More Life teems with voices other than his own, making for a medley of accents, tones, and delivery styles from across the continents. The women, including Australia’s Nai Palm and Sweden’s Snoh Aalegra, often sound sped up and higher than human (save for a sample of his maybe-ex Jennifer Lopez that is slowed down, sinisterly). Meanwhile the men, many hailing from the UK grime scene, are close-up, raw, and deeper-voiced than Drake. Sometimes the guest vocals are seasoning and sometimes they are entree: The rising R&B singer Sampha showcases his wounded coo for an entire track; Atlanta’s amorphous Young Thug raps on two songs, each time modulating his delivery for genuine novelty.
But the album’s star element is the production, which—like the vocals—has been selected with a fashion designer’s sense for contrast and likeness. On a clutch of intoxicating dance songs, patient grooves play out with a sense of eternity, whether with denuded strings on “Passionfruit,” rubbery house bass on “Get It Together,” or reggae-dusted drum skitters on “Blem.” For the straight-ahead rap songs, Drake’s beatmakers build momentum with little innovations: a sound like a psychedelic zipper-pull on the sublime “Sacrifices”; a slow-rolling storm of syncopation and synth washes on “Can’t Have Everything.”
If I’m making it sound like Drake has receded a bit on his own album, he has. But when he does make his presence known, it’s with typical calculation and finesse (two traits he explicitly brags about here). There’s a new, laconic flow on “Sacrifices,” a sense of fly-off-the-handles chaos beneath his words on the opener “Free Smoke,” and precision and purpose while dressing down rivals on “Do Not Disturb” and “Lose You.” The oh-so-gentle singer persona the masses met on “Hotline Bling” recurs on the dancier songs—“Passionfruit” in particular is as soft as sorbet—as well as on the oddly lumpy Kanye West collaboration “Glow.”
But there’s a nagging disconnect between More Life’s vibrant sound and Drake’s typically sour subject matter, even if the playlist does have him doing the age-appropriate thing of taking stock of his years so far and wondering what’s next. “Free Smoke” is among the better started-from-the-bottom narratives he’s provided, packed with sharp details like the fact that he needed hand sanitizer to count the cash at his early gigs. “Lose You” is a landmark of score settling, with Drake stating the goal that will define his career henceforth: “We got it, now we just gotta keep it.” He mentions his own exhaustion multiple times across the album; he makes clear he’s not satisfied; he closes by saying he’s taking a year off.
What’s fascinating is that Drake seems dimly aware that “keeping it”—it being his place at the top of the heap—might involve shifting his approach. At one point, Drake raps, “Better attitude, we’ll see where it gets me.” Later, his mom leaves a voicemail saying she doesn’t like his recent “negative tone” and advising: “When they go low, we go high.” But it’s not clear whether we’re supposed to scoff given More Life’s other content. A line like “I could never have a kid then be out here still kiddin’ around,” seemingly aimed at Meek Mill or one of the other rappers-slash-dads who’ve come for him, is not going high when they go low. Nor are the standard-issue airings of disappointment toward women and grim congratulation for his own self-making.