“No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.” – Francois de la Rochefoucauld
In my addled review of “Culture 2” I wrote in response to Drake’s verse on “Walk It Talk It”:
“Oh great, Drake. DRAKE GO BACK TO MAKING GOOD MUSIC PLEASE. MIGOS CAME ABOUT BECAUSE ALL YOU LATE 2000’s RAPPERS DISAPPEARED. [DID KENDRICK’S THREAT ON “CONTROL” GET TO YOU?] THEY FILLED A VOID.”
I still stand behind the rest of the review but I have to make a correction: Post-“If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” Drake isn’t as bad as I thought he was—well…“Views” was repetitive and uncomfortable trash that made me genuinely nauseous and UGH—but that’s not what this article is about.
I had finished my homework and was just about to walk home and sulk about how I wish I didn’t have to spend most of my day doing work I couldn’t care less about and how I am lying to myself when I say that I am actually happy with my life, when I got this feeling that I wanted to listen to something new. Something different. Something happier?
I considered queing up Of Mice & Men’s new album “Defy.” But then I saw the album cover for “Luv is Rage 2” by Lil Uzi Vert and changed my mind. It was Lil Uzi Vert or nothing. I just about to turn on “Luv is Rage 2” when I saw an album I completely forgot I had downloaded: “More Life.”
“More Life” is Drake’s third “commercial mixtape”—whatever the hell that means. When I saw the little icon, I hit play reluctantly. “It’s only an hour long,” I thought. “I can say when people ask me about it that I listen to the whole thing and it sucked just like I expected.”
And then the album consumed me. I WAS WRONG. I felt like I had just taken the red pill from “The Matrix.” I was so wrong and for once I was actually fine with being wrong. (I have to move onto the review but if you are interested in a reflection on confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance in music, read the post script)
So what about this album changed my mind about Drake? The beauty of “More Life” comes from it’s almost perfectionist studio created simplicity. Some could call this mechanical or artificial. No rap album is ever artificial because the whole point of rap music is to take produced sounds and supplement some perfectly placed poetry for the lyrics.
The little interludes by Drake in songs such as “Passionfruit” are annoying but they do remind us that there is an artist behind the album. “Passionfruit” and “Madiba Riddim” made me want to go to the tropics and sit on a beach.
“Portland” a bass heavy party song transitions seamlessly into “Sacrifices” an emotional song about blocking out and forgetting others on the road to success. Drake, 2 Chainz, and Young Thug emphasize the last syllable on every line. The effect makes the verses sound like a hurt man who is fed up with us asking if he is okay. Drake’s “Hell naw, I feel great, ready now, why wait?” sounds like a curt shrug.
“Nothings Into Somethings” is an atmospheric reflection. The vibrations in the background transcends the line between dreams and memories.
With The Weeknd selling his soul for pop stardom, Drake is obligated to place modern R&B back on its appropriate shelf: just high enough to admire at a distance but close enough for it to make you feel something. “Teenage Fever” begins with a present lament about the past which we are about to be dropped into: “Your heart is hard to carry after dark/ You’re to blame for what we could have been / ‘Cause look at what we are” J.Lo delivers an emotional chorus that makes us unable to pick sides in this memory of failed love.
With “Glow” Drake takes a back seat and allows Kanye to free himself from his artistic dogmatism that ruined “Yeezus.” Kanye sounds like him old self, and it’s because he is rapping about how fame is actually hurting his soul. The honest creative Kanye is back if only for a few minutes.
Drake’s lyrics aren’t amazing. He allows a few too many cliches. But we all know that. What works is that the cliches aren’t overpowering and the production compensates.
Songs like “Fake Love” (which I had heard only the heavy metal cover of it before today) combine minimalistic beats with perfectly placed silence, that allow you to hear the emotion in Drake’s voice.
I applaud the inclusion of British rappers and singers such as Giggs, Jorja Smith, Sampha, Skepta; and also Black Coffee, who is from South Africa. Drake keeps his fellow Canadian PARTYNEXTDOOR around. There are also some not so quiet Americans hanging around (Travis Scott, Kanye, Quavo, Young Thug, and 2Chainz); but no single ethnicity stands out. This album is not just cosmopolitan with its diversity but also in regards to genres. This album has it all—R&B, Soul, Blues,Techno— but remains a good rap album.
So Drake, I’m sorry.
P.S. So a common trend nowadays is to say how fractured we are, and how we can’t get along with anyone, and that we aren’t talking with each other, etc etc. While I agree that yes, we are divided as a country, we really aren’t more divided than the right and the left has always been.
The difference between then and now is that now we have the tools to broadcast our opinion, and block out other people’s opinions. In other words, an echo chamber is nothing new.
The more important problem that is slowly destroying our culture is the idea that everything is subjective and that means in turn that you can think you’re as right as you want to be because, in your mind, you are! This idea is making us stupider. People have an excuse to only learn what affirms their opinions. It’s a social and academic version of cognitive dissonance at work.
I thought this was a problem when I was writing a politics column. Now that I write music reviews, I have noticed that people are even more split about art than politics.
They either think art is valuable (the opinion of artists and liberal arts diehards like myself) or they think it is a waste of time that should have been spent learning something practical and economic (the opinion of business people, scientists, and failed artists). Even among the art is valuable people there are even more subdivisions: indie vs mainstream, rock vs rap, R&B singers vs pop vocalists—the list goes on and on.
But no matter how many divisions, there exists something that breaks dogmatism: genuine surprise. “More Life” surprised me. I felt genuinely bad that I had trash talked an album I hadn’t even heard. This experience woke me up.
I will still have my strong opinions but I know now that I have to be a little more opinion minded. Maybe those teachers that tell you that your writing needs work are actually right and don’t just “not understand how great I am.”
We don’t have to be complacent and write reviews that sound like they were written by a Xanax addicted PR agent. But we need to listen to the things we think we’ll hate, not necessarily with an open mind, but instead with the willingness to be surprised.