When it comes to hiphop guilty pleasures, there’s Aubrey Drake Graham and then there’s everyone else. More Life — his latest full-length, self-described as a playlist rather than an album or mixtape — is more manna for the masses of millions out there who vote with their dollars to make him this rap era’s top-selling MC. For them he’s like an all-purpose emoji. There are Easter egg lyrics of Drake songs in every episode of awkward black girl Issa Rae’s Insecure (“He just really gets us!” her character gushes in the premiere). At the same time, he remains decidedly uncool for most males among us. At any moment, any given everyman on Twitter is apt to tweet, “Drake makes music for men who sometimes wonder what it’s like to lactate” (hat tip @Tony_Grands).
Plenty of sing-songy rappers have rhapsodized about love — Drizzy built on Kanye’s maudlin 808s & Heartbreak to cement his style, and he also has Q-Tip (and L.L. as well, hell) to thank for interjecting sensitivity into hiphop, to say nothing of Kurtis Blow’s ancient 1982 “Daydreaming.” But going back to his earliest mixtapes, Drake felt just as exclusionary to the testosterony as Hymns From the Book of Bey like “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” that obviously weren’t made for the male gaze (and more power to Her).
Drake’s not just sensitive. He embodies what Zadie Smith once coined “the nostalgia artist,” constantly looking back on those who doubted his rise and all the unlimited ladies left in his wake. More Life has a head-knocker or two (“Can’t Have Everything,” “Free Smoke”), but it enters the annals of Drake’s long-lost love lore consistent with the rest of his discography. “Remember when I bought Sealey the fake Chanel wallet/She knew that shit was a fraud but never told me about it,” he jokes on “Do Not Disturb,” and it’s not the first we’ve heard of Leanne Sealey. (See 2011’s “Club Paradise.”) “Did I read that you just got engaged on me?/I heard from your friend, you couldn’t even tell me” comes earlier, on the short, sweet “Nothings Into Somethings.” Drake’s laments have laments. He’s forever running through the 6 with his woes, an extremely woe-is-me MC.
By now, babies have been made to Drake music, rare for hiphop. (There might be some Nas babies out there, but that takes a special kind of woman.) Last year his OVO Sound label released the seductive, sex-dripping Sept. 5th by fellow Canadian r&b duo dvsn, and if you’re the only millennial who hasn’t made love to it yet, I feel bad for you, son. But Drake’s sound lends itself just as amenably to the bedroom as theirs, or the drenched-panties atmospherics of longtime collaborator PartyNextDoor (who appears on More Life‘s “Since Way Back”).
Playlist or not, More Life might just inspire more repeat listening than last year’s bona fide, Grammy-nominated Drake album, Views. There’s more vibe here: the deep house groove of “Get It Together” (featuring South African DJ-producer Black Coffee and the gorgeous pipes of Brit teen Jorja Smith) and the heavenly upbeat “Passionfruit.” Enough Afrobeat underlies “Madiba Rhythm” that a Femi Kuti cover isn’t impossible to imagine. Got trap? Naturally. Drake trades bars on “Portland” with Quavo of Migos, with enough background skrrrts and brapppts to make Desiigner jealous.
Kanye has conceded that Drake is more popular than he is, despite The Life of Pablo appearing closer than Views to the top of best-of-2016 lists. (Kanye himself underwhelms — and he could really use a home run these days — on his guest-spot, “Glow.”) And yet more than enough folks still joke about needing ovaries as a prerequisite to enjoy Drake’s music. Until last month he was linked with J.Lo, who he talks about drunk-dialing in “Free Smoke” and whose “If You Had My Love” is interpolated on “Teenage Fever.” But his canoodling with Serena Williams, Rihanna, and the endless exes referenced in his rhymes forever marks him as a sucker for love. His lovelorn lyrics and all those links to the fairer sex have led to dismissal among many. When Sprite grouped Drake with lyrical gods Nas, Rakim, and Biggie Smalls for its recent Obey Your Verse campaign, Drake’s inclusion looked like a joke. And yet there he was. (And no, no amount of Drake caping in the world will ever make him worthy of that company.)
But Drake is a master of the meme, with omnipresent social-media gifs to prove it. He debuted More Life on his own OVO Sound Radio show via Apple Music (home to star-programmed shows by Frank Ocean, Q-Tip, Dr. Dre, and others), gluing everyone to the radio like the happy days of American Graffiti. Half his “albums” are labeled mixtapes, EPs, or, now, playlists. He has his share of lyrical moments, to be sure: “We wrote the book on calculated thinkin’/And icy Heineken drinkin’, and rival neighborhoods linkin’ ” (“Lose You”), for example. But most importantly, at thirty, he’s a millennial master of this post-post-everything moment, which is why he wins.