The first two songs offer a showcase of what Drake the artist is all about. The opener Free Smoke is a blistering exercise of the anger Drake feels in a life that gives him everything but at the same time only has him wanting more. As a slow beat crunches amid the sound of alarms, we hear of how he is “all so spoiled now: more life more everything”, surrounded by people he doesn’t trust: “lot of niggas going bad on me please one at a time, I’m a move to Dubai so I ain’t ever have to kick it with none of you guys”. It’s in exploring these melancholic features of his life – in this instance, that success brings alienation from the people he thought he was close to – that Drake’s voice sounds most at home.
The second track, No Long Talk, sees Drake experiment with a Jamaican accent and suffers because of it: his rhymes feel forced, and his rapping descends into a kind of hollow bravado, boasting of sleeping with women and chasing people he doesn’t like out of town. This is Drake at peak-cringe, trying to wear the mask of a proud, beefy Jamaican crimelord having just, on the previous song, rapped furious about how lonely life is at the top. With the opening track in mind, it is between these two extremes that Drake's voice dances, either in catharsis, in exploring and finding meaning to his own sadness, or trying to violently break out of any melancholy by pretending to be someone and something he isn’t. Thankfully on this album, the former tends to win out.
The following four songs are up there with the best Drake has ever released: a waterfall of open, spacious sounds which ooze out of the headphones and in through your ears. Passionfruit is an awesome sound of strings, hushes and a tender vocal, which laments the near-end of a relationship turned sour. The next three songs are of a similar vein, riffing on crumbs of failed love and the inescapable, seemingly infinite hangover from fame and success that haunts Drake on every album he releases. The final one of these three, Madiba Riddim is my favourite tune on the record: he raps on the “voodoo spells put on his life, it won’t work- they have all tried” and only moments later is singing soft – “I can not tell who is my friend, I need distance between me and them". The transition from coarse rap to sweet song, from crabbed self-restriction to open air is something Drake does like no other mainstream rap artist, and offers a literal showcase of just what Drake finds him making music: therapy, in discovering a momentary escape from his surroundings, from what Fisher called the ‘pressures of [Drake’s] identity’ - the chance to be born anew, if only for a second.
It’s clear from listening to More Life and indeed any of his albums that Drake struggles severely with the pressures and binds of fame and success. On the one-hand, he appears addicted to the limelight and dollar-signs: “I don’t take naps- me and the money are way too attached to go and do that”, he spits, almost in fury, on Gyalchester. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Drake resents his attachment to money as much as he is willing to boast about it. In the age of scrolling down endless reels of news feed and Instagram pictures, this inner frustration at something you can't even stop yourself from doing over and over again feels like a microcosm for much of what goes on in our daily lives. On Glow, a collaboration track with Kanye West which begins with the lonely, warped sound of a synth uncoiling around a dark, sparse beat, Drake's sings in autotuned desperation: "I just take the dreams I been sold, and sell them for more - you already know". The following line, "watch out for me I'm about to glow" sounds even more like a cry for a help. The sense is that fame and money are the only games in town: though you know they’ll only leave you lonely and empty, they are the only options you can even start to try and pursue. Kanye goes on to rap that "we the new Abu Dhabi this our time" – it’s hard to think of a more fitting an image to the sound of More Life than that of wondering on your own through a capitalist megaworld of endless skyscrapers and shopping malls. Perhaps the time will come when Drake is able to dream anew, to create his own dreams, and that will probably be the point at which his muse is finally able to move on from the tortured contradictions of being famous and extremely wealthy. This time will you imagine, you hope, be a world away from Donald Trump and the desolation and pantomime freedoms of the neoliberal age.
More Life has also received attention for the use of two British grime artists on three of its songs - Skepta and Giggs. It’s not particularly obvious why this was done, other than for Drake, renowned for his privileged, middle-class background, to try and co-opt a perceived authenticity he has always craved yet never attained. Skepta raps on a whole song of his own, boasting of how he made it, fucked it, then made it again, while at the same time somehow managing to repeat the kind of self-obsessed hypocrisies that are Drake’s trademark – boasting of the size of his bank account, while at the same time trying to distance himself from other rappers who shout about buying Rolexes. As per Drake, forced bravado and misogyny aside, at least Skepta’s verses contain some kind of reflection, some hint of a man who is trying to work himself out through his art. Giggs’ lines meanwhile, sound like a snapshot of the very worst of British grime music, a blitz of promises to devour as much money, drugs and women as he possibly can, without any regard for anything else.
So sensitive over the perils of success yet so proud of his wealth, so in tune with his emotional side so yet so endlessly trapped in a cold rat-race of his own making, the various different masks of Drake only begin to make sense when you realise that behind it all lies a void of sincere identity, and one which Drake is prepared to try and fill with whatever he can get his hands on. It’s this clambering for something to hold onto though, an attempt to clutch a face or idea that’ll stick that resonates so strongly with the world we live in today. The pace of technology and the upheaval unleashed through whole societies by market forces means that there is little time for us to truly enjoy even the faintest moments of connection to each other that we find. It’s easy to feel sorry for Drake as More Life comes to a close, lamenting the loss of love and the loss of himself in Since Way Back, as he thinks about the place he left behind to conquer fame and wealth. He signs off with a promise to “get back to [his] regular life”, hoping it’ll “humble” him in Do Not Disturb. Perhaps a turn away from the excesses of being a global superstar can help Drake find some inner peace, and provide him with the chance to channel his artistic talents into thinking about how we can live a life of meaning and prosperity, both at once - a life that somehow avoids the plundering sadness Drake’s muse has been consumed by for far too long.