The setting is Portland, Oregon. Imagine, if you will, that Drake has decamped here, to America’s alternative Mecca, as part of his globe-trotting search for the sounds he will weave together to form More Life. Despite songs that may convey otherwise, he is not traveling alone; Travis Scott and Quavo are there too. Together, this hip-hop triumvirate locked themselves away in a studio to produce something special, something that stands in stark contrast to the often chaotic worlds they normally portray. They emerged with “Portland,” the most jovial rap jaunt since at least D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli.”
Whether or not this crew literally gathered in Portland is beside the point, as the end result is one that truly effuses what Scott, much to the ire of his mother, so wonderfully described as true ‘happyness.’ It is the sound of Drake, still within striking distance of the morbidly bland Views, remembering how to have fun again.
This feeling is, of course, most immediately conveyed in the form of that beat. The history of rap songs employing the panpipe is woefully short. Few would dare to use such an instrument, and even fewer would dare to use it as the backbone of a track. Because the fact of the matter is that it is an absurd instrument. Memes have already sprung up pointing out just how goofy “Portland” is. But it sells, and sells wonderfully, because Drake’s savvy self-awareness has rarely been as exceptionally honed as it is here.
The confidence to use this beat is just the foundation for the supreme amount of effortless ease with which Drake stacks his accomplishments in this song. His sole verse is riddled with veiled clapbacks to his haters, slyly shutting them down without breaking a sweat. “Fuck bein’ rich when I’m forty, man I’m tryna make it now” he spits with barely suppressed glee just before Quavo swoops in with an auto-tuned hook worthy of a chorus of cherubs.
Drake has always shown a propensity for fun, it’s been part of his DNA since the very beginning. But it has been a long, long slog of Sad-Drake seriousness for years now. A track like “Portland” feels like a well-earned reward for those of us that have stuck around, and whether you see yourself as a Michael Phelps with the swim moves or a Michael Jordan with the tennis shoes, it’s something we can all just sit back and enjoy, an increasingly rare quality in today’s tunes.
For more of our track reviews, read our take on Frank Ocean’s “Chanel” right here.