Photo by Barcroft Media/Getty Images More Life, Drake's first "playlist," begins with a sample of Hiatus Kaiyote's "Building A Ladder." Sung by Nai Palm, it is a steadying reminder of love and reprieve that is to come. Following the release of the playlist, Drake released a short, sweet message that echoed a similar sentiment: "I've done so much in my short time and there's still so much to do," he said. "But if someone should come collecting, sooner than we're all expecting, at least the life you lived was one for you."
On More Life, all speculative bluster about collaborations—like my own tongue-in-cheek quip about a possible Wande Coal feature or guest verses from Toronto's own young rappers like Puffy L'z or Smokedawg (both of whom are currently on tour with Drake)—was completely wrong. Instead, UK teen songstress Jorja Smith graces two tracks: first with an interlude entirely her own; then on the Black Coffee-assisted "Get It Together," an early contender for song of the summer. Prior to the playlist, Drake's greatest African musical influences came from infectiously catchy Afro-pop through Nigerian stars like Wizkid, who dominates the genre. Now, he's broadened his horizons to the powerhouse of the South African music scene (kind of like Wizkid), incorporating tinges of its House roots and even a riddim aptly named after Madiba, a respectful nod to the late Nelson Mandela. The playlist's production—a mood board of 80s dance, flutes galore, and horror film-esque keys—is dominated by people from the city and its surrounding suburbs. Credits include the likes of Frank Dukes, Nineteen85, Murda Beatz, PARTYNEXTDOOR and, of course, Drake's right-hand, 40. (It also samples a great video by Jermaine and Trevaunn Richards of Brampton's 4YallEntertainment.) From its start to its end, More Life's lyrical content, like all of Drake's lyrical content, is sprinkled with jokes and memories between him and his most immediate audience: young Torontonians of shared circumstance and experience.
A massive portion of the Toronto population, myself included, is defined by its diaspora: a word that describes a people dispersed from their original homes for a multitude of reasons, often in cycles of displacement. Given its nature, the likeliness of cultural overlap shared between different people of varying ethnic makeups is damn near inevitable. Especially when conditions beyond our control and often beyond our will—like the complicatedness of living in a rapidly changing city—dictate that many young diasporic people (particularly black diasporic people) live within the confines of specific communities and neighborhoods that make said overlap much more pronounced. This isn't meant to be a history lesson or an argument with intentions of justifying something that doesn't need to be justified—it's been done. Neither is More Life. You either get it (or do your Googles and speak to people who get it) or you don't.
And as Drake's celebrity grows, the number of listeners who do get it will continue to be a minority. And that's okay. What isn't okay, though, is an insistence that believes that what isn't instantly understood bears no significance. Or, worse yet, that its specificity must be flattened to suit a simplified conclusion. Memeability comes with the territory and Drake—or whoever runs Drake's social media presence—embraces it with open arms. The difference is that, in one case, a superstar's calculated corniness is poked fun at. In another, a history and future of a people much bigger than Drake is erased completely, as though they never existed. (Or continue to exist, in spite of.)
It's through the process of diaspora that small, everyday subtleties grow to form larger contexts that inform how a people speak, move and live. This is clear in Toronto, but also in countless major cities across the world that are home to wave after wave of immigrant migrations. London, for instance, is one of them. The musical push-and-pull between the two cities, then, makes complete sense. Giggs quietly remixed Mo-G and Smokedawg's first viral hit, "Still" in 2015. Skepta linked up in Toronto to record the "Overseas" song and video last year. Both Section Boyz and Smokedawg had their small club shows turnt all the way up with appearances by Skepta and Drake. Even MCs like Stormzy, or singers Sampha and NAO, who haven't yet collaborated with any Torontonian artists have sold out the city's venues with ease, a difficult feat even for local artists. This speaks to their undeniable talent, yes, but also to the ways in which Toronto and London are artistically in sync. For people who've been paying attention, mutual investment between the two cities who, until recently, have been regarded as unimportant sites of artistic production, both by outsiders and people within them, is far from innovative. More Life just brought its bubbling union to the forefront.
On the quest for More Life, the Boy travels across the pond, enlisting Skepta, who, like Jorja has his own perfect interlude; gravely-voiced Giggs totes two features; an exhausted voicemail by Santan Dave; all rounded out by the inimitable sweetness of Sampha's "4422." Drake, of course, called in some of the biggest names in American rap, too: Kanye, with whom he's hinted at doing a joint project with in the past sings on "Glow"; Jeffery a.k.a. Young Thug, whose smooth, natural tone on the first of his two appearances was a welcome surprise; Quavo and Travis Scott, the latter of whom swung by on a date of Drake's ongoing Boy Meets World tour; and 2Chainz, who needs no introduction.
Despite the same prolonged wait as its predecessor, when More Life was announced to finally air on OVO Sound Radio, questions of whether or not Drake and October Firm—as Oliver, 40, and the Boy have branded themselves—could deliver were asked, as always. What changed is that this time, the doubts might have held some weight. With the release of More Life, Drake perfects what has always worked for him—catchy beats, rapping and singing, then singing and rapping. What More Life also does, with precision and expertise, is form the connective tissues between global pockets of living, breathing culture. Where Views relied heavily on a romanticized nostalgia to steer its ship, More Life truly soaks in the brightness of his present. It's the sleeker, tighter Views of a Drake who has finally snapped out of his obsessive trance with perception and what was but is no longer. So, to newness. To happiness, togetherness, and wealth. To more life.
Amani Bin Shikhan is a writer based in Toronto, if that wasn't already clear. Follow her on Twitter.