There is a term in finance called “the law of diminishing returns”, and, were it put into musical terms, I feel it is a term that applies to Drake. Drake was a breath of fresh air when he first started making waves around 2009, and there was something appealing about his moody introspection. But now, having reached his fifth studio album (and that isn’t even to mention his five mixtapes and two projects as part of Young Money), the appeal that was there to begin with has, as the term suggests, diminished.
Now, you may ask, if that is the case, then isn’t any artist that has been around for the same time (or even longer) a victim of this too? To that, I say no. Because really, and this may just be me, but I’m not seeing any development from him as an artist. I can’t really find much to distinguish many of his albums from one another, and if I were to return to his older albums, I don’t think I would see the original appeal of them simply due to his oversaturation in the music scene right now.
And that would almost be fine, but given how influential Drake is, every artist wants to sound like him. That isn’t Drake’s fault after all. I mean, who doesn’t want to jump on an easily reproducible sound that is big in the current moment? But the thing is, to be a truly great artist, you have to keep reinventing yourself. Perhaps not everyone I should say, there are some artists who have such an iconic sound that they can get away with repetition. Drake, though, isn’t one of those artists. There’s nothing particularly amazing about his sound, which means that he is a guy that would have to change his sound up to be remembered as a truly great artist a decade or so after he has finished making music. But his stubbornness in keeping to this sound (which is understandable given the continuing success he has had) means he’s back there with the rest of the pack, with nothing to tell him apart other than name value.
Maybe if there is one album of his that stands out from the rest, it would be “Views”, his album prior to this one. The reason that one stands out to me though is a negative one – the lyrics. Oh boy, you should have listened to some of the bars he dropped on that one, even the most dedicated Drake fans couldn’t forgive them. There is “Chaining Tatum” to the “Chrysler and Bentley” line to the “Cheesecake Factory” story, and there’s so much more.
And the worst thing of all is that he was saying it with a straight face as if this was really serious to him. At least when someone like Macklemore is being corny, he completely owns it, but it sounds like some of the cringeworthy lines he dropped on “Views” he thought were absolute fire.
The music on "Views" is worthy of a mention as well. It was probably his most dull album in that sense, and there wasn’t all that much for me to get myself into. I actually enjoyed his dancehall songs the most from that album, “One Dance” and “Controlla”. But while Macklemore is still in your mind, that raises the question – why is Macklemore’s rapping cultural appropriation (a point which I definitely appreciate, but doesn’t really impact my view on his music), while the same people seem to let Drake’s use of Jamaican slide uncriticised? I’ve been reading about this a little recently, and while that whole topic is well beyond this review and I don’t give any answers here, it turns out, in Drake’s hometown of Toronto, “Caribbean culture has seeped into many aspects of mainstream language, food, and music” (https://genius.com/a/is-drake-s-dancehall-obsession-homage-or-exploitation). I won’t harp on about that too much though, because if it really is as prevalent in Toronto culture as I’ve read it is, then maybe he is just paying homage to it.
And that all leads us to this new album. Or mixtape. Or playlist. Honestly, I don’t know what it is, I’ve seen it marketed a few ways, but I’ll go with the latter. Nineteen85, who frequently works with Drake says “he’s [Drake's] trying to call it a playlist because he has a bunch of people in a space, hanging out…. He’s so aware of what everybody else is doing musically that he likes to introduce new music and new artists to the rest of the world” (https://genius.com/albums/Drake/More-life). Honestly, I’m not really seeing the difference between this and an album, other than maybe Drake’s PR team trying to spin that he is taking advantage of how people currently listen to music through streaming services and that this transcends a typical album and is changing the way we listen to music, or some crap like that.
And in reference to his use of Jamaican culture in his music, we have the title “More Life”, which is a song from dancehall artist Vybz Kartel. And it’s just great to see Drake shine a spotlight on lesser-known artists and give them some attention… *checks Vybz Kartel’s “More Life” streaming numbers on Spotify*… or not.
Having heard the song that, at least in some way, inspired this album, I can see a connection. The phrase “more life” is the first half of the Jamaican phrase “more life, more strength”, which is “a phrase used to wish someone well”. And I can see how this threads through the album, giving it a concept of a vague sort.
And, pretty much as expected, “More Life” is a step up from “Views”.
But elsewhere though, I’m not seeing the appeal of what turned out being a very average album.
I mean, I see some potential here. I think it has all the hallmarks of being a good album without actually being one. You have a more cohesive “storyline” (for lack of a better word), some features from highly esteemed artists (the Sampha and Young Thug features really caught my eye on the first look at the track listing) and the album is “serious” in a way, or to phrase it another way, he was trying to deliver a message with it. But it never gets there.
And before we go further, I can see why these featuring artists are needed, and that is because he seems so desperately out of ideas at this point that he needs to bring some other people along to add some new perspective to his droning.
For many of the songs here, I just don’t have all that much to say about them just because there are so many tracks that lack a standout quality.
We get an unexpected intro on “Free Smoke”, a brag track which I can’t take all that seriously because he keeps saying “Free Shmoke” in the chorus with an “h”. You could call that a minor thing to fuss over, but it is stuck right there in the chorus so you have to go through it a couple of times. There are some decent bars here which cast a light on his public life, but at this stage, this album/playlist feels like a mixtape in terms of vocal delivery.
“Passionfruit” sounds simple, almost like YouTube tutorial music (thanks to TheDoubleAgent for making that observation), albeit YouTube tutorial music with high-quality production values. It has a calming mood which the rest of the album strives for but just doesn’t achieve. I can see why it was made the lead single.
It also has a cool play on words, with the first three lines of the chorus using words which start with “pass”. The track overall isn’t setting my world on fire, but it is one of the highlights of the album.
It is nice to hear Sampha’s voice on “4422” (whose album I hope to review eventually), it is a voice that I would like to hear on more features. It’s just a shame that the rest of the song is as dull as a doorknob.
I’m happy when “Skepta Interlude” plays, because it feels like I’m listening to another (better) album at that point. It’s just a shame that it isn’t any longer.
And that really was a problem that by the halfway point of this album, it still hadn’t left any impression on me. It was just another instance of “okay, Drake is doing this again, going through the motions” and it just feels like a journey I had taken too many times before.
It was at this point where I had a look to see what was yet to come, and I remembered that the Young Thug features were yet to happen. I was looking forward to them because he tends to add a little lunacy to the songs he features on, but he is incredibly subdued on “Sacrifices”. He is almost indistinguishable from Drake here, and it is almost as if Drake gave Young Thug instructions to be as tame as possible just so he isn't outshone by his featuring artist. Maybe this is just Drake dragging everyone down to his level.
I would have liked “Teenage Fever”, but then this bizarre J-Lo lyric sample pops up and it just doesn’t feel right.
“KMT” is just crap. The acronym is reminiscent of a lyric used by Jennifer Hudson in that Iggy Azalea song. It sounded stupid then, and it doesn’t sound any less stupid now. Giggs drops some pretty shoddy bars as well.
There is a segment at the end of “Can’t Have Everything” that sounds like it is trying to be “Be Yourself” from Frank Ocean’s “Blonde”. You know, just worse though.
I really don’t like Kanye’s flow on “Glow”, especially the way he incorporates the names of past songs (both from himself and Drake) into his verses. As a side note, that may the one main problem I have with Kanye’s music. Almost all of his solo stuff is excellent, but his features aren’t all that memorable for the most part. Other than that, I don’t mind the outro of that song.
“Fake Love” is the worst here, he just sounds awful and incredibly whiny. I still dislike it quite a bit, but most of the songs on the record aren’t much better.
Young Thug starts to sound more like his regular self on “Ice Melts” (still not entirely though), but by that point, it’s too little, too late. At the very least though, it is one of the better songs on the album, and I like the production values on show.
“Do Not Disturb”, the final song on the record, is actually a really well-written song that draws me in, it’s almost as if he (or his ghostwriters) turn the pen into a wand for the 5-minute duration of this track and I only wish there was a lot more of that on the album. It just leaves me thinking about how much better this album could have been if there were more of that.
I think there are some obvious areas for improvement, at least for me anyway.
One, I want to hear something other than his dull droning and humming next time. I’m still confused as to how his monotonous monotone became the sound that everyone fell in love with.
Two, he just needs to make more concise and focused albums rather than these 20-song long projects. It would just pack more of a punch as these last couple of projects just seem to drag on and on. It’s all about making an impact, and I think shorter, sharper ideas could go a long way.
I thought I might get something different from Drake, considering the title of the album, because you’d think for an album that has the word “life” in the title, he’d actually show some of it. Unfortunately, we got “More Life-less” in the end.
FAV TRACKS: PASSIONFRUIT, SKEPTA INTERLUDE, ICE MELTS, DO NOT DISTURB
LEAST FAV TRACK: FAKE LOVE
5/10Last edited: 11.05.2017 15:10