Less Life, More “The Heart Part 4”

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Drake, presumably peeved at this op-ed

Editor’s Note: Yeah, yeah, okay. Kendrick is king, I agree Emily. But if you keep fuckin w/ that OVO Sound you’re gonna catch these Music Director hands. I’m watching you. 

Some things I learned while studying for midterms this past week:

1. Despite his claims on “Jorja Interlude,” Drake has become delusional and needs to take a break.
2. Kendrick Lamar is the best hip-hop artist of our generation. (J. Cole fans, please sit down).

While I already suspected these facts to be true, the release of Drake’s More Life last Saturday followed by the release of Kendrick’s song “The Heart Part 4” five days later confirmed my beliefs.

To be fair, I by no means hated More Life.The playlist’s incorporation of dancehall, grime, and trap makes it, at least initially, sonically exciting. The heavy-hitting opener “Free Smoke” paired with the Giggs-featuring “No Long Talk” contrasts sharply with the soft, pop music of “Passionfruit.” The smooth piano on top of South African beats on “Get it Together” elevates listeners while “Madiba Riddim” glides them along. The slow croonings of Sampha in “4422” is followed by the playlist’s biggest trap song, “Gyalchester.”

As More Life progresses however, it slows. The sluggish beat of “Nothings Into Something” continued in “Teenage Fever” and “Lose You” feels like a relapse into a Views-induced haze, giving listeners time to realize how unoriginal the playlist actually is. The slow, flute-informed trap on “Portland” feels like Future’s recent “Mask Off” (which, unlike on More Life, features a flute that doesn’t sound like a recorder), and the chipper “Ice Melts” seems like a vague attempt to imitate Lil Yachty’s “Bubblegum Trap.” The whole project starts to feel like  Disney’s Smallworld ride—long and disorienting. Why is Drake, a man with no clear Jamaican ancestry, spouting patois, while unceremoniously not featuring any of the Jamaican artists whose work he’s drawn from? Didn’t we already hear the track with Giggs and the song featuring Young Thug? It all starts to feel like a bad dream.

I spent Sunday through Wednesday trying to reconcile the playlist, attempting to convince myself that Drake’s sole act of splicing up a bunch of genres and putting them in one playlist made him an innovator, and then “The Heart Part 4” dropped, and I regained my perspective.

Some may argue that Drake and Kendrick represent different sects of the hip-hop genre and therefore, should not be compared; while both aim to assert their spot in the “top five,” Drake is about “his feelings” and Kendrick is “political.” To those folks, I argue that there are fundamental elements of hip-hop that Kendrick, put simply, just does better.

In terms of composition, Kendrick wins. “The Heart Part 4” shifts tone approximately 4 times, and while the different sounds are obvious, they transition into each other seamlessly. Kendrick uses silence just as much as he plays with rhythm, weaving beats in out of his song to move listeners from the caressing vocals of Khalid to some sinister piano and invasive beats. While Drake does have some graceful transitions (see “Get it Together” into “Madiba Ridim”) they rarely, if ever, involve shifts in tone. Kendrick’s ability to simultaneously blend and individualize sound shows how Drake could have highlighted different genres on his playlist and still made his set of songs feel cohesive. Some may claim that the general choppiness of More Life adds to the “playlist” vibe of the set. I think that’s an excuse for lazy curation.

Lyrically, Kendrick wins again. While Drake’s tongue-and-cheek lyrics are amusing (lines like “I don’t take naps” and Gigg’s ““spit in your face with extra bogey,”), they lack depth. On “The Heart Part 4” Kendrick offers comedic lines (i.e. “the whole world gone mad/…whites that do the dab”) and throws shots at other artists (“mo cars, mo lears/mo bars, no peers” for example, could be mocking) but he places them in the context of larger themes–in this case, the global, cultural chaos so many of us are currently experiencing. Kendrick’s repeated use of literary devices over his less-than-five-minute track–musical allusions (I counted at least 10), paradox (“five foot giant”), and pun (“pi” vs. “pie”)–is more than Drake does in his playlist’s first five songs. Yes, Drake knows how to subtly shout-out an artist and craft a clever pun (“I play my part too, like a sequel”) but not prolifically like Kendrick.

All in all, both Drake and Kendrick have dropped some surreal work this past week. The difference being, Kendrick progresses into fantasy while Drake declines towards nightmare.

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