By Making ‘More Life’ a Playlist, Drake Adapts to the Digital World

On Christmas Day, 2004, I pulled the protective plastic (“Don’t steal music” in four languages) off of a fourth-generation iPod. I put on my new Toronto Maple Leafs jersey (BELFOUR, 20), walked upstairs in my aunt’s Winnipeg home, and installed iTunes to her desktop computer. The first song I transferred was 50 Cent’s “Disco Inferno,” which hit No. 3 on Billboard—and which I’ve heard maybe twice in the last ten years. That iPod replaced the Walkman I’d brought with me to Winnipeg, the one with The Black Album and Like Water for Chocolate and the whole book of CDs that I’d lugged around for most of my adolescence.

I stole a lot of music to put on that iPod. Most of my friends did the same. We all brought our iPods to school, scrolling with tight, right-thumbed circles through our collections: 50, Kanye, Wayne, Jay, Lupe. If we had been of the age or inclination, we would have been reading online articles about how our iPods were shifting the future of music, how consumers would curate their own playlists, no longer bound to albums as conceived by artists and their record companies. While digital technology had already begun to rattle the record industry’s foundation, the shift had only affected the business, not the art itself.

I’m writing this in 2017, a handful of hours after Drake, the world’s most popular rapper, released new music on his radio show, a program he broadcasts bi-weekly (or thereabouts) to Apple Music subscribers—that is, consumers who pay $9.99 a month ($4.99 for students, $14.99 for a “family license”) for access to Apple’s library of songs, albums, and other media, which can be streamed on phones, computers, tablets, or the watches Apple manufactures. This collection of songs is called More Life. Drake has gone to great lengths to communicate to his fans that this work is a playlist, as opposed to an album, EP, or mixtape—even going so far as to include the word on the artwork, which otherwise features a…

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