REMIX: Dave East – ‘Free Smoke’

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EASTMIX (2017)

While the many flavours of ‘More Life’ are still permeating our collective palates, Dave East has decided to give his fans a Harlemized version of the album’s opener – ‘Free Smoke’. Needless to say, East blesses Boi-1da’s drums with some heavy bars.

You ever wonder where that eerie sample from ‘Free Smoke’ came from? No, me neither, until I stumbled across it the other day. It’s actually lifted from the opening track of Danny Brown and Tony Yayo’s collaborative tape ‘Hawaiian Snow’. It was at the time when Danny just dropped ‘Hybrid’ (his first LP) and, upon meeting Yayo, nearly signed to G-Unit. Bet we are all glad that never happened. Anyway, it’s called ‘Roll Up’. Listen to it. (End of digression.)

This particular freestyle comes after a string of others East’s dropped through SoundCloud, all in anticipation for his forthcoming project ‘PARANOIA’; which, if these freestyles are anything to go by, is going to bang.

As far as the track goes, East hits us with the usual criminal bravado which, at this point, he has down to a fine art. After claiming that ‘Ross got the hardest album out’, he flips Drake’s chorus nicely, paying homage to an incarcerated friend: ‘Free Loaf, free loaf / We blow, we smoke’.

Keep an ear out for more freestyles by Dave in the run up to ‘PARANOIA’ – they’re only gonna get better.

Drake – ‘More Life’ (Review)

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OVO Sound / YME / Cash Money / Republic (2017)

With the arrival of ‘More Life’, Drake’s debut playlist, a lot of the questions regarding Aubrey’s alliance with British musicians have been answered. It’s not about OVO expansion. It’s not a question of whether the UK ‘needs’ his help or not; ‘More Life’ demonstrates that the relationship, and what it has culminated in, is entirely symbiotic.

But to think that ‘More Life’ is primarily concerned with the UK would be blinkered (and besides, if you want to explore this aspect further – Semtex has you covered with that and a lot more). With ‘More Life’, Drizzy spreads his musical net wider than ever before: grime, hip-hop, pop, house, dancehall, R&B and British drill all coexist on one project. And geographically, he’s on some Michael Palin shit; Drizzy enlists artists and sonics from all over the world. That’s the beauty of a labelling it a playlist – you don’t have to do anything crazy thematically, you don’t have to worry about the run-time. It’s a vehicle for exploration and fun, and ‘More Life’ demonstrates an abundance of both.

Just take the first half of the project. We start somewhere between Atlanta and OVO HQ with ‘Free Smoke’, moving swiftly on to meet Giggs in London for ‘No Long Talk’, then to some lounge in Ibiza (‘Passionfruit’), South Africa (‘Get It Together’), Nigeria (‘Madiba Riddim’), Jamaica (‘Blem’) and finally back to London for Sampha’s poignant ‘4422’. For this stretch of the album, Drake becomes a musical chameleon, deftly altering his dialect, attitude, cadences and melodies to suit each cultural adventure.

The pinnacle, however, has to be the Jorja Smith and Black Coffee-assisted ‘Get It Together’. Black Coffee dials in a wonderfully minimal 4×4 beat with pulsing polyrhythms, and litters the track delicately with African percussion and ominous piano stabs. What makes this track so special, though, is how sparingly Drake utilises himself: Jorja’s gorgeous, husky vocals glide solo over the beat for a good minute-and-a-half before Aubrey joins, whose harmonisation with Jorja on the hypnotic hook is made all the more mesmerising by his prior absence.

What’s really important about these songs, and the whole playlist for that matter, is that Drake is having fun. And when Drizzy’s having fun – everyone’s having fun. On ‘VIEWS’, though, despite its staggering commercial success, Drake was playing defence. His bars were cagey, bitter and worryingly introspective, and he acknowledges this more than once on ‘More Life’. As ‘Can’t Have Everything’ draws to a close, Aubrey’s mother has some choice words for him: “I’m a bit concerned about the negative tone I’m hearing in your voice these days… That attitude will just hold you back in this life”.

Similarly, on the project’s closer ‘Do Not Disturb’ – where he manages to exhibit more about his psychology than most rappers could in an album – Drake offers, ‘I was an angry yout when I was writing ‘VIEWS’/ Saw a side of myself that I just never knew’. This kind of apologetic reflection is what made Drake so universally likeable in the first place, however, it doesn’t stop him from throwing the odd barb here and there. ‘How you let the kid fighting ghost-writing rumours turn you to a ghost?’, he taunts on ‘Free Smoke’ (obviously aimed at Meek), but when Boi-1da’s drums are slapping and Drake’s four-minutes deep into a vocal assault – you let him off.

Anyway, moving on, what other benefits does Drake reap from labelling his project a playlist? Well, given the digitalisation of music and the rise of streaming services, it demonstrates a fair degree of business acumen from the OVO boss, but more importantly, it allows him to delegate some of the workload to a generous array of featured artists. Skepta makes the most of his two-minute slot by detonating his self-titled interlude, Giggs bludgeons his verses on ‘KMT’ and ‘No Long Talk’, and Kanye and PARTY feature back-to-back on ‘Glow’ and ‘Since Way Back’ respectively for the project’s final quarter – generating a dreamy ten-minute slot.

Young Thug and Drizzy’s chemistry, however, steals the show. On both ‘Sacrifices’ and ‘Ice Melts’, Thugga shuns the vocal filters, trading bars and melodies with Drake as if they were frequent collaborators (it’s a shame the whole Cash Money drama stopped that from happening). But my favourite’s got to be ‘Ice Melts’; raps and melodies blur into an impressive feat of vocal acrobatics, as the pair skip gleefully over Supah Mario’s warm, bouncy production. I can only hope their musical and personal relationship goes from strength to strength.

So, in short, ‘More Life’ is about a global artist generating a global sound. Drake is an omnivorous consumer of music, and his music is consumed by pretty much every demographic imaginable. Acknowledging and reconciling these two facts, then, is Drake’s master stroke.