If you’re the sort of person who thinks that the worst part of a Drake album is Drake, you’ll love More Life. There are long stretches where Drake simply disappears. U.K. grime artist Skepta gets his own track, as does beautifully wounded R&B crooner Sampha. The shuffling U.K. funk of “Get It Together” features Drake only briefly, and primarily as a baritone counterpoint to the jazzy inflections of Jorja Smith. For long stretches of the collection, Drake is content to wander the catacombs of his billion-square-foot mansion, while his friends stay above-ground, sipping acacia mimosas around the pool and pointing their iPhones at one another. It makes for a fun party.
Yes, there are still Drake’s tortured-godhead delusions, the awkward therapy-raps, and his famed faceplant similes (exhibit 1: “I’m grateful like Jerry, Bob, and Mickey”), but we also get to hear 2 Chainz blurrily quip, “I love my fans, but I don’t want to take pictures in the restroom,” a line that constitutes the most pointed commentary on outsized fan expectations since Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music.
This is among the best of Drake’s clumping-tracks-together things, and that’s very much because More Life is consciously a “playlist.” This isn’t a “low stakes” gambit or a cheap marketing gimmick (at least not entirely), but an honest engagement with a new form. It was informed by Drake’s involvement on the OVO Sound radio show for Apple Music. In fact, Drake told DJ Semtex that he imagined More Life as an episode of that show.
But what makes More Life a good playlist? How do we even judge such things? When critics review albums, focus is given on consistency, with the work being the sum of its parts. This is true whether the album is intended to be coherent piece of work (see: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly or Beyoncé’s Lemonade), or a collection of songs (see: Justin Bieber or Pitbull). There’s the expectation that everything is there for a reason.
More Life is looser and more meandering, and sometimes the individual components seem slight and tertiary. But it captures a moment, a feeling, and a place. Outros stretch and breathe (as on god-status track “Passionfruit”), while sampled dialogue bits are strung together—not so much to form a ramshackle narrative or even a running meta-commentary (a la De La Soul’s classic albums), but to reflect a vibe. More Life is a long weekend at the beach spent counting clouds and taking inventory of idle distractions. In this sense, it doesn’t so much resemble a mixtape, or a crew compilation album (like JAY Z’s The Dynasty: Roc La Familia), as it does a mood playlist. It’s audio wallpaper, in the best sense.
While Drake delivers on the mic—his lead-off verse over the icy flute trap of “Portland” is an obvious standout—there’s no mind-bending “King Kunta”-level/David-Blaine-on-the-mic classic moments™, and that doesn’t matter here. More Life is enjoyable and, as anyone who listens to a lot of classic albums knows, enjoying music trumps appreciating it—and this release is infinitely better than any other non-sweater-meme Drake release in years. For that, we can thank the generations of mixtape compilers, playlist curators, radio DJs, and compilation creators for helping define this new form. But, most of all, we should thank Drake for getting that the lines between artist, audience, critic, and curator are porous, and for making an initial foray into what this intersection looks like. And, of course, for understanding that you should always invite 2 Chainz to a pool party. — Sam Chennault