Drake surprise-released his newest “playlist” album a few days ago, and it’s a doozy. Full of ripe, club-focused ideas that take a cosmopolitan approach at the Canadian rapper’s wealth of influences, More Life is a dense, thoroughly ambitious album, even by Drake’s standards. The record’s first track “Free Smoke” opens with the closing number from Hiatus Kaiyote‘s Choose Your Weapon, “Building A Ladder.” Simon Mavin’s gospel piano chords accompany a pitched-shifted Nai Palm as she sings:
“Is it the strength of your fearless over throwing your pain,
You’ll see new heights you’ll be reaching
Is it today that you will find your new release?
And in your wake ripples your sweet fate”
The 30-second sample is then cut abruptly with a recording of Drake throwing defensive shade at his haters, with no attempt to integrate the Australian soul band’s music into his own. The trap cut that follows is viciously good, of course, but can’t quite escape the dismissive, self-entitled arrogance that Drake commands.
Throughout More Life, Drake takes this attitude and runs with it. He carefully curates an all-star team of artists without ever rewarding them with proper acknowledgment. (“4422” is an uncredited Sampha solo record.) As Sheldon Pearce mentioned in his op-ed for The Pitch, Drake has made his fair sure of ethical missteps when it comes to copping other people’s shit. Pearce went as far as to list the countries and cities Drake co-opts along with the artists he features on the album. London via Skepta, Nigeria via Wizkid, South Africa via Black Coffee. But nothing about Australia. Hmm.
By now I’ve garnered a reputation as the critic who yammers on about how Hiatus Kaiyote are always getting duped. I’ve targeted Pitchfork and other publications in the past for not hopping on the Hiatus Kaiyote bandwagon, and I maintain that grievance, but this time around I’m more mad at Drake. By marketing this record as a playlist, he’s occupying a space somewhere between international pop star and tastemaker, but by denying his audience the right tools to properly consume his music, he’s done us all a major disservice.
Drake had been sampling Nai Palm and co. in the months leading up to More Life, as the opening number for his extravagantly produced world tour. The song seemed out of place in those shaky iPhone videos, and it certainly seems weird now. Albeit well chosen. Drake has always had a soulful side, so why does this sample feel so soulless?
Listen to Hiatus Kaiyote’s “Building A Ladder” below.