Roundtable: Drake - Scorpion
by David Crone, Riaud Abdul, Robert Apps-Hoare
It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a Drake album in its entirety. As the Toronto superstar has come to rely more and more on singles for his success, we’ve seen albums thrown together haphazardly, producing completely uninteresting records in 2016’s Views and 2017’s More Life. While Views was somewhat redeemed by its fantastic singles, More Life was an exercise in complete mediocrity, presenting a so-called ‘playlist’ of astoundingly dull material. Indeed, while reminiscing about the glory days of Take Care and If You’re Reading This, I found myself close to writing Drake off. Until 2018, that is. Drake kicked off the year with success after success - we had the chart-dominating God’s Plan, incredibly catchy collaborations with Blocboy JB and Lil Baby, and even a bounce-inspired banger with Nice For What. Even with the Pusha T beef, 2018 was without question Drake’s year for the taking.
Which is why Scorpion is so utterly disappointing. Over 25 tracks, we’re given a messy and uninspired re-hashing of the Drake clichés - vague musings about exes, petty subliminal drama, an unsympathetic ‘you-don’t-understand-me’ attitude, and enough corny Instagram captions to please his colossal pop fanbase. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have expected better - with titles like In My Feelings, Can’t Take A Joke, Jaded and I’m Upset, it’s clear that Drake hasn’t managed to source any new inspiration in the last year of recording. Even the supposed ‘double-disc’ situation is a complete mess, with bounce-rap banger Nice For What, bizarro trap disaster Ratchet Happy Birthday and Future-imitating Blue Tint landing on the ‘RnB’ half of the album.
Much of Scorpion’s failure lands in its utter laziness. In most of his raps, Drake has all the excitement of a flat tire, bringing a drawn-out flow that numbs the senses to any form of interest. Even on the tracks where Drake tries to make himself sound interested, other sections let him down: Nonstop’s beat is a poorly-made sub bass, while Talk That cycles through a poor 4-note backing melody. And when both energy and production finally come together, we get an exercise in poor wordplay on tracks like Ratchet Happy Birthday - “You talk so tough, I know you’re soft like buttercups / Reese’s, Reese’s, don’t be ridiculous / Just say your piece and peace up like Ibiza”.
Of course, after Pusha T revealed Drake’s illegitimate child on The Story of Adidon, it was assumed that Drake would use the album to respond. Unfortunately, this response is tacked-on and utterly unsympathetic. Lines like ”The only deadbeats is whatever beats I been rappin’ to” poke fun at the situation while simultaneously try to cover up Drake’s complete lack of responsibility. When Drake finally gets to the crux of the issue on the album’s final track, his account is brief and unfulfilling, further overshadowed by his refusal to acknowledge the child until very recently (despite paying the mother child support since Adonis’ conception). I mean, what kind of a throwaway statement is “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world / I was hiding the world from my kid”? Compare that to something like Eminem’s ‘Hailie’s Song’ and you can see why Drake is so utterly sympathetic here.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few highlights, however. Nice For What remains an incredibly fun single, Jaded maintains a thoroughly intoxicating atmosphere, and a posthumous ‘feature’ from Michael Jackson spices up late ballad Don’t Matter To Me. Hell, Sandra’s Rose is one of Drake’s best songs since 2015, featuring some fantastic titular wordplay. But aside from these few successes, Scorpion falls flat - a completely unsympathetic Drake takes 25 tracks to musically stagnate, creating a bland mix of half-felt rap and RnB that invokes little interest or emotion.
Individual Rating: 2⁄5
Picks: Sandra’s Rose, Jaded, Nice For What
A new Drake album provides guarantees of a summer of social media pundits carefully perusing through lyrics ripe for cringe worthy Instagram posts. Brace yourselves.
All joking aside, Scorpion is a behemoth of an album, both in quality and quantity. Recently we’ve seen Kanye productions opt for a minimalistic track approach - Scorpion, on the other hand, is a double album with something that is certain to appease a variety of Drake’s fans. If you’ve enjoyed Drake’s R&B/Pop musings you may gravitate towards tracks like “Emotionless” which features a Mariah Carey sample and really delves into some of Drakes life events as of late. “After Dark” follows a similar tone, albeit without the depth in lyrics.
Looking for insane beats and Drake rapping? No worries. 6 God’s got you covered with “Survival” but that’s just the introduction (Drakes words not mine). “Nonstop” is a must listen as is Jay Z’s input in “Talk up.” I could go on throwing out tracks to listen to, but I have always found Drakes work to improve upon re-listening to his album and this is especially the case for Scorpion. There’s so much content on the album it’s hard to process it all on the first listen.
The reality is that this is an incredibly diverse album, and I found an appreciation for most tracks because it was evident what they were trying to accomplish. Even a track like “Gods Plan”, which I found particularly uninteresting, still maintained a very effective overall message. There were even flashbacks to the past: “Is There More” sonically brought me back to those So Far Gone days. There’s a lot to be said for an album that somehow manages to showcase an artist’s evolution, which I believe Scorpion does particularly well. It should be no surprise to anyone that Drake of all musicians has mastered the art of reminiscing whether it be through lyric or the structure of his album. There is definitely some experimentation on the album as well, and its noticeable in the use of Louisiana bounce in tracks like “Nice for What” and “in my Feelings.” Drake and his producers also played with an electronic feel on “Summer Games” which really worked in their favour. Perhaps I’m optimistic but as I’ve stated, a single listen to the album is a disservice - it really gets better through exploration.
Individual Rating: 5⁄5
Picks: Emotionless, Nonstop, Talk Up, Is There More
For an artist like Drake, it must often seem like the weight of expectation is forever too hard to live up to. The Toronto-born superstar has spent a decade carving out his own place as the would-be King of Rap. But Drake has always been about more than just hip hop. After all, the man who is today the world’s biggest rapper first began as a rap-R&B fusionist, bringing much needed melody and emotion to a genre that had become mired in tired gangster rap clichés. Drizzy was part of a new wave of artists, disciples of the likes of Kanye West and Lil Wayne, who drove the final nail in the coffin of overwrought noughties macho-rap. Alas, it is much more difficult to present yourself as a vulnerable youth pushing the boundaries of your genre when you have become an inescapable 30-something popstar.
Despite the protestations of its many critics, though, Scorpion reveals a Drake more vulnerable than we have seen in quite some time. At first glance, Side A – the “rap” side of the album – may sound like the retreading of ground already covered on Views and More Life. But examine closer, and one finds that the hints of a god complex found on those previous two records are nearly absent even on Scorpion’s cockiest tracks. On Side A, Drake is all too aware of the many pressures weighing him down, from rap beefs past and present to his fraught relationship with his son’s mother, and this angle creates somewhat of a sense of character development from song to song. Our protagonist raps on opener Survival about Meek Mill “trying to write his ending” 3 years ago, and on 8 Out of 10 expresses his paranoia that Pusha T and GOOD Music have been spying on him with “white vans parked on the other side”. I’m Upset, a pre-album single derided by some as sonically generic, is given all new context by the emergence of Drake’s once-secret child, as he laments the trappings of child support payments to a woman he never loved. By the conclusion of Side A, it is clear that – despite his great success – this is a man with many flaws and fears, and he isn’t afraid to show them on wax. Drake is under pressure and genuinely afraid that his beefs with several rap hot shots might lead him to death, and this first half of the album is where he puts it all in the open.
If Side A is a representation of Drake the rapper and persona, then Side B is our glimpse of Drake the man. Tracks like Peak and Jaded, where he croons about his failed attempts to maintain a relationship with an unnamed younger woman, are reminiscent of the earlier albums Thank Me Later and Take Care, yet with an even darker and lonelier tone. We are reminded that immense wealth and fame, even on Drizzy’s mighty level, cannot guarantee love and happiness. The final few tracks of the album, however, see Drake returning to his old confidence, and dragging himself out of some kind of slump. In My Feelings seems destined to become a club banger, with its interpolation of bounce music tropes combined with lyrics that hint at heartbreak yet are fun and shoutable. Don’t Matter to Me, though downbeat in tone, reveals the height of Drake’s ambition, as the track is built around unheard Michael Jackson vocals that sound surprisingly at home alongside the 6 God’s sultry tones. Undoubtedly, though, it is closer March 14 that provides the most fitting end to such a weighty album, by flipping the arrogant anxieties of Side A cut I’m Upset into genuine acknowledgements of the new responsibilities Drake feels from becoming a father.
Scorpion might be the most personal and delicate album produced by Canada’s brightest star since his first mixtapes. One gets the impression that this was entirely the intention, too, especially with Drake eschewing traditional features on most tracks in exchange for the occasional ad lib or sample from old friends like Nicki Minaj and Future. Drake had a lot to answer for on this album, and although hardcore “old school” rap fans will not be satisfied by the lack of a bravado-laden response to Pusha T, those who follow and sympathise with The Boy will recognise that this record is among his truest and most sincere pieces of work.
Individual Rating: 4.5⁄5
Picks: Mob Ties, Blue Tint, In My Feelings, Emotionless, Jaded, March 14