Drake wants to rule the world. Nothing has ever been more clear. Last year's Views essentially abandoned any pretense of rap ambition into a bland 'something for everyone' – really, everyone – mixture, with a bloated tracklist fit to reap streaming dollars and take advantage of the clumsy new charting system designed to embrace the same. He has only bolstered the 'playlist' (as he's insisting it be called) this time around; More Life boasts 22 tracks and clocks in at nearly a damn hour and a half.
Thankfully, he's mastered the strategy of omnipresence better this time around, offering a product relatively worth sticking through. He can't be blamed for his ambition (and possible hubris): having dominated the hip hop world on and off the charts for years, examples provided by past rap titans pretty much prove that sticking to one's guns can only keep them afloat so long. Drake has no intention of fading from sight, and has very consciously structured a plan of not just survival, but expansion, on his recent efforts.
So, essentially, any criticism one can level at More Life is irrelevant. It does exactly what it was intended to do, so on his own terms, it's a resounding success. He nimbly dances between his R&B-rap-lite signatures, dancehall, and any damn genre he can figure his way into, even finding the room to squeeze in his British BBK cohorts he couldn't manage to place on Views. Granted, it's easier to pay tribute to numerous guests on a lower pressure 'playlist' and keep everything to yourself than on a fully marketed LP, but hey, Drake plays to win.
He's lucky they're here, as the numerous guests breathe, well, more life into the absurdly long project. To his credit, he doesn't seem to mind being outshined, and gives the various featured players room to take center stage. Sampha and Skepta both receive their own songs, 2 Chainz and Young Thug make ‘Sacrifices’ an Atlanta anthem featuring Drake, and so on. Thug's features (he's given two!) feel particularly significant, as despite lingering rumors the past few years of collaborations or remixes, Drake had more or less ignored the Atlanta upstart’s rise to dominance. Thug responds to the invitation with apparent glee, testing out new flows and utterly trouncing the Toronto prince on both his appearances, making the inclusion feel a bit like a coronation of sorts.
That being said, this is still Drake's circus to run. Given the genuinely massive spread of his audience, that he manages to craft anything even resembling a cohesive statement is impressive. Yet, again, his sights are clearly set on even bigger things to come. He has once more maximized his immediate impact, throwing every possible dart at the board, but giving little thought to lasting song craft. Why bother, after all, if he'll be back with hype and heat in likely little more than a year's time? If he still resents being oft labeled the biggest rapper to ever do it without a true classic, or envies the praise heaped on the likes of Kendrick Lamar, it’s certainly no longer showing. There's more energy and care here than presented itself on Views, but it doesn't feel like an outing meant to last. Seldom are moments of true personality, most of the material sticking to the tried-and-true Drake script of ‘I felt this then, I do this now’, and the badgering of various women in his life, past and present. He flips the script with ‘Lose You’, which could be mistaken for yet another moment of his pining for a girl who somehow can't focus entirely on him, but it's a love letter to the fans. Nonetheless, a record whose most intimate insight is recounting drunk texting J Lo really isn't saying, or telling, much. There are highlights, to be sure, ‘Passionfruit’ ranks among the best grooves Drake has graced in his career, and ‘Madliba Riddim’, despite continuing his awkward insistence on appropriation, perfects sounds he'd attempted with less success on Views. The sheen doesn't last, though, and the enthusiasm they inspire on initial impression is fleeting.
Beneath their gilded surface, everything here has been explored numerous times by the man himself before, far more memorably. 'Teenage Fever' is also instantly appealing, barreling into nostalgia with its 'If You Had My Love' sample, yet, peering beneath that reveals very little. Lines here are reduced to the likes of, “God knows I'm trying,” “I might say how I feel,” and so on, exiting the mind no sooner than the song has ended. It must be repeated: Drake is doing exactly what he intends to, and succeeding greatly at it – at latest count, More Life has already trounced streaming records – and perhaps there is something to be said for an artist accepting his strengths and not forcing it. He could easily reap more years just sticking to the formula, snatching new styles from his lessers as they arise. Yet with Take Care still standing monolithic in his discography, it's hard to forget he is capable of more, as the impression that the best may indeed be behind us only grows.