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May 8, 2017

A track-by-track breakdown of Drake’s new project

Hail Merry/Flickr

On March 18, Drake premiered his highly anticipated “More Life” project on episode 39 of OVO Sound Radio. Neither an album nor a mixtape, he titled it, “More Life: A Playlist by October Firm.” I was on a Greyhound back from New York when I first listened to it, tuning into OVO Sound Radio via that stuttering Greyhound Wi-Fi. Listeners were treated to a voicemail from the dinner table in London, Drake was giving thanks to everyone who worked on the project, and wishing everyone “more life.” It sounded like he was in a good place, like he’d shed some of the anger from the “Views” days.

So, let’s get into it. 22 tracks. “Fake Love” made it in there, while the 21 Savage feature “Sneakin” must have ended up as an outtake. “More Life” starts with “Free Smoke,” which Drake pronounces “shmoke,” which is either a nod to or a rip-off of Savage, depending on how you look at it. The track starts with a floating R&B sample before switching up to something darker, and at the tipping point of that switch we get a self-sample. Drake gets meta with a snippet of a speech he gave while accepting an AMA award: “More tune for your head top, so watch how you speak on my name, ya’know?”

Drake is delivering with this project; he’s delivering proudly and overtly, without humility or coyness. Here’s another 20-plus track project. He wants everyone to know where he’s headed and the force with which he’s getting there, so watch how you speak on his name.

“No Long Talk” comes with a Giggs verse. This is the first of many British features on the playlist, a solid, murky anthem and a continuation of the dark, melancholic start to the project.

Things take a lighter turn with “Passion Fruit,” which is quintessential Drake, finding him channeling “Views” with his pining, and discussion of a woman’s supposed passivity.

On “Jorja Interlude,” the latter part of the track has what sounds like a beautiful horn, which creates soaring melodies married with pitched-up Jorja vocals. Jorja, a phonetic spelling of Georgia, is the latest evidence of Drake’s position as a wonderful casting director, as he features Jorja Smith, a brilliant, emerging U.K. singer.

The interlude segues into “Get It Together,” a shuffling house track featuring Black Coffee, a South African DJ and producer, and Smith again. Drake and Jorja harmonize beautifully on the track, which boasts some of the highest danceability on the playlist.

“4422” sees Sampha back on another Drake project. Coming off a very strong debut album, Sampha is already having a stunning 2017, another part of the strong British contingent that helps shape the sound of “More Life.

“Gyalchester,” comes with the lyric, “she wanna get married tonight, but I can’t take a knee, because I’m wearing all white,” which may be one of the greatest commitment-issue-dodging raps of all time. “Hermes link, ice blue mink,” one of the better chorus lines from the project, is followed by the line, “tat on my ribs like I don’t know what permanent is,” – isn’t his “416” tattoo on his ribs?

The following song, “Skepta Interlude,” has Skepta spitting solo. After all, this is a playlist, and Drake has the liberty to give whole tracks to artists as he sees fit. Skepta comes through with a solid verse, rounding off with the line, “It’s my world, you can have the scene,” which is arguably a comment on his relationship to the current grime scene in the U.K. Skepta announcing he is on to bigger things per chance?

“Portland” fills everyone’s desire for Quavo’s vocoder “skrrrts.” Young Thug gives a great verse on “Sacrifices,” his first of two features on the playlist. “KMT” has Giggs again, with one of the foulest cadences in Britain, where he aspires to “bringing that dirty.”

40 and Stwo come together for a great piece of music on “Lose You,” with beats that sound like a depth-charge, creating a platform that Drake just goes off on. “I wrote the book on world-class finesses / And tasteful gestures.” Absolutely classic Aubrey Graham lyricism. Stwo is a Parisian producer, the city where Drake announced the release date for “More Life.” I’d never heard of him before this, but a brief listen of his Soundcloud says a lot. He’s one to keep an eye on.

Drake continues the theme that he and his crew established with, “We wrote the book on calculated thinkin’/And icy Heineken drinkin’.” Once again, classic.

We’re given a heartfelt message from Drake’s mother at the end of “Can’t Have Everything,” talking about the anger and the menace in his tones that she’s been hearing. What she hears is something that Drake will allude to on the project’s final track, “Do Not Disturb,” a track permeated with the anger and competitiveness that characterized a lot of his previous albums. But before that, there’s “Glow,” the Kanye West feature. It’s one of the best tracks on the playlist. He and Drake interweave lyrics effortlessly, giving it a brilliant duet feel and a chorus that is just waiting to become catchy.

Speaking of choruses, Thugger delivers a smasher on “Ice Melts.” “More Life’  closes out with strength. “Fake Love” still bangs, if you haven’t already over listened it into oblivion yet. “I ain’t got time to be no Romeo” was a line from the playlist’s ender, “Do Not Disturb,” that threw me off. A doomed romantic is exactly how I thought Drake saw himself.

Another standout lyric from the track is “I was an angry youth when I was writin’ ‘Views.’” I don’t mind the anger and angst on “Views,” it fueled some brilliant raps. “There’s more to life than sleeping in and getting high with you,” bumped for months. Yet I love that the king of introspection can reflect on that angst, that anger, see how he was in one place and talk about it in a lyric, repackaging it in a new project.

It is something he must have meditated over enough to include voicemails from his mother that address it. It is evidence of Drake checking in with his audience, letting everyone know where he’s at, and that he’ll “be back 2018 to give you the summary.” More life.

Felix Sanders can be reached at fsanders@umass.edu.

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