For much of his career, Drake has played masterfully between two characters: a bravado-fueled rapper who drops rap bangers with his chest puffed out, and a heartbroken boy who mourns melodically over failed romances. On Scorpion, Drake occupies both territories throughout, but also addresses a more recent role: becoming a father.
It was back in May that Pusha-T shattered the Internet with his scathing diss track “The Story of Adidon,” aimed squarely at the OVO head-honcho. The artwork showed Drake wearing blackface, while Pusha stated that Drake was hiding the baby-sized secret of actually being a father. Drake swiftly addressed the blackface scandal in a makeshift press release written on his iPhone – very professional – but he remained suspiciously quiet on all other claims brought forth by the G.O.O.D. Music President. Aside from dropping a video for his painfully vanilla single “I’m Upset,” Drake stayed silent and pointed towards his fifth album, Scorpion.
With the arrival of Scorpion and Drake’s face half-buried under the rubble, some fans expected a Christ-like resurrection and furious response to Pusha. We wanted Drake to come out with both guns blazing, fire shots back at Pusha, and bathe in the bloody drama. Spoiler alert: There’s nothing even close to that on Scorpion. Drake only disses Pusha passively and subliminally throughout the album, but he does finally admit to being a father on “Emotionless” when he raps, “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid.” It’s a lukewarm line of faux-sincerity that’s borderline unbearable, which is a shame because “Emotionless” is one of the album’s brightest moments, built around a swirling Mariah Carey sample.
Another highlight, “8 Out of 10,” is slightly dampened by more corny fatherhood references – “The only deadbeats is whatever beats I been rapping to.” It’s not until the album’s last track, “March 14,” that we find Drake engaging wholeheartedly with the topic, addressing the guilt he feels about his son being raised in a single-parent household, the embarrassment of being a ‘co-parent,’ and the hope for a better future with his new family. In a catalog saturated with soul-baring reflections, “March 14” will surely be remembered as one of Drake’s most revealing numbers.
But before we get to the “March 14” finale, we must sit, dance, and sometimes snore our way through another 24 tracks. It’s a marathon of an album that stretches for almost 90 minutes across two discs, and given the circumstances, it’s hard not to compare Scorpion to the potent format of Pusha’s excellent seven-track effort, DAYTONA. Despite its extensive length, nothing on Scorpion feels particularly adventurous. Drake works his way through rap-heavy territory and dreamy R&B backdrops; rekindling his homages to the sounds of New Orleans, Memphis, and other Southern cities, and ’90s queens like Aaliyah and Lauryn Hill.
Drake is more direct on the first disc – “Mob Ties” and “God’s Plan” are just catchy enough to stay on repeat in clubs, while DJ Premier puts his masterful touches on the uplifting, soul-sampling “Sandra’s Rose.” The aforementioned “Emotionless” features some instantly-relatable reflections on the perils of social media, which is slightly ironic given that many of Drake’s punchlines are seemingly written for Becky’s Instagram captions. DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia offers sinister production for “Talk Up,” where a commendable guest verse from JAY-Z references the recent shooting of XXXTentacion: “Y’all killed X and let Zimmerman live, streets is done”.
The second disc softens things up significantly with candlelit bedroom jams and late night laments, as well as the unashamed pop of “Summer Games,” which revisits the tumultuous world of Instagram etiquette. Yes, the lyrics about ‘unfollowing’ and ‘blocking’ are a little juvenile, but welcome to romance in 2018. Ty Dolla $ign lends his rasp to the smoky slow-burner “After Dark,” while we’re given a glimmer of sunshine with the pure, hands-in-the-air elation of “Nice For What,” which stands as the album’s best single. An unreleased Michael Jackson recording makes its way into “Don’t Matter To Me” and flows smoothly, making for an eyebrow-raising collaboration between two generations of pop royalty.
But while “Ratchet Happy Birthday” is a promising song title that suggests airplay at every vodka-drenched 21st, one listen will tell you that it’s actually less fun than a funeral. Much of the remainder of Scorpion blurs together at best, and drags on mundanely at worst, and you can’t help but feel that it would have been a much more enjoyable listen if half the tracks were removed. But there’s a reason for the lengthy Scorpion tracklist, and the widespread trend of longer albums – having more songs can boost streaming numbers and chart placement, and help reach those shiny gold and platinum certifications quicker. Chris Brown’s album Heartbreak on a Full Moon came with an overwhelming 45 tracks, and as The Washington Post notes, “that’s how you climb the charts in the streaming era.”
Scorpion also arrived with an unprecedented Spotify takeover by an artist, where Drake was plastered all over its most popular playlists. Unsurprisingly, the album’s business-savvy approach paid off: it smashed Spotify’s one-day streaming records, with a similar story over on Apple Music.
Still, excess isn’t the only downfall on Scorpion. Drake has spent his career writing some of the most infectious hip-hop hooks of the decade, but they are few and far between on the album, and nothing immediately stands out as a smash hit. There are some classic Drake moments on display, and the album offers insight into a new chapter of Drake’s personal life, one that’s been swept into an ugly rap feud that spiraled well outside of his grasp. Drake has since regained his composure, but perhaps not as sturdily as we would’ve hoped, as he only addresses the Pusha feud with underwhelming caution.
With 25 tracks of Scorpion arriving after the exhaustingly long Views and More Life, it looks like Drake is making music for streaming success. On the album opener “Survival” he states that he owns a “house on both coasts, but I live on the charts.” On “Sandra’s Rose,” he brags about “every title doing numbers like I’m Miss Adele.” Drake may have the business side all figured out, but unfortunately, his actual art is suffering in the process.