Drake Slaps Away His Insecurities on ‘More Life,’ For Better or Worse
Not even Drake’s mom can fully ground The Boy.
Remember “Karaoke”? The year was 2010 and Drake was lamenting another blown shot at finding love. His life was “too much” and she was “moving to Atlanta” to become a wedding planner. The lyrics were saturated with frenzied inquiries. Does she have family there? Is the neighborhood safe? Never mind if she was remiss in not telling Drake about the move until it had been finalized, or whether or not there was a Dear John on the horizon. He wanted her to know that he tried.
Now, the year is 2017, and the song is “Nothings Into Somethings.” Love hasn’t moved away, she’s gotten engaged, and Drake’s just finding out. But screw it if he tried, did you send an invite or something? No point in talking about anything else, really, is there?
This is the underlying theme of More Life, Drake’s new album, or playlist, or something. It’s about trimming away the insecurities and the overthinking, living (more) life. Above all, always shoot the shot. He sent a drunk text to J-Lo’s phone and his message bounced back. Fuck it. Jay Z gave him advice on an old album that he’s clearly disregarded. So what? Relationship with Rick Ross falling apart? He can get it the way the other guy did. Why not? Since If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, Drake has grown more like Russell Westbrook with each release. Even if it means licking shots at GOATs and rap community frenemies.
His distrust of the so-called wastemen, who impede him and his family’s pursuit of “more” at every juncture, has focused his personal agenda into a singular drive. He’s insulated himself from outcries of women about to marry the “safe” guy, peers looking to break bread and squash beef, and critics typing furiously away at pieces with titles like, “Has Drake Peaked?” On “Can’t Have Everything” he scolds rappers for having the nerve to compare their spoils to his. “All that shit’s embarrassing,” Drake says condescendingly, evoking images of Pharrell in the “Mr. Me Too” video—grilled up, bandana on, forcing champagne into a bowl of cereal. In 2006, a year before “Mr. Me Too,” Pharrell’s solo debut In My Mind found him singing of earning his girlfriend’s dad’s respect and conversations with his grandmother. “Mr. Me Too” was a reminder that make no mistake, Skateboard P didn’t give a fuck.
For a snapshot of where Drake is now, look no further than how his mom Sandi Graham sees him when she drops a sobering message at the end of “Can’t Have Everything.” She quotes Michelle Obama as she attempts to remind her son to find his balance, to never become so cynical that he impedes his own progress. Her point is clear: Don’t war with ghosts. Apprehension is okay, but not as a blanket rule. On IYRTITL’s “You & The 6,” this would be a moment of pause for Drake. He would realize that he’s gone too far, that it’s time to re-evaluate. And he would then attempt to do that work himself, like on IYRTITL’s closer, “6 PM in New York,” where he admits that he’d been striving to “save the youth,” and resonate with “bitter women” that he’d been “over-texting.” On More Life, Drake leaves that work to an anecdote from his mom. And then he moves on. If my cynicism feels out of place, just know, mom tried.
Drake has been down this road before. In 2015, on “10 Bands,” he rapped about barely leaving the house for periods of time. The enthralling allure of being The Guy that fueled his early years had tugged at Drake’s spirit until he turned against it. He still preferred being The Boy, Sandi’s kid. He wasn’t swinging the Acura to Degrassi shoots anymore, but he wanted to be on that same wavelength: accomplished, but never so unaware as to fall victim to an undercurrent. He slunk away from the spotlight, drawing inspiration from Future (then still an underdog), whose diligence and breakneck production schedule was fueled by his own insular world and supported by the rap underground, free from the glare of the pop lights. Even as a string of features perforated Top 40, Drake did a whole project with the Atlanta star while chipping away at Views.
Then came the ghostwriter tweets, and for a second, everything stopped. Suddenly, Drake The Boy might not be Drake The Guy. He might not have even been writing his own stuff. How betrayed he must’ve felt. Back home in Toronto, trying to focus on what’s important, and here come the shots. Drake might have been holed up thinking Toronto vs. Everybody—Views is nothing if not the biggest Toronto album ever made—but trouble was afoot. He squashed it fairly quickly, but the true triumph didn’t come on “Back to Back,” tt came on “One Dance.” You know the adage, be so good they can’t ignore you. Drake made it impossible to be ignored. A dancehall single? Is he even Jamaican? Nope. Ten weeks at #1.
Drake doubles down on that sentiment on More Life. Views left fans with pressing questions, questions his first studio album in over two years was supposed to answer, most of which boiled down to: “OK, now what?” The totality of Drake’s repertoire was present on Views. There was “One Dance” and its sister tracks, “Controlla” and “With You.” He was still quite good at bragging—”Hype,” “Grammys”—and the sultry R&B sauna, “Fire & Desire.” But where was he taking all this? More Life’s reply is simple: It doesn’t matter, fuck you.
He laughs away any suggestions that he might need to “get back to rapping” on the 22-track “playlist,” which boasts a “Madiba Riddim” that finds Drake, in his recently-acquired comfort zone, wondering if he’s truly figured out how to filter his crew. He cheekily samples J-Lo on “Teenage Fever,” as he describes an intimacy he finds analogous to his adolescent years, perhaps the last time he freely allowed himself to indulge in emotional availability.
When Drake does rap, his delivery is sharp and earnest. He doesn’t go into the depths he went on some of his most memorable performances, like “Aston Martin Music” or “The Ride.” But there’s no time for that, anyway. The days of moonlit strolls down drowning instrumentals, wondering aloud if his successor was in the rear or just in the rearview, have given way to a subtly frantic new tempo. For years, we’ve been waiting for Drake to declare what he wants to be really good at, not realizing that he considers sheer volume a statistic to be achieved.
The doubt will always be there. Did he write this one or did Quentin? Can you be Top 5 if you maybe didn’t write it? Ostensibly answering those questions with witty verbiage—be it on wax or on Instagram—has been cut from the process. The only mandates are the ones Drake sets for himself. How many different styles can he pull off? How wide can he stretch his pop scope? How far East can his grime and U.K. antlers reach before they’re considered inauthentic? Instead of stepping inward from the fringe and retracting to the safer grounds that made Nothing Was the Same and IYRTITL instant critical darlings, Drake is now focused on seeing how far from the safe center he can get before the terrain crumbles beneath him. And if a critic takes issue with that, Drake probably has a resounding Fuck you waiting in the chamber for them, too.