Drake's More Life was released to high acclaim this past weekend after its debut on OVO radio via Apple Music. Some are calling it the best he's ever made, and others, calling it a manifestation of modern music-making, a casual state of the union that lets him and his contemporaries speak, but save their best for later. We can take away his island vibes or the cheeky "waste man" references away from the project, but we're missing the less obvious piece of the puzzle here: More Life is a playlist, not an album.
In July of 2016, Buzzfeed published an extensive article outlining the new way we are consuming our music. Playlist culture has invaded as a way of the future, with Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, Pandora and SoundCloud capitalizing on the media as a way forward. The beauty of playlists is their versatility: we can indulge in our own brilliance, creating a personally curated experience for ourselves to show off to others, or we can look to the experts to define our mood with music if we're feeling lazy.
You might think the root of the successfully curated playlist are of course in software and algorithms. At Spotify, they have funny nicknames like "PUMA" for Playlist Usage Monitoring and Analysis, and at Google, they use "Jamza" as a tool to monitor playback analysis. But like in retail when a team monitors sales and makes decisions based off of those sales, there is a full team monitoring PUMA and Jamza, using the data they provide to make decisions on where to go next. They meet and brainstorm on what moods to cater to, scenarios to build music into. We here at EARMILK are in on the playlists too, working with our own taste making lens across genres, or highlighting artists we believe in to do the same. You at home are monitoring your individual playlist, and maybe, monitoring your audience's reactions to songs like a real DJ should when he or she is monitoring the mood. Apps like Pandora are shifting their platform to include playlist functions, and apps like Sonos even integrating these functions into their programming so that multiple people can control a playlist at once.
With More Life, Drake is the first to put a famous face into this equation. The anonymous, personalized experience becomes a pink sweatshirt wearing, smiling half-Jewish rapper.
In 2016, we saw a dramatic shift in how an album can be released to the public with Kanye West's The Life of Pablo. First called Waves, the title changed before our eyes, and after the album's release, we even got to see updates to something in the past was considered a final packaged product. XXL broke down the changes track by track, and even there, there were multiple changes to the same track along the way. But Pablo's release, while hyped, was clouded with other misgivings. It was released exclusively via TIDAL, where paid subscribers could only enjoy the fruits of his labor. This process, called "windowing," didn't allow for the album to track on Billboard's charts, and made the project prone to bootlegging. In fact, some estimate that the album was illegally downloaded nearly half a million times, taking away from those streams further still. By the numbers, Pablo didn't meet its potential in the way it should have.
Since 2014, the Billboard album charts track plays on playlists. Only a few playlists have managed to get enough traction to land anywhere near the chart, but Drake has done the unimaginable with More Life. Not the playlist in the form we usually see, Drake is featured on most tracks on the album. But as a playlist, we get a more laid back vibe in its execution – transparency in an age that demands it. With appearances by artists like Skepta and Kanye West that last longer than normal album practice might allow for, More Life is an exploration of the group effort without restrictions. It presents producer collectives and artists with new opportunity to make waves without having to maintain their artist identity throughout their featured moment. Drake employed Black Coffee on a beat but didn't need to worry if he was on another for continuity - and "Get It Together," like the other tracks on this album, stand out on their own as they should in a playlist. More Life puts Drake at the helm not only as rapper, but as producer and curator. This is a shift for the ages, aligning with a culture that hates "genre" and loves to feel close to their artists.
More Life is out now via Young Money Entertainment and Cash Money Records.