I have never liked Drake. OK, that’s not entirely true. I’ve liked him in small doses—his gangsta-for-him feature on Rick Ross’s “Stay Schemin’,” some of his Rihanna appearances, maybe “Worst Behavior”—but never felt the need to take in a full project of his. Not more than once anyway. The odd mix of vulnerability and arrogance that makes Drake Drake tends to make me gag. More Life was no different. In some ways, it was even worse.
And no, before you say it, this isn’t just a matter of being a card-carrying Old. I appreciate plenty of current rap. I’m fine with singer-rappers, mumble-rappers, and even feels-having rappers (shouts to Kevin Gates). But there’s something about Drake that just doesn’t work for me, no matter how much my Complex colleagues insist on blasting each and every one of his projects in the office (We named him the Best Rapper Alive for an astonishing three years.)
It’s not the ghostwriter allegations either. Before he was Drake, the rapper, he was Aubrey Graham, the actor, and I don’t think he wrote Jimmy’s DeGrassi lines either. A character can be believable even if he or she didn’t write their own lines—see virtually any TV show or movie character. It doesn’t matter who wrote the words as long as you can make them yours, but—to me anyway—Drake doesn’t. There’s a line about “you caught the hands” on “Can’t Have Everything” and, just, no.
Part of rap appreciation—for me, anyway—is suspension of disbelief. No matter how outlandish the story, no matter how ridiculous the claim, a great rapper will make you believe it, at least for as long as the track lasts. You believe that Jay Z lost 92 bricks, that the real Noriega owed Rick Ross 100 favors, that no matter how much loot Havoc made he was staying in the projects. Forever. Drake? Not so much. The thirsty stuff, sure, yeah. That’s, if anything, TOO believable. (It’s surprising Rihanna has never taken out a restraining order mid-session.) But his tough-guy act always feels like a put-on. I don’t think he believes it either. Rick Ross overcame his own, uh, complex background through sheer force of personality. Drake doesn’t have that.
Even that wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t so arrogant about his place in the rap world. Again, he wants the sales, but he also wants to be considered the best: “I know I said top five, but I’m top two, and I’m not two and I got one,” as he states on “Gyalchester.” But he doesn’t have the bars or the chops—at least not consistently—to be the best. “Y’all n****s is arrogant, y’all sleep at the Sheraton/All that shit embarrassing”? Embarrassing is right. Heck, he doesn’t even have the voice. Drake’s sing-songy flow isn’t a main course, it’s a condiment. He seems to be aware of this too, as on More Life he drops out of entire tracks. Can you be the best rapper alive when you hardly, you know, rap?
By now though, Drake is capital F famous, and what he does—or what he says—is less important than who he is. In a sense, Drake is the Trump of rappers (I’m not the first to make this comparison). He ignored virtually all of the generally accepted rap tropes and just went about building an audience off a Weezy co-sign, pro-quality mixtapes and well-placed features (not to mention 40’s fire beats). By the time he released his first official album in 2010, he had already built a fanbase capable of securing a No. 1 album. And once he had the audience, he changed the rules. If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late was a mixtape, not an album. More Life? That’s a “playlist,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. (If it’s a collection of new songs meant to be played in a certain order, that’s an album, fam.) He’s virtually immune to criticism—or battling, as Meek Mill discovered, much to his chagrin.
For someone who reps his city so hard, Drake’s also basically a post-regional rap superstar. While he certainly identifies with Toronto, it’s not like he’s ushered in a new style of rap as recognizable as the New York, Cali, Texas, or Atlanta varieties. Instead what Drake trades in is melting pot rap, as he takes various styles and adapts them for his own purposes, whether it was the Migos flow on “Versace” or the grime rappers on More Life. And while it’s great that he gives Skepta a full track to shine on More Life, you can always just listen to Konnichiwa, which is a far better project (it was even named Britain’s album of the year, for what that’s worth).
Some listen to More Life and hear a drawing together of styles, early feels Drake combining with late tough guy Drake to form a rich whole. I hear a 22-track, overblown mess with a couple of no-doubt club bangers and a whole lot of filler including one of the worst features in rap history (what up, Giggs?). I did my homework—I listened to the whole thing more times straight through than I’ve ever listened to any Drake project. My views did not change. Take care.
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