Drake is one of hip-hop’s most prolific superstars — he’s dropped four full-length projects in the past two years — but classifying his output, at least by conventional terms, is getting harder and harder. When he Beyoncé’d If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late in 2015, he called the project a mixtape but made it available for purchase like a regular album. (It became the first record released that year to go platinum.) Now, Drake is once again blurring the line between official releases and stopgap projects with More Life, which is neither an album nor a mixtape but, in Drake’s words, a playlist. It’s not the proper follow-up to last year’s overstuffed Views, and yet it improves on many of its flaws anyway.
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With 22 tracks that clock in at 81 minutes, Drake hasn’t exactly developed a fondness for self-editing since Views arrived. More Life is a serious commitment, if not a test of one’s patience. But Drake does at least have a better grasp on how to maintain momentum this time. Without the “album” label demanding a cohesive body of work, he’s free to play around with genres and styles on his playlist, jumping from house music (“Get It Together”) to Afrobeat (“Madiba Riddim”) to grime (his collaborations with U.K. rappers Giggs and Skepta) and using his platform to push those sounds further into the mainstream. Drake also has a revolving door of guests, several of whom — like British crooner Sampha, whose wounded voice haunts the ghostly “4422” — have entire songs to themselves without so much as an ad lib from Drake.
And that’s helpful with a project this massive, because Drake can be his own worst enemy. Vulnerability and introspection have always been of his appeal, and he embraced those traits to great success on albums like 2013’s Nothing Was the Same. But lately, Drake falls so deep into his own anxieties and hurt feelings that he comes across as bitter — or worse, a total whiner. Even when he bragged about his life and success on Views, there seemed to be a permanent chip on his shoulder that kept the album from earning its runtime. On More Life, Drake still spends plenty of time tsk-tsking girls he used to date (“Nothings Into Something”), obsessing over where he falls in rap’s pecking order (“Gyalchester”), and being deeply suspicious of the people who hang around him (lead single “Fake Love”). But he’s also trying to be, well, less of a paranoid jerk. “Can’t Have Everything” closes with a voice-mail message from his mom encouraging him to be more positive and less confrontational, and Drake spends the next few songs wrestling with her advice and getting real about his worst instincts. Drake going back to doing some serious self-investigation while continuing to nudge rap’s sonic boundaries? More of that, please. B+