A Playlist By October Firm: in which Drake adds to his already-expansive, fractured taxonomy of distribution methods (see: “retail mixtape”), and, by cooly recapturing the unfussy, dashed-off appeal of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and What a Time to Be Alive, he doubles down on the continuity and reflexiveness of his un-ending hot streak, thereby reaffirming his ascendency in the process. The album, in its cynical design and cascading cycle of hype, can’t contain Drake’s febrility, nor can it drain him of his energy. Indeed, Nineteen85 reckons that the playlist format isn’t a protracted hangover from VIEWS or a stopgap release, but instead the result of an abundance of “good ideas,” transmitted as such “without making it a big ordeal.” The Playlist is the anti-event, a testament to Drake’s consistency and workmanlike approach to his craft. He best articulates it himself: More Life means more chune for your headtop, you know?
Then again, as someone of Drake’s stature intimately knows, the anti-event is itself a signifier of ambition. Yeezus proved it, IYRTITL and WATTBA proved it. The lack of a real spectacle, as well as a performative quickness usually reserved for minor endeavors like freestyles or SoundCloud uploads, takes on its own critical edge, apropos of the rapid cultural flows facilitated by the internet. More Life had a relatively lengthy gestation period, arriving about three months after its initially speculated release date, and I get the sense that it’s more measured and crowd-sourced than either of Drake’s 2015 tapes — like, where’s “Sneakin’” at? — but its arrival as a “playlist” lends it less gravitas than the album-event, and offsets critical and commercial expectation somewhat (though, to be fair, he’s had no problem on either account). In the “playlist,” then, the locus of Drake’s branded identity undergoes an epistemic shift. His personality and ego remain, of course, but the new categorization posits Drake as an omnipresent aggregator of cultural capital — his “playlist” consolidates immediate and long-held influences alike, while enabling a more explicitly collaborative, porous modality than any previous endeavor has suggested. In short, More Life is Drake as curator.
This is not to suggest that Drake hasn’t already co-opted, or outright benefited from, the work of others. He’s always thrived on a network of contemporary sounds, be it a Gil Scott-Heron rework by Jamie xx, Just Blaze’s gospel choirs, or 40’s tried-and-true 808 ricochet. Still, for all the outside influences present in his earlier work, Drake nonetheless formulated a unique sound and perspective by the time IYRITL was rolled out, which TMTer SCVSCV characterized as a “consistency of vision that is tied to his ability to deliver an experience specific to himself.” He could fold as many other voices or producers into the alchemical smelting pot that constituted his sound, all the while sounding like nobody but himself. This is still a touchstone here, for sure, but the playlist is less an embodiment of the “experience,” Drake-playing-Drake via others, and more a headspace in which these voices, genres, and styles are given breathing room.
More Life’s curatorial outlook sees a further expansion of Drake’s sonic horizons, incorporating the usual Pan-American ingredients — trap kits via Atlanta, dancehall via Jamaica, etc. — alongside an appreciation for the UK’s grime scene and South African house, among others. Accordingly, the playlist runs the aural (and emotional) gamut across its 22 tracks, with stoic Drizzy bangers “Free Smoke” and “Gyalchester” slotting alongside contemplative, sad-boy posturing (“Nothings Into Somethings,” “Teenage Fever”) and ebullient reach (“Portland” featuring Quavo and Travis Scott, the Kanye link-up “Glow”). Drake even diverts course and vanishes entirely on a couple of tracks, “4422” and “Skepta Interlude:” on the former, it is Sampha’s multi-tracked voice that pierces the bleary apparition of an instrumental; on the latter, Skepta lurches into a quasi-grime track that might’ve figured nicely as an addendum to his own record, last year’s Konnichiwa.
Drake’s reticence to even show up is matched by a restrained easiness on the mic when he actually does. Never straying too far off-brand, he musters up a few provocative bars — he’s kissing his teeth here, taking a subtle dig at XXXtentacion there — but the overall performance is less terse than it was on VIEWS. “Free Smoke’s” willful boasting of Dom Rosé toasts and silk pajamas is gleefully inflected, eschewing Drake’s usual dourness; a lifestyle well-deserved, the come-up complete. Elsewhere, he’s open and honest, lamenting his fame on “Lose You:” “People like you more when you workin’ towards somethin’, not when you have it.” Of course, this is nothing new; Drake’s shtick has always been vested in the soft-hard, sing-rap dynamic. Nevertheless, this directness is a welcome return following VIEWS’s internally-coiled, shrink-wrapped angst, acknowledged as such on the final track: “I was an angry yute when I was writin’ VIEWS, saw a side of myself that I just never knew.” Plain admission aside, there’s a broad sense that More Life is a tacit mea culpa of sorts, a corrective to the icy distance elicited by his previous album. Drake re-establishes the critical connection by effortlessly cycling through the modes; we share in his joy, get all in our (his) feelings, and so on.
On the concept of the curatorial, Aneta Szylak proposes a system of contextual implication and interactivity that reciprocates those who are included in it, however peripheral they seem. There are elements of this in More Life: different cultural contexts and histories intermingle and play off one another, contributing to the grander schema of the playlist; the lesser-known artists get a heavily expanded outreach and a few extra streams to boot. Detractors might regard this curatorial bent as a coded gesture, a matter of bandwagon-hopping, wave-riding, or otherwise biting predominant or underground styles, in a bid for endless relevance. Yet Drake never once forsakes the self-reflexive, paradoxical ego that made him interesting and engaging to begin with, and in the genealogy of Drake releases, this playlist has more in common with the varied, outward-looking bounce of Take Care than VIEWS’s wearisome opulence, and that can only be a good thing. For a moment, maybe he did lose us, outpaced by self-perpetuated hype and lost in rebounding streams of content. Thankfully, More Life is Drizzy’s homecoming, a vocalization of the heart in his heartless world, and a veritable return to form for it. Welcome back to the Firm.