Why Is Drake Calling More Life a Playlist? An Investigation

drake_-_more_life_coverA week ago, Drake released his new playlist More Life. But it’s a fully formed collection of new music by a major artist, not a playlist in the typical “cobbled together existing songs you already know to make a new thing” fashion. New music by an artist isn’t usually called a playlist, it’s called an album. Drake knows this. So, why do something different? Let’s look into it, and to do that, we need to start with some history.

Has Drake pulled something like this before?
Drake has 1,000% pulled something like this before. He did it in 2015 with If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, and Future collaboration What A Time To Be Alive, both of which were released as “retail mixtapes.”

In those instances, what did he gain from the “retail mixtape” strategy?
He essentially got to double dip on the cultural perks of releasing a mixtape (shore up rap credentials, claim authenticity, ignore radio/crossover appeal) and the business perks of releasing an album (Billboard eligible, promotion, getting fucking paid). In short, he got the best of both worlds.

Is he trying the same thing again?
It looks like his aims are a little different with More Life, but yeah, he’s using the same general strategy here.

Why? Because he knows that the album distinction is meaningless?
No, quite the opposite. I think, depending on how charitable you’re feeling, Drake either outright cares about what does and doesn’t count as an album, or at least understands the value in framing projects as albums vs. non-albums from a narrative standpoint. 

How does framing change that?
I think, especially post-Take Care, all of Drake’s projects fundamentally come from the same place. He broadly works with the same sounds and templates, and his writing invariably speaks from the same perspective. Even if they have different designations, If You’re Reading This… and More Life don’t sound inherently less formed or any lower-production than Nothing Was the Same or Take Care. And, for the listener, it’s not like spending money on a mixtape is different from spending money on an album. So, if each project is fundamentally similar and comes out on the same platforms, framing becomes one of the only tangible differences. And, for someone as obsessed with his [extreme Lin-Manuel Miranda voice] legacy as Drake is, framing also lets him preserve Album status for important statements while staying more present than if he released something on like, DatPiff.

Bringing it back to today, framing each project as a different type informs the type of coverage and critical analysis afforded to each one. Calling What A Time… a collaborative retail mixtape telegraphs that it shouldn’t be taken by listeners and critics as an entirely serious work, whereas Drake calling VIEWS his instant-classic album invited tons of deep dives (and people weren’t thrilled with what they found).

Then why not call More Life another retail mixtape?
Couldn’t happen. He’d get murdered by passing off a feature-heavy project with comparatively little rapping where he disappears for stretches as a mixtape.

What about More Life would make Drake want to frame it as a playlist instead of an album?
Framing More Life as I guess a playlist–even though that’s totally not a real thing–is actually a smart, if craven, move. It lowers the bar: suddenly, taking what you like of the 22 tracks present is a feature instead of a bug, and it redresses the project as a smaller release instead of a 82 minute behemoth, all while justifying why it’s a buyable release instead of a freebie. Calling it a playlist also means Drake can delve a little deeper into pop territory without too much backlash. He can frontload More Life with dancehall, poppier takes on UK grime, and afrobeat, and then cover himself with Quavo and Young Thug features later on to keep the rap crowd happy. Again, he’s trying to minimax his potential across the board, and a “playlist” is his best chance at doing that.

Calling More Life a playlist also gives Drake an excuse to release as many potential radio singles as possible. And he needs that, because Drake is actually kind of terrible at predicting/controlling his hits. “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which to my ears is his best radio bid to date, couldn’t touch number one on the charts, while “One Dance” spent 10 weeks atop the chart, and “Hotline Bling,” his most culturally impactful hit, wasn’t even the biggest news story when it was released. He kind of needs to be able to throw up “Passionfruit,” “Get It Together,” “Madiba Riddim,” and “Portland” in hopes that at least one will stick. You only get so many tries with an album; no one’s tried something like this with a playlist.

Speaking of albums, could the reaction to VIEWS have informed the decision, too?
Absolutely. I’d even call More Life entirely a corrective sequel to VIEWS. “Madiba Riddim” is “One Dance” rewritten sans sample, but with a fully formed beat and an actual melody, and “Get It Together” with Jorja Smith and minimal Drake is a club spin on “Too Good.” PARTYNEXTDOOR appears on More Life, too, and “Fake Love” shows up as the project’s “Hotline Bling:” the months-old single sutured onto the tail end of a new outing. Unfortunately, Drake’s patois and fake as all accents come back, too, and in fuller force to more grating effect on More Life. It’s jarring to hear him as the Aubrey we all know on opening “I wasn’t somebody, but now I am” number “Free Smoke,” only to jump into mentioning “tings” and how he “Blem for real” on “No Long Talk,” “Blem,” and “Gyalchester,” and then get cozy next to Atlanta rappers on “Portland” and “Sacrifices.” Far be it from me to police someone else’s blackness, but Drake’s use of Caribbean (and now UK migrant) sounds and slang trip over the line between appreciation to appropriation; it started as a problem, now it’s here.

The last bit connecting VIEWS and More Life is that the latter has been widely seen as better, which is true, but not in a direct way. More Life is longer than VIEWS (by 27 seconds, but still), both have a similarish number of keepers, and they inevitably turn into slogs, but the sequencing on More Life is so much better. VIEWS always felt like a grind, whereas More Life has stretches where each song effortlessly blends into the next, earning that playlist descriptor. The stretch from “Passionfruit” to “4422” could pass as one DJ mix, and “Portland” to “Teenage Fever” works as a rap and hip-hop set on WDRK.

What if VIEWS and More Life were framed the same way?
I think the gap would shrink because More Life’s length would be more of an issue, but it would still win out due to sequencing. A closer look at the content on More Life might actually do it a favor, too, because while Drake’s still hung up, he’s not mad at his ex for treating him different since she had a kid. Things aren’t always working, but whatever, he’s got drinks.

If Drake made More Life a playlist to get it under the critical radar and for people to make their own versions, what’s yours?
1. “Free Smoke” (works too well as an opener to let go)
2. “Passionfruit”
3. “Get It Together”
4. “Madiba Riddim”
5. “Jorja Interlude”
6. “4422”
7. “Skepta Interlude” (the interludes + “4422” are a nice Drake-break)
8. “Portland”
9. “Sacrifices”
10. “Lose You”
11. “Teenage Fever”
12. “Since Way Back” (“Teenage Fever” + “Since Way Back” = good Vintage Drake run)
13. “Ice Melts” (11 o’clock light number with Young Thug)
14. “Do Not Disturb”
15. “Fake Love” (as the “Hotline Bling” bonus track)

It’s not as full as More Life, but sometimes life is about less over more.

About bgibs122

I enjoy music and music culture; I hope you do, too.
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