Within an hour of Drake’s release of More Life, social media timelines were overflowing with thoughts. The consensus: it’s a masterpiece. Some went on to say it was a straight-up classic.
It’s been 48 hours and, like most, I’ve been playing it on repeat. My consensus: it’s a solid album from a solid artist. Is it a masterpiece? No. Is it a classic? Too soon to tell.
How can anyone label something as a masterpiece after one listen? Can you meet a person and decide they’re marriage-worthy after an hour? Can you watch a movie or read a book once and know it’s the creator’s best work? Of course it’s possible. But most likely, you can’t. Here’s how I know.
In 2000, I wrote a review of Voodoo, D’Angelo’s sophomore album. Back in those days, music journalists usually got new music at least a month before it dropped. (Yes, a month. Sometimes two.) I would marinate on new music for weeks, listening to it in several settings: in the gym, driving or while writing.
So, I wrote my review of Voodoo and handed it in. I tore that album to shreds. I criticized the lyrics, his vocals and the themes. I didn't like it and I didn’t hold back.
The review went to print and now it lives in that magazine forever and ever.
The problem with that? A few weeks later I gave the album another listen. And I realized I actually loved Voodoo. When I stepped away from the music for a minute and then re-listened, it was like a completely different album. I understood the themes and the instrumentation and his ambitious approach to vocal arrangements. And now I cringe every time I think about how I shredded an album I now see as a classic.
That’s how it works. You can’t listen to an album once (or ten times) and properly judge it.
When legendary musician Chuck Berry dropped Johnny B. Goode in 1958, he was not immediately recognized as one of the founders of rock-and-roll music. The very idea of the genre was still in flux and it would be years before a collective definition of rock-and-roll would be fleshed out and the major players identified. It takes time and context to recognize the best of the best.
So where does Drake’s new album fit? More Life is more of the same, which is a good thing. He hasn’t missed a beat and he’s at his best lyrically and musically. But he’s not changing the game, not hip-hop as a whole or even his own.
My one true quibble? I’m done with Drake’s subject matter. I’ve been listening to him throw rocks and hide his hands on album after album. The is-he-or-isn’t-he shade is getting old. He says: Why can’t we smash and stay friends? He says: Stop going back to your old boyfriend. Is this about Rihanna? An old girlfriend from Toronto? He says: I know I said I’m top 5. But I’m top 2. Who’s this about?
Drake’s overall themes haven’t changed much since 2013’s "Started From the Bottom," when he began to chest-thump over his success. The bulk of his music comes down to: He doesn’t know whom he can trust. He’s super rich. He’s the best to ever do it. He loves women but they don’t love him. Except sometimes. But not all the time. He’s coming for the best. Except he’s already the best. His team is better than your team. The end.
He doesn’t need to switch up his formula. It works. But he’ll have to make me do a double take before I say he’s released a classic. (Much like the first time I came across his music.) Either that or the album over time has to show that it ages like a fine wine. How many tracks from More Life will appear on "best of" lists in 20 years? I’ll wait.
So what needs to happen before I give More Life a classic ranking? I need to listen to it a bit more and then decide. I’ll check back in on March 18, 2018, and let you know the verdict.
(Photo: Young Money Entertainment)