Fighter: Drake

Trainer (Gym): 40, Rake, Oliver El-Khatib (OVO Sound, Young Money, Cash Money, Republic)

Cut Men: Boi-1da, Kanye West, PartyNextDoor, S1, Vinylz, T-Minus, Allen Ritter, Akira Woodgrain,  Charlie Handsome, Chef Pasquale, Cubeatz, Deejae, FrancisGotHeat, Frank Dukes, G. Ry, Hagler, iBeatz, Jazzfeezy, M3rge, Murda Beatz, Nabeyin, Nana Rogues, Nineteen85, Noah Goldstein, Steve Samson, Stwo, Supah Mario, T0PFLR, Wallis Lane

Weight Class: Rap Heavyweight

Notable Fire: Portland (Feat. Quavo & Travis Scott), Free Smoke, Lose You

Notable Trash: Get It Together (Feat. Jorja Smith & Black Coffee), Blem

Tale Of The Tape: Following 12+ months of rumors, anticipation, and teasers, Drake released Views one year ago yesterday.

As expected, the commercial impact was gargantuan. Critically, Views was viewed as unremarkable—HHSR found the album to be less than stellar. This wasn’t unexpected given the Myles Garrett-sized expectations, but the new Canadian Crippler still had the game in the crossface.

Drake raked it all in—streams, sales, shows, records, acclaim, appearances, status, dollars. He now finds himself in a precarious position: hunger was once pervasive, it’s now elusive.

How could it not be for the most successful rapper of the last decade? His 2016 LP  wasn’t clever or consistent, yet Drake was rewarded for everything Views was supposed to be, but wasn’t. So what’s to stop him from doing the same once again?

Joe Budden caught heat from OVO defenders when he said Drizzy wasn’t evolving as an artist. If we’ve learned nothing from More Life: A Playlist By October Firm, it’s that Budden’s detractors are perhaps recoiling to a critique they know is rooted in truth.

“Free Smoke” kicks off 6 God’s fifth solo album, a track that features the aggressive bars that causes Drake fans and haters to equally clamor for more lyricism. Giving a nod to his first collab with Shawn Carter eighth years earlier, he rhymes, “I didn’t listen to Hov on that old song when he told me pay it no mind/I get more satisfaction outta goin’ at your head and seein’ all of you die/And I seen a lot of you die.” This was Drake, bragging about his scalps, while giving us a prelude of things to come.

Or so we thought.

From there, More Life quickly flips into a dance hall record. After track two (“No Long Talk”), listeners had to wait patiently for seven tracks for another traditional rap song. In the interim, there were some bright spots. “Madiba Raddim” gave fans a bit of that Wayne Wonder island vibe, while the “Jorja Interlude” (featuring Jorja Smith, a young British songstress who lands somewhere between Rihanna and Amy Winehouse), was dope, but led into the unimpressive “Get It Together”, also featuring Smith.

Interesting to note—Drake and his OVO team intentionally marketed this project as a “playlist’, as opposed to an album or LP. This gave Drake a little bit more room to freelance with this project. Not that he wouldn’t have the latitude to erect whatever dream he envisioned for More Life, but branding it as a playlist is a coy maneuver that allows him to escape expectations of crafting an album. The songs can be thrown together with as much or as little consideration as he sees fit. There’s no need for an overarching theme. Or in an effort to perhaps expand his global appeal (in lieu of expanding as an artist), Drake can feature many foreign artists like Jorja, Giggs, Sampha (again), Black Coffee, and OVO signee PartyNextDoor. There are no rules, because it’s not an “album”.

Sidebar: It also appears Drake took this opportunity to deviate from a trend of his previous albums…

Drizzy tapped some domestic friends, old and new, for features as well. Kanye West, Young Thug, Quavo, Travis Scott and 2 Chainz all made appearances. Like last year’s “Pop Style”, Drake and Kanye once again produced an underwhelming song as “Glow” did little to move the needle. The Giggs features also did little to inspire confidence in the British rap scene (he pretty much ruined “KMT”). However the features pay off as Migos front-man Quavo steals the show via catchy a verse and hook on the Murda Beatz/Cubeatz produced “Portland”, More Life‘s best song. “Portland” immediately bleeds into “Sacrifices”, a highly enjoyable record so long as you don’t focus too intently on Drake’s, Chainz’s or Thugga’s lyrics.

Beyond that there’s a lot of typical Drake. A few biting punchlines, some R&B songs, a bunch of references to love’s lost (possibly Serena and J-Lo, among others), and his mom imparting More Life advice via voicemail. He gives fans another glimmer of rapper Drake at his near-best (almost) on “Lose You” and “Can’t Have Everything”. It’s clear the man is still coming to grips with his celebrity tearing him away from his family as he enters his 30s; it must be a serious concern if it’s still weighing on him in spite of the fact that he’s been at the forefront of music for the better part of the last decade.

Fight Night: Loser By Unanimous Decision

More Life is the equivalent of a senior entering the NBA Draft— the floor is high, but the ceiling is low. While there are a handful of good songs preventing it from being a total music landfill, there are only marginal amounts of great found here. More Life is however chock-full of “aight”, and therefore doesn’t allow us to evade this simple fact: If “Portland” and “Sacrifices” is the apex of the album playlist, how good is it really? And how good is it when at no point on the album did Drake float like he floated on “Two Birds, One Stone“?

Like all Drake projects, you’ll come to appreciate it more the sooner you accept that it isn’t a true hip-hop album. And after eight years, why are we expecting anything different when this is who he’s always been? Views aged rather poorly in the one year since its release. It’s unclear how well More Life will stand the test of time, but there’s urgency with each appearance of “rapper Drake”. The fewer rap songs available indicates a premium is placed on the rap songs that are present (through the ears of rap fans anyway). Despite breaking a host of streaming records, this work has fallen short of the bar Drake has set so incredibly high for himself.

We ended our Views review by saying, “We can’t afford to have Drake swept away (into the top 40 world) in the same fashion. But if Drake’s goal truly is global domination, we’ll never see the rap heavyweight we all know is within him.” More Life is symbolic of  the path Drake has chosen: the one with global domination as his ultimate destination. It’s hard to fault him for that.