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Music

Reporter’s Notebook: With ‘More Life,’ Drake continues to experiment with the streaming era

Drake
Drake performs during his headlining set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio.
(Bethany Mollenkof / Los Angeles Times)

Is it an album or a mixtape? Such was the question when Drake released “More Life,” a collection of new music billed as a “playlist,” last weekend.

Presented by October Firm, the team of Drake and his co-manager Oliver El-Khatib, and released through Young Money/Cash Money, the 22-track offering tackles the many moods and genres favored by the superstar Canadian rapper-singer.

As a listening experience, “More Life” plays like an hour-and-a-half DJ set, possessing the fluidity of a curated playlist. Yet it has the marketing — and price tag — of a traditional album.

“It is an evolutionary progression of the mixtape in the streaming environment,” said founder digital music analyst Mark Mulligan, founder of MiDia Research.

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The idea of the album continues to evolve, as the likes of Beyoncé, Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean and others have embraced the streaming era with unconventional releases. One advantage of the medium is the immediacy it provides. Another is the added buzz.

With “More Life,” Drake is arguing for another tweak to the template. It’s a new work, but also one in which he’s introducing listeners to artists he supports and is a fan of. Consider it somewhere between a proper album and, well, a playlist you’d send to a friend.

Increasingly, curated playlists — more or less recommendation engines — are a major component of streaming services. If “More Life” starts a trend, it could re-brand the playlist as a more artistic-driven endeavor.

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Thus far, Mulligan said playlists are still fundamentally very two-dimensional — “essentially static Excel spreadsheets with a little bit of artwork.”

“Spotify has started pushing the needle with heavily personalized playlists such as Discover Weekly, but that is largely the limit of the innovation,” he said. “With ‘More Life’ Drake is going beyond simply curating tracks, he is using the playlist as a new tool for delivering creative output.”

The collection is as much a showcase of the rapper’s talent as it is of his personal tastes, as Drake collaborates with a number of artists and styles throughout the work. Tracks dive between hip-hop, contemporary R&B, dancehall, trap, grime and Afrobeat, and some of the collection’s standout entries are solo offerings from British rapper Skepta and electro-soul singers Sampha and Jorja Smith.

It’s far more relaxed than the largely singular-focused “Views.”

“I see this as Drake pushing the boundaries, testing how far the definitions can be stretched, Mulligan said.

Late last year Drake revealed he was culling a collection of music after feeling energized from playing arenas behind “Views,” an album that set a streaming record and become the first to hit 1 billion streams on Apple Music.

“I’m off like mixtapes, I want to do a playlist. I want to give you a collection of songs that become the soundtrack to your life,” he said at the time.

Unlike previous efforts, the collection — featuring guest spots from West, 2 Chainz, Young Thug, PartyNextDoor, Giggs and more — wasn’t an exclusive to any one streaming service. However, Drake still managed to leverage his deal with Apple Music.

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Drake’s new music premiered on OVO Sound Radio, the radio show his label hosts on Apple’s Beats 1 station, ahead of its availability on other services (and the episode was the most listened to of any show on Beats 1 to date).

His popularity as a streaming artist, industry analysts say, guaranteed him an engaged audience — one that doesn’t care how the music is defined.

“The average Drake fan … they are going to listen to ‘More Life’ whether its called a playlist, an album or something else,” said Billboard’s co-director of charts Keith Caulfield. “He’s called albums of his mixtapes in the past but they’ve still been No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.”

For the past two years, Drake has been operating under the auspices of a reported multimillion dollar deal with Apple Music. The company sponsored his aforementioned summer tour, and he’s released a number of visuals exclusively to the service, including the short film, “Please Forgive Me.”

He also issued two albums directly to Apple — the mixtape “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” and “What a Time to Be Alive,” a joint record with Future — in 2015. Both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

“He already obliterated the traditional album release cycle with those mixtapes,” said music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz. “[‘More Life’] will be successful but you can’t extrapolate to others. Only he can do it. Kinda like Radiohead with ‘In Rainbows.’”

Following the first full day release of the playlist, the rapper shattered the record for release-day album streams and single-day streams for an artist at Spotify. The collection generated 61.3 million global streams, besting Ed Sheeran’s “÷,” which notched 56.7 million streams.

The work currently sits at No. 1 on Tidal and on iTunes. The entirety of the playlist dominates the top songs on Apple Music following 89.9 million streams during its first 24 hours of availability — a new single-day record for the service. It’s expected to debut atop the Billboard 200 chart.

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So have we moved beyond the album-era and entered the playlist era?

“Considering many artists would contend that we are living in a playlist world … I don’t think it’s terribly surprising that Drake would call this a playlist” Caulfield added. “But he’s also choosing to sell it at digital retailers and it’s going to be released on compact disc and vinyl LP — so it’s basically an album.”

See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour »

gerrick.kennedy@latimes.com

For more music news follow me on Twitter:@GerrickKennedy


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