Full Disclosure: I went in to More Life expecting to hate it.
Call it a post-Views hangover, a general, hardened anti-Drake stance from years of “meh” releases or a lingering anger that he ruined a release from Future’s (first?) golden era. But Drake’s new project was so good that it made me a fan even starting from a negative position. So, imagine my surprise I emerged into the sunlight blinking and humming — it’s feature film length, after all — to find that a vast chunk of the critical and internet world pure straight hated it.
Now, there’s plenty to dislike on Life. Drake’s labeling of the project as a “playlist” is a bit of a dodge, a way to avoid the critical harshness and need for cohesion that comes with the word “album.” Like all Drake projects, it’s too long. There’s some definite filler in its 22 tracks. “No Long Talk” is so bad that I almost stopped listening.
But the hate that was spewing out from other corners of the music internet seemed too bitter and mean to come from minor squabbles about length or technicalities of classification. This Drake hate was more deep-seated than that. And certainly couldn’t be coming from a song as joyous as “Madiba Rhythm” which excised the shortcomings of Drake’s biggest hit to make a purely undeniable record. This anger and darkness wasn’t coming from Drake for once, but from somewhere inside the reviewers.
So, it leaves us with the question. What’s with all the Drake hate? And where, exactly is it coming from?
I have a few theories…
It’s Hard To Like Drake, The Man
A good bit of Drake hate stems from the fact that there is a lot to dislike about Drake as a person.
He’s working through a lot of hypocritical #VIEWpoints from his sad, triumphant perch on the CN Tower. He’s a world-traveling playboy type who expects purity from every woman he’s ever slept with. He’s a soap opera star who wants you to think he came from nothing. He’s an absolute king of throwing stones and hiding his hand, trying to play up the fact that his pain deserves sympathy while using his bully pulpit to attack less-famous rappers.
Overall, he seems like the type of person who will do and say anything in a bid to gain the world’s affection. The 6 God is more Old Testament in that he’s absolutely desperate to be liked — a fact that comes through in everything he does including his seemingly contradictory sports team affiliations.
And it’s this last bit that tends to bleed into the criticism of his music. When Drake gets his biggest hit ever on the backs of a Caribbean style of music that’s far removed from him despite Toronto’s own diversity, when he snaps up an up-and-coming rapper for a symbiotic signal boost like “Versace” or when he whips out that always ill-advised patois, we’re going to color the moves with the idea that this is Drake trying too hard to stay in our good graces.
This morphs the Drake we hold in our minds from a pop star doing what pop stars do to stay relevant — namely bending new sounds to their whims to stay in the conversation — to a malevolent schemer counting Instagram likes and reading market research data while styling himself as an underdog and an everyman. It reads as phony, and for some reason, that’s not what we want in our mass-marketed musical products.
But honestly, it’s ridiculous to think that someone as clued into hip-hop and its adjacent styles of music as Drake is wouldn’t pick up a few things here and there. Especially as he circumnavigates the globe to bring his old stuff to people live. In his own words he switches flows like he switches time zones. And anyone who can listen to “Get It Together” and feel some type of way about it is depriving themselves of joy.
Drake’s Success Is Hurting Him
Yeah, this is about to be a gussied up take on “haters gonna hate.” But it doesn’t hurt that in Drake’s case, it’s more than a little true.
Drake is — without a doubt — the biggest rapper in the world right now. And he’s in the conversation for biggest star in any genre, period. These are all great things for Drake, his extended family, Apple Music and his various weed carriers. But it’s not great for Drake musically or lyrically, because of the way Drake sees himself.
Drake likes to throw pity parties. It’s what he made a name on. And when he was a Canadian child actor attempting to make a name in the rap business, it made a little bit of sense. It doesn’t now that he’s hitting 10 billion streams.
People tuning in during drive time going to a job they hate don’t want to hear a monolithic moan like Views from someone who made more money that day than they will in their entire lives. Most rappers inherently understand that to inhabit the role of the overspender is to become a bit of a bad guy. 50 Cent made a song called “Poor Lil Rich” but he didn’t use it to complain. Instead he rapped about doing unspeakable things to your woman in a luxury car (Translated for Drake: A badman doing bad things to your bad ting).
Of course, this doesn’t really apply to More Life, whose highlights are largely airy and celebratory. So we have to think that the real reason people hate Drake is…
It has been fashionable to hate Drake from the very beginning, even if the reasoning has changed.
There were those who hated his soft and emotional style on his early mixtapes and albums — who didn’t like the weird vulnerability that Drake was injecting into a genre that was still deeply tangled in its own machismo. We assume these folks have stopped listening to new rap music entirely at this point.
There’s the people who might have thought that those early efforts were fantastic, but found later work like If You’re Reading This… and Nothing Was The Same to be corny, boring or both (guilty). Presumably there’s at least one person out there who doesn’t like that Drake used a ghostwriter. It can’t just be Meek Mill, right?
The point is, it’s always been somewhat cool to hate on Drake. And it’s entirely possible that people are coming to each new Drake release with pre-conceived bias and internalized Drizzy animus that they can’t shake long enough to give Drake a fair one.
So, we ask all More Life haters to examine their biases. Because this album features a Young Thug song that no one can make the tired “English version” joke about. Drake did that. And we owe him some recognition.