Don’t call Drake’s More Life an album; its artwork explicitly announces itself as a ‘playlist.’ With 22 very stream-able tracks and a distinct Caribbean flavor, it’s possibly Aubrey Graham’s boldest release to date. That’s if, of course, you remember that it isn’t an album.
But what is an album nowadays? A sweeping glance at culture won’t give you an answer, but one at the very least gathers that the music industry is changing, and doing so at an electrifyingly fast rate. The album—especially within the hip-hop community—has mutated, and in a sense, distanced itself from its origins. The standard, single-driven promotional formula that served musicians so well in the past now feels dated and unexciting. What does it mean, then, when Beyoncé drops a visual album without any prior promotion, when Chance wins a Best Rap Album Grammy for a mixtape, or when Kanye refuses to leave his record alone, constantly uploading revisions and reworkings of it online? It means that music–commodified, packaged, marketed–has expanded its capacity and scope in the age of Spotify, refusing to be bound by tradition. It recognizes that things can’t possibly remain the same when piracy makes music more rampantly accessible than ever, when anyone with a computer can hop onto the torrent wave and sail the seven seas.
This brings us back to More Life. Its ‘playlist’ label certainly carries with it some connotations. One conjures up the image of a pubescent high school boy, a quintessential teenage dirtbag, curating a collection of obscure, poignant ballads for that girl he’s infatuated with but doesn’t know he exists. Sometimes that body of work will have a theme, sometimes it won’t. Drake’s playlist is more of the latter: it lacks any kind of narrative, focusing instead on individual moments and experiences, as any good playlist does. This doesn’t mean it’s sonically uneven though. Each track, from the introspective dancehall riddim Passionfruit to the casually fluent Sacrifices, bleeds naturally into the song that follows it. That Drake is able to balance this range of ideas with auditory clarity is astounding.
Get It Together is one other standout–more dynamic, I would argue, than Passionfruit or Fake Love. Gratuitously featuring the vocals of Jorja Smith, it feels more like her track. The same thing happens on 4422, where Drake gives the whole song to Sampha. And that’s where More Life gets interesting. October’s Very Own has no problems sliding into the backseat and letting his guests take the wheel. He nonchalantly shares the reins on his own release, so that in the end we don’t just have one voice to listen to, but multiple. The playlist, then, is not centered around a single musician; Drake is secure enough to invite everyone—even Kanye West—to the party. He knows that in this age of compromised attention spans and quick multitasking, he’s got to keep things fresh. Besides, what kind of playlist is made up of 22 tracks by the same artist?2016 saw Lemonade and Endless go the visual album route, while The Life of Pablo, Coloring Book, and ANTI found a home in streaming. Now, we have More Life, as if we once more need to reconfigure the way we digest our jams. It is hence a project that further expands what music in 2017 could be—less formal, more inclusive; released not as a compact disc or an iTunes exclusive, but as a freely available, ready-to-stream playlist. This benefits Drake in two ways: with a tracklist that is not only longer but more diversified, he gets to careen between all manifestations of himself, and pander to as many audiences as possible, increasing the number of streams. Moreover, by putting it out there for everybody to hear, he doesn’t release his work at a limited premium, thereby restricting first listens to a select few, à la some of his peers. Because, with all due respect to the Carters, Tidal is never going to happen. Music belongs to everybody, even the ones who can’t pay for it.
So is the traditional album still a viable way to package music? Bey begs to differ when she proclaims that she “changed the game with that digital drop.” Maybe things will lapse once more back into the regular scheme of things, or maybe we’re living in a transitional period, where music is undergoing the adjustments necessary to achieve some yet unrealized form. More Life is not concerned with this however, content to provide us with a 1 hour, 20-minute odyssey through the fragmented pathos that is Drake. You gotta love how he wraps up that journey: “Takin’ summer off, ’cause they tell me I need recovery / Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me / I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary / More Life.”