Young Money/Cash Money Records
Young Money/Cash Money Records

Opinions may differ on who is the best or most important artist in hip-hop, but one fact that cannot be disputed is Drake's distinction as the biggest rap star on the planet at the moment. The pride of Toronto has evolved from a wonderkid with rap aspirations looking to transition from a career as a thespian into the most powerful artist in terms of name recognition, influence and cache in all of music by far. However, heavy is the head that wears the crown and Drake has had a lot of mental baggage weighing him down, a sentiment that underscores the sonic globe-trotting he partakes in on his new project, More Life.

Rather than an album or a mixtape, More Life has been billed as a playlist, with Drake refusing to adhere to the archaic classification of what a collection of songs can be. He seems to take a cue from collaborator Kanye West, who pulled a similar move by curating his The Life of Pablo album on the fly. Deeming More Life as a playlist is yet the latest instance of Drake attempting to envelope low-brow and cliched topics with a false air of innovation in a fairly risk-averse way, a stark contrast to the Yeezys and Kendrick Lamars of the world, whom he yearns to rival in terms of critical acclaim and creative license. While More Life being a playlist in no way alters or enhances the listening experiencing as opposed to past projects from Drake, the concept itself is given credibility when considering the array of talent he's galvanized for this music excursion.

Noted for the value his cosign can bring an otherwise subterranean artist, in addition to his willingness to let others shine under his own spotlight, Drake stays true to form on More Life, inviting a cast of characters that includes rising international and domestic talents alike. Infamous for ingratiating himself to various cultures beyond North American borders, Drake sticks to the script on More Life, rounding up a few of the U.K.'s most talented vocalists, rappers and producers to contribute to the festivities.

One of Britain's finest appears on "No Long Talk," a bombastic cut which finds Drake infusing patois into his verse and talking tough over production by Murda Beatz and Cubeatz. Giggs, one of the more popular MCs in London's grime scene, rides shotgun, his grisly accent complementing Drake's own Caribbean-tinged inflections. "I'm on the best side, got the TEC lined/In the whip, on the left side, on a death ride/MAC-10 and the spesh flies, and the TEC slide/Nutty shit like somethin' just climbed out the X-Files," Giggs spits on what is many American rap fans' introduction to him as an artist.

Giggs gets another opportunity to shine on "KMT," but falters with cringe-worthy lines like, "And you already know I love them breasts, lookin' all perky/Lookin' all Christmas gift-wrapped, lookin' all turkey," which is sure to induce a few head scratches and perplexed looks.

Another purveyor of grime that pops up on more life is Skepta, who has previously made inroads within the U.S., garnering cosigns from the likes of Kanye West. He's currently Britain's best chance of having a grime artist becoming recognized as a household name stateside. Getting a whole song to himself with "Skepta Interlude," Skepta makes the most of his feature position on More Life, turning in a monstrous verse that rivals the best rhymes found on the playlist. Lines like "Died and came back as Fela Kuti" are effective and indicative of where Skepta's head is at, making "Skepta Interlude" one of the premier performances on More Life.

Skepta and Giggs' appearances on More Life are a major coupe for the two Brits in terms of their desires to build their fan base stateside, but the exchange is one of equal opportunity, as Drake attempts to confirm his global domination throughout the project. Selections like "Blem," an addictive T-Minus-produced ditty that finds Drake appropriating Britist slang, pilfers U.K. culture, albeit with effective and enjoyable results. More Life may pay homage to various regions and genres, but is centered by Drake's vindictive disposition and quest for vengeance against those who have wronged or spoken ill of him. "Free Smoke," the project's opening salvo, is a reminder that all love is lost between him and the opposition. Bars like "How you let the kid fightin'/Ghostwritin' rumors turn you to a ghost?" seem to be aimed directly at Meek Mill, whom Drizzy engaged in lyrical warfare during the summer of 2015.

Despite being the unanimous winner in the court of public opinion, Drake's spat with Meek Mill, which was spurred by the latter's accusation that Drake uses ghostwriters to help pen his lyrics, has clearly been eating at the OVO boss. He seemingly references his rival multiple times throughout More Life. First coyly mocking the rapper's frenetic flow on "KMT," Drizzy gets more direct on "Lose You," with Drake switching from introspect to appraisal, lamenting the lack of respect for his personal struggles as opposed to those who were bred in harsher, poverty-stricken conditions. "All you did was write the book on garbage-ass Rollies/Ego strokin', picture postin'/Claimin' that you do it for motivational purposes only/But you just had to show me/See, I know, 'cause I study you closely," Drake rhymes on "Lose You."

"Can't Have Everything" also has lines earmarked for his Philadelphia foil ("Finally got my mind in a free state/Niggas tried to serve me up a cheesesteak, I gave them back a clean plate"), as well as fellow Toronto native Tory Lanez, whom Drake has also experienced friction with in recent years. More Life is filled with vitriol, malice and paranoia, but is at its best when Drake is focused on his two strengths: melody and collaboration.

"Passion Fruit" and "Madiba Riddim" are two of the more enjoyable selections on More Life and find Drake turning his attention to matters of the heart, with winning results. The latter, which features production by Frank Dukes, Nineteen85 and Charlie Handsome, is a mid-tempo affair on which Drake croons, "I cannot tell who is my friend/I need distance between me and them," signs of the constant deceit and trust taking a toll on his psyche and affecting his ability to love freely.

Although undoubtedly the man of the hour, More Life is at it's best when Drake plays the back and allows his guests to take center stage, particularly British vocalist Jorja Smith, who turns in a flawless performance on "Get It Together," one of the project's more expansive compositions. Delivering painstaking harmonies over pulsating drums, piano keys and synths, Jorja Smith provides one of the more memorable contributions to More Life while raising her own stock as a soloist to watch for.

Other highlights from More Life include "Portland," a flute-heavy banger featuring Quavo and Travis Scott that will be among the more popular tunes as the weather continues to heat up, and "Sacrifice," which matches Drake with 2 Chainz and Young Thug for yet another sublime standout. Known for shelling out hit records and buzzworthy guest appearances to casual fans, Drake's most devoted disciples are also aware of his more cerebral lyrical displays, with the More Life finale "Do Not Disturb" being the latest stream-of-consciousness outing from Drake. He removes all filters and doles out transparency here. "Yeah, ducked a lot of spiteful moves/I was an angry yute when I was writin' VIEWS/Saw a side of myself that I just never knew/I’ll probably self-destruct if I ever lose, but I never do," he delivers. Drake unpacks all of his mental laundry atop production by Boi-1da, from the highs and lows of success, to friends-turned-foes, while also taking time to announce his impending fifth studio album, slated to drop in 2018.

More Life, which comes on the heels of what many considered an underwhelming effort in VIEWS, is less of a return to form and more of an expression of Drake's hunger for widespread acclaim beyond the borders of rap, and is indicative of where the arc of his career and legacy is trending towards. While fans and critics argue over whether or not he's one of the greatest MCs of his generation, let alone among the greatest of all-time, Drake continues to prove his worth as an elite talent with More Life, another blockbuster from rap's golden child with the midas touch.

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