Drake has done it again. On Saturday he kept his promise and delivered his playlist More Life. The 22-track project has quickly become polarizing, like all things Drake, and divided fans and detractors immediately. The numbers are coming in and they’re huge, of course, and no matter what, More Life will be labeled a success by Drizzy and his team once it starts breaking streaming records and collecting plaques.
Hate it or love it, Drake’s latest project leaves no confusion, he’s now a man of many hats and he wears them all, never quite fusing the sounds but hopping between all of them. But for his fans, this could actually pose a problem, particularly for rap fans who may not be as drawn to his pop sound as the rest of the world.
While some may view Drake’s labeling More Life a playlist as an escape of the critical scrutiny ascribed to albums in lieu of the liberties given when an artists drops a leisurely mixtape, but that’s probably not the case. Designating it a “playlist” simply gives him the freedom to release a non-cohesive, scatter plot of an album, where he essentially threw all his darts at the board at the same time looking to cover as much ground as possible. This might work well in the streaming era to boost his numbers, but as the critical reaction to both Views and this new project — call it whatever you want — reveals, it’s not as effective when it comes to album-making.
In this sense, Drake has decided to become Wal-Mart, a one-stop shop where someone can buy socks and a car stereo, and while they may be better served buying their socks from Stance.com and their stereo from a specialty shop the convenience of getting them both from one place helps them excuse mediocre quality. For Drake and Wal-Mart, that type of variety allows for a bigger share of the consumers, and for an artist or chain where consumption is the be all end all, that’s a victory. This is where art and commerce begin to butt heads — Wal-Mart is not the kind of comparison a rapper really wants people to be making. Most rappers are more equivalent to specialty, high-end stores, or they try to be.
The dynamic this has created for Drake is one where every album, playlist, or random collection of songs, features something for everybody, but nothing for everybody. What all consensus classic albums seem to have is some sort of cohesion, either sonically or narratively, and in some cases both. Drake’s latest outings have neither. Instead, pockets of songs sound different, and tell completely separate stories all meant to be appreciated by completely separate groups of fans. He is using every color on his palette, even if he never blends them to make new colors.
In that way, Drake is a victim of his own success. Once the sound of “Hotline Bling,” a track released at random, amongst two other new songs, including his much anticipated response to Meek Mill, “Charged Up,” shot up the charts, whether he liked it or not he was now married to that sound. After “Work” with Rihanna and “One Dance” both topped Billboard‘s Hot 100, he had no choice but to continue the trend and on More Life he does exactly that.
Now, it may be time for the 6 God to finally act upon all of that separation by releasing separate albums. It’s time for Pop Drake and Rap Drake to split up. If he needs inspiration for the possible split he needs to look no further than his What A Time To Be Alive partner Future, who just masterfully grasped the concept with his back-to-back No. 1 albums Future and HNDRXX. By dividing his own alter-egos, Future was able to appease fans of both sounds, and artistically dive into both worlds organically. Future zipped through an album of Trap-rap, then slowly waltzed through another of woozy love ballads and tales of heartbreak, and in doing so, he won a lot of fans back over and demonstrated both personal growth and self-awareness.
It’s the type of separation Drake could use, because even though he isn’t actually becoming a completely separate artist, the concept of splitting the two halves and placing them in two entirely different spaces allows for more cohesion and gives the fans the option to specialize. More Life was already 22 tracks, and adding previous releases like “Sneakin” with 21 Savage and the controversial “2 Birds 1 Stone” would beef the playlist up to 24 tracks, more than enough for two albums. But keeping them all together he’s created a bloated album that most fans are going to Frankenstein into their own creation anyways. If Drake cared artistically — and he may not at this point — two albums is the way to sure up his problems. For those rap fans begging for a classic full of the type of pseudo-agressive rapping from tracks like “Free Smoke” or “Lose You” but miffed by Caribbean pop songs like “Get It Together” or “Passionfruit,” this would allow them to skip the latter and appreciate the former in their own little bubble.
For Drake, his decision to simply toss all of his songs from different places simply makes for a disjointed effort, where each song is somehow good but ill-fitting. It’s purposeful, seemingly meant to mimic an episode of OVO Sound, where any sound can pop up at any time, and on More Life, exciting rap runs are interrupted — quite literally — by rants by Drake’s friends, or interludes and standalone verses from other artists, only to suddenly return to something else. But mostly leaving out fans of Rap Drake, and his brief If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late era, is cutting him off from part of his fanbase. These jagged edges wouldn’t be necessary if each approach was divided properly. He has teased an all R&B album before, and now placing the softer tones on the same disc as his island-infused, euro pop songs only makes sonic sense.
Giving each album its own week would also give the music time to breathe on its own as well. Currently on iTunes the bouncy “Portland” with Travis Scott and Quavo sits next to “Passionfruit” on the top songs chart, signaling the divide the dual approaches cause between fans.
Later on in the chart is “Free Smoke” followed by the Jennifer Lopez-sampling “Teenage Fever.” Clearly fans are showing up for both Pop Drake and Rap Drake, but they’re essentially splitting the vote, not allowing either to thrive at optimal levels, instead settling into somewhere in the middle.
Yes, by every sales and steaming metric Drake’s More Life will be a success. With his prime placement at Apple, and his ever-growing popularity that success will be unavoidable and maybe even a tad skewered. But if Drake wants the critical acclaim that has eluded him outside of his circle of friends it may be time to specialize and hone in on his audiences instead of widening the aim and casting a large net. With his approach as of late it seems he thinks his fans want a Hometown Buffet-type option where there’s a little bit of everything but he doesn’t have the time or focus to zero in on any one thing. In doing so, he’s cheapened himself and the only way to rectify the situation might be to rebrand himself and start cooking filet mignon.
If he even cares.