid to see him stand behind a rope and get talked up by dudes who wanted to be cool and ladies who wanted to be the subject of one of his songs. The complicated relationship that I have with Drake actually comes from the music itself. While so many of the songs in his discography stand out to me and even have some significant meaning, I cannot say the same for any of his albums.
I thought “Best I Ever Had” was almost like nothing I’d heard before. In “Fear”, Drake raps I never cried when Pac died/But I probably will when Hov does” which resonated with me because I have little connection to 2Pac and JAY Z is one of my favorite artists of all time. What resonated even more with me on that song are the lines “And my uncle ain’t even messaging me/And him missing in my life is kind of messing with me,” which hit way close to home. “Over” was on the soundtrack of 64 Crosbie. I intensely rap along to “Take Care” even while on a treadmill at the gym. I can imagine “Hold On We’re Going Home” playing at my hypothetical wedding. I danced like Drake in “Hotline Bling” even before I saw Drake do it. I have turned my birthday into a lifestyle (#KRISmas) just like he suggests in “Pop Style” and I am “Too Good” for you… For the last eight years, Drake has been a constant part of the soundtrack to my life yet none of his albums have left a lasting impression on me.
In case you haven’t read any of my previous articles on Tint of Ink, or you just randomly picked up reading this one five paragraphs in, music is pretty important to me. Certain albums mean a personal connection whether it be U2’s Achtung Baby, JT’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, Kanye’s Yeezus, Alanis’ Jagged Little Pill, or Beyoncé’s Lemonade. (The list could go on and on). Despite my love for Drake and my excitement for his new releases, none of his albums have managed to leave a lasting impression on me. In fact, despite getting every new Drake on the day it is released, I’m always a little bit disappointed in the final product. To be honest, I can’t even name the songs or regurgitate the tracklist running order from either one.
Some of Drake’s offerings have had more longevity on my iPod but they all sort of end up falling by the wayside. While Views was the number one selling album of 2016, it wasn’t that memorable. Again, I bought it on iTunes the morning it was released and enjoyed what I heard and then I sort of just forgot about it. Yet, Views contained some of my favorite songs from last year: “One Dance”, “Too Good”, “Hotline Bling” (OK… that was 2015 but it shows up as a bonus) and “Pop Style” (even if the album version does not feature Kanye and that one bar from Jay). Think about this, I just listed four very good singles and there are a few more enjoyable album cuts like “Grammys” featuring Future (which is sadly not an ode to my grandmother) and “With You” featuring PARTYNEXTDOOR. More than a half-dozen enjoyable songs on one album yet I didn’t love Views. What?!
I will say that timing matters too when it comes to having an album really connect with you. I guess maybe I wasn’t ready for new Drake at the time. Lemonade was just about the only thing I was listening to. When Drake released the mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, I listened to it once, was underwhelmed and went right back to being immersed in U2 as I was gearing up to see them in concert that summer. It wasn’t until much later in the year when I was running through the 709 with my woes that I gave the mixtape another chance and enjoyed it much more. Just a few seconds into the first track “Legend” and I was thinking “I’m sorry I didn’t give this a chance Drake.”
I have had the same problem with all of Drakes other albums and mixtapes; all these really good songs on one offering and I still don’t love it. Does it even matter? While I’d argue that albums matter and you should listen to them start to finish since that is the way the artist intended the project to be heard, maybe it doesn’t matter? Since Views, Drake has become the king of streaming, and after More Life is the undisputed champ breaking streaming records on both Spotify and Apple Music. People are obviously listening and enjoying. Maybe Drake knows that people will stream the bits they like and it doesn’t matter that the album is a bit long or is made up of many different sounds and genres.
Maybe in the age of streaming, there is something smart about making a collection of songs and presenting it as an album versus a cohesive unit that has an overarching theme. Maybe Drake knows that mixing dancehall with rap with R&B and anything in between is the way to go because people stream songs and make playlists and they want variety and different subject matter. Where Lemonade tells a story (using a variation of just about every music genre), Drake tells a variety of stories with a variety of sounds. There seems to be merit in both approaches. Perhaps Drake called More Life a playlist because it was just that, a collection of tracks by Drake, featuring other artists and genres.
I would give many of the same criticisms to More Life that I would to Drake’s other offerings but it is certainly an improvement on Views. It is a little long but he doesn’t seem as paranoid and “emo” and the things he did right on that album are improved upon for this playlist. The fun dancehall sounds we heard on “One Dance” carry over with “Passionfruit”, there seems to be some exploration of African music, the removal of Kanye on Views is rectified with “Glow” which showcases both rappers at their best which is at times, really autotuned singers, HE EVEN COVERS THE CHORUS OF JLO’S “IF YOU HAD MY LOVE” on “Teenage Fever”. The theme of paranoia is also revisited on “Fake Love” which is better than the songs that deal with the same subject on Views. “Hermès link, ice-blue mink” from “Gyalchester” gets stuck in my head as does just about everything in “Ice Melts” featuring Young Thug. Oh! And my niece guests on “Get It Together” (shout out to Jorja Smith!) ***
Drake seems to use More Life as a showcase of all the things he can do and that we shouldn’t box him into any genre because he will go left and surprise us with something else. He called this release a playlist instead of a mixtape as if he knows it will find most of its success through streaming. He even has interludes (spoken or performed) as if they were ads running on your free Spotify account. The 6 God knows he is the Stream King and he seems to be running with it.
Almost two weeks since its release and More Life is sitting better with me than perhaps any of Drake’s other offerings. It is a good spring time release that makes me maybe a little too nostalgic at times with some lyrics and themes but also excited for the summer because of the music and vibes. I also recognize that this is all subjective and if you’re reading this (and it isn’t too late), you might disagree completely and have a very deep connection to one or all of Drake’s albums just as I do with the ones I listed earlier. I welcome More Life as my current soundtrack and hope that it makes my relationship with Drake a little less complicated since we both could use a little less complication.
***Not the same Jorja Smith but still kind of cool.