As soon as Drake released his latest playlist, the MTV News music team gathered (virtually) to dance, talk, and/or sip passionfruit cocktails. Read on for our spirited roundtable discussion, featuring Doreen St. Félix, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Hazel Cills, Simon Vozick-Levinson, Charles Aaron, Molly Lambert, Ira Madison III, Meaghan Garvey, Tirhakah Love, and Meredith Graves.
St. Félix: In the weeks and months prior to the Apple Music premiere, OVO emphasized that More Life would be a playlist, and so we, accordingly, began to ascribe some meaning to that terminology. Would it be a sequence of new tracks mixed in with songs by other artists? Would it be an OVO compilation? Or a bunch of Aaliyah covers? Nobody knew for certain, and the singles released last fall didn't clarify much, in my opinion. Granted, formality in regards to categorization is not something Drake has reliably hewed to. Mixtapes are albums and vice versa. But now that More Life is here, I get it and defend it. In the sequencing, you hear a real effort in making meaning out of chronology, which was dramatized for us all as thousands of people listened to it at the same time last Saturday. The calculated shift from the party warmth of "Passionfruit" to the moody interiority of a track like "Sacrifices" shows the kind of caring we did not get from the coolness of Views.
Willis-Abdurraqib: There is certainly a lot to enjoy on this Jennifer Lopez tribute album. The idea of a “playlist” felt, to me, like we would get a few new Drake songs scattered in with some of the other OVO crowd to bulk it up. It was a pleasant surprise for me to hear a collection of really thoughtfully placed Drake songs. Views felt like Drake facing himself and no one else. More Life feels much more generous — not to mention the difference in the sonic landscape makes this feel like individual songs, as opposed to one giant block. I am also very in love with all of the guest turns on the album, even the ones that weren’t perfectly executed. When Skepta rapped “died and came back as Fela Kuti,” I died and came back as Skepta.
Cills: I’ve written before about how I think Drake, and most artists, should be shaving down albums (or playlists, whatever). But I’ll admit that where Views felt sort of drawn-out and underwhelming, I am way more into More Life. I thought it was funny when he says “I was an angry youth when I was writing Views" on “Do Not Disturb.” But is 22 tracks still way too damn long for me? Yes, of course, but at least Drake gives us more peaks and valleys in sound here. My favorite part of the album — oh, ahem, sorry, playlist — is the way “Passionfruit” flows into the “Jorja Interlude” and then to the excellent Black Coffee-produced light-house cut “Get It Together.” That’s something I thought was, like Hanif said, “thoughtfully placed.” What are the standout songs for you all?
Vozick-Levinson: One of my favorite tiny details on More Life is at the very end of "Blem," a great song about a moment of stoned honesty. Lil Wayne comes in 10 seconds before the end of the track and says, "Good morning, good afternoon, good night. I'm here to talk about More Life. One second." You hear his trademark lighter-spark sound effect, followed by a quick inhale. Then the song is over — that's his whole testimonial. It's either the highest compliment or the sweetest damnation by faint praise that Wayne could offer to his onetime protégé, and it accentuates the project's pleasantly slipshod mood. Drake is at his best when he doesn't sweat the details, and even better when listeners don't, either. (I eventually realized that Views is way more fun if you treat it, too, like a playlist: Uncheck the duds, hit shuffle, and let it ride out in the background.) Anyway, the best song on this lovingly scuffed iPod Nano from 2008 is obviously "Passionfruit," but I'm also partial to "4422" — which proves that Sampha could make a ZIP code sound heartbreakingly deep — and the airy, easeful stretch from "Sacrifices" into "Nothings into Somethings."
Aaron: This album/playlist does feel like it’s about 45 songs long, though I’ve just been zoning out, going as far as I can, then picking up again later. It’s both more relaxed and more active than most Drake records; he’s still petty, but it doesn’t really drive the narrative. He’s a much more gracious host. Sonically, the songs trend toward global hip-hop/dance beats, which are far more compelling and convincing than his rap, R&B, and dancehall versions, at least at this point. Plus, it doesn’t matter as much what Drake is whining about when the beat is accentuated. Giggs and Skepta are gruff, grounding influences, and the flip of a Black Coffee track is bliss. This is, by far, the most exciting and pleasurable music Drake has made since his debut. MADIBA!
Lambert: I love how seasonally affected Drake is, maybe as a product of those long Canadian winters (although I’m just as prone to SAD in mostly snowless Los Angeles), or maybe just an ingrained obsession with flying south for the winter when your middle/stage name means “male duck.” Views was aggressively wintry, and More Life is perfectly timed to coincide with the spring equinox. I find myself yelling “MORE LIFE” at the orange California poppies that are boinging up after an unusually wet winter season here. Flowers are suddenly everywhere you turn, in gardens and fields but also alongside freeways and on traffic islands. If Views was mostly Drake with his defenses pulled up as tight as his parka strings, More Life is the sound of shedding winter jackets, first sunlight on spring arms, warm intoxicating jasmine-scented air. Having been usurped by Future for the title of King of Pain (for the time being) with HNDRXX, Drake focuses on being King of Pleasure. He’s still filled with regret and nostalgia, but who can stay bummed with all these vacations to go on, embodied in More Life’s sonic trips to Jamaica, London, Johannesburg, and, uh, Portland. With its Moodymann-sampling intro, “Passionfruit” is warm and welcome despite its long-distance lyrics — a sonic super bloom.
Madison III: Yo, "Passionfruit" sounds like having sex while your favorite Super Nintendo game is on in the background. This entire playlist is sexy and slick, and such a welcome reprieve after Views. I figured he didn't really have anything to say with that last album, which was evident by its lack of depth. Maybe it's J.Lo, his up-and-down relationship with Rihanna, or reuniting with Nicki and Wayne, but Drake feels rebooted to me on More Life. This is the Drake that I found interesting, but also messy AF, on Take Care and Nothing Was the Same. I'm a big fan of his mixtape with Future and his solo mixtape, but after that, I was burnt out on Drake doing more of the same. This feels like a good return to form, a mix of R&B and hip-hop, and full of emotion. I find it interesting that he and Future both put out great R&B projects after less-than-great recent albums (Future's was EVOL, but HNDRXX is flames). But what I love the most is how much fun he's having on the album, especially in songs like "Ice Melts" and "Portland" and "Glow," which is a nice cameo from an otherwise absent-from-the-scene Kanye West. Maybe that's why it's a playlist: It glides from buoyant dance-floor jams to slinky boudoir anthems.
Garvey: I missed this Drake, man. I don’t think he will ever stop doing eyeroll-eliciting moves that are such perfectly subtle caricatures of himself that you aren’t sure if he’s being clever or stuck in a Katamari Damacy-style personal-brand snowball — and More Life is a long-overdue reminder of how endearing that quality can be when he loosens up a little. Calling this a “playlist” is one of those moves (as are song titles like “Gyalchester” and “Madiba Riddim,” like Drake fanfic come to life), but I hope critics don’t get too bogged down by that semantic choice. Yea, it’s a little corny and preemptively defensive on paper, but like Doreen said: It just makes sense when you hear it. And though he’s been known for years as a usurper of flows, his tactic here — letting work from artists like Moodymann and Black Coffee and Skepta speak for themselves, with Drake maneuvering around them — feels refreshing and smart. Hanif called this “generous,” and that rings true to me, too.
I’ve hated on most of Drake’s music since If You’re Reading This; it felt cold, defensive, un-self-aware, and kinda just dull. But More Life draws me back not just to the melodic, experimental Drake of the early 2010s, but to this thing he said when I saw him speak in 2013 as part of Elliott Wilson’s CRWN lecture series, right before Nothing Was the Same. My favorite part was when he laughingly mentioned how after he’d gotten all he wanted out of this rap thing, he’d probably end up in Vegas, crooning lounge covers in a leisure suit. As is often the case with Drake, it was kind of a joke, but also not a joke at all. More Life feels like that to me. He's dropping his guard, investing in simple pleasure, and it just feels right.
Love: Truthfully, my favorite parts of More Life don’t involve Aubrey very much. First off, all halleluj’s go to 40 and the production team, who are running their umpteenth victory lap and deserve just as much credit for setting the standard for a versatile mainstream sound as Drake does for executing it. 2 Chainz quietly extends his five-year run of song-stealing features on Drake cuts with “Sacrifices” (I mean, has Tity Boi released a bad verse in the last two years? If so, I ain’t heard it). Jorja Smith’s “Interlude” and inclusion on the certifiable bop “Get It Together” are as sweet as eating one of those grande bags of Skittles until your stomach hurts. And then there's Sampha’s “4422” — damn, how does he make numerology sound so fraught? Listen, I’m not one to be overly impressed by Drake’s willingness to step aside and let other artists get some shine. It's funny to listen now to So Far Gone and remember how proud he was back then to salute the folk he borrowed from; on subsequent releases, his acknowledgment of those sounds and their origins seemed to wane, and claims of erasure started to spring up. More Life expertly mitigates those concerns by surrounding Drake not just with musicians, but with a sense of musicality we’ve rarely heard around him before.
Also, the congregation needs to pour one out for Rick Ross. You can bet your ass that Drake is petty enough to have held onto More Life until right after the Bawse released his stellar bounce-back album, Rather You Than Me. Rozay got a cool 36 hours of love before the light-skinned Keith Sweat sneak-dissed his way up the charts. It feels like yet another layer to the ongoing OVO vs. MMG beef/marketing scheme, and I hate/love to see it.
Graves: It's not passionfruit season in New York, but I went in search of passionfruit this week anyway. More Life feels as artificially hot as a greenhouse, with Drake the botanist trying to push a cadre of buds into bloom: “I think we should rule out commitment for now / ’Cause we’re falling apart,” sung so sweetly, in a voice devoid of attachment and artifice, is forced warmth in a fundamentally cold world. It feels unlike Drake to take on the self-aware voice of the recently dumped — a jarring inversion of the Drake heard on "Hotline Bling." It’s a weird emotion to try and capture in a song, a willingness to support your former partner’s choice to end a relationship. It’s an acquiescence, a declaration of, “I love you, and also, you were right.”
Two passionfruits in a humid plastic deli tub cost me six dollars at an overpriced specialty grocery, followed by a hell-sprint through the slush to a chef’s supply store that carried passionfruit puree by the kilo, and which was closing on the hour. I called begging them to stay open for five more minutes, too attached to my idea of making a passionfruit tart, forcing my own heartbroken thoughts into a curd with Aubrey’s, of resigning myself to emptiness while not leaving empty-handed. I need 12 eggs and two pints of cream, I thought, and I was grateful for the cold and how it saved me from another afternoon pacing around the city thinking about how it feels to be left.
The old woman who owns the store spoke French to me as she brought out a pound of passionfruit in a white tub, put it in a bag, and told me I was pretty. I was sweating from running in the chill. I took the train home to the house we’re still sharing, listening to “Passionfruit” on repeat, trying to get the hang of it and what it’s like to be alone. I stopped at the market for 18 eggs and two pints of cream. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the passionfruit puree was frozen, and I couldn’t do anything about it. You can have the best intentions and things still might not turn out as planned. And even when that happens, it’s all right to pause where you are — "don’t pick up the pieces, just leave them for now" — and accept the reality of your situation and forgive everyone. Sometimes love is inaction, letting an imperfect thing sit for a while and allowing it to change in state. The fruit stays on the counter, it ripens or defrosts, and maybe when it’s ready you can make this.