Have you heard the good word? Drake’s upset, again!
I mean, that should be a good thing right? Some of the best moments of Drake’s career (intentional or not) have been when he’s agitated. When everyone started calling him soft? He started rapping like he wanted to throw hands. When his detractors grew in numbers? He dropped a whole album telling them to piss off. When Meek Mill called him out for ghostwriting? We got a summer full of hot singles and hotter memes. Drake is a charming good-guy, but becomes far more interesting when he’s backed into a corner and lashing out. Though ever since Drake conquered over his enemies on 2015’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, he seems to have been taking an extended victory lap: the collab mixtape with Future on What a Time To Be Alive and his last two projects, Views and More Life have been either too bloated or too boring to be significant statements from Drizzy. He seemed more focused on his brand than his artistry, more content with making dad dance moves trendy than revealing anything about himself. Drake was, in a word, complacent.
But as they say, life comes at you fast. It’s a wonder what Scorpion, Drake’s fifth album, would’ve been about if it were released a month or so ago. Back then, all he had to worry about was his impending Adidas deal and making room on the charts for whatever would follow two of the biggest hits he’s ever had on the pop charts (“God’s Plan” and “Nice For What”). Then he heard Pusha T’s “Infrared” and thought he had enough ammo to fire back with a diss track of his own. Boyyyyyyy howdy, was he wrong about that. So now the world knows that Drake is 1. Turned on by French former porn stars 2. A failed practitioner of the pull-out method and 3. Isn’t too eager to flaunt the fact that he had a child out of wedlock. Twitter is roasting him again, but now questioning his manhood and sleaziness after allegedly trying to tie-in the branding of his Adidas line with the arrival of his first child (not to mention a seemingly tone deaf photo taken before he was even rap-famous). How did he respond? Again, he’s upset.
Well, half-upset. Scorpion is essentially a double album that has split the two sides of Drake: the testy rapper and the R&B loverboy. While last year’s More Life had luxurious beats for both the rap and R&B songs, Scorpion saves its luxury for the slow jams on the second disc. The first disc, 12 tracks of pure rap, has Drake’s beats in mixtape mode: cold, minimal trap music meant to amplify the meaner swagger when Aubrey gets on his bad side. The likes of No ID, Boi-Ida and Noah “40” Shebib mix in stuttering hi-hats, low-booming bass beats and the occasional flourish of keyboards or synthesizers. “Survival” mixes most of those elements together to intro the album before BlocBoy JB collaborator Tay Keith jumps in for the trap banger “Nonstop.” That typical trap sound comes back again two more times at the tail end of the first disc on “Mob Ties” and “Can’t Take a Joke,” with the former more effective than the latter thanks to its mellow guitar in the background. Drake also flourishes with the more epic beats with bigger drums and some sort of backing soul sample heard on “Emotionless” and “Sandra’s Rose,” while the equally bombastic “8 Out of 10” harkens back to the Take Care highlight “Lord Knows.” There are even some weirder beats for Drake to rap on, as in the start-stop progression on DJ Paul’s “Talk Up” and the reversed, spooky beat by Wallis Lane and Preme on album closer “Is There More.” In fact, “God’s Plan” with it’s faded repeating synth line seems like a weirder album cut than the odd but underwhelming “I’m Upset.”
Speaking of which, what exactly is Drake upset about? Well it takes a while for the rap side of Scorpion to get interesting, as the first three tracks each feel like intro tracks for completely different albums. He brags about how untouchable he is on “Survival” (“I fell back a hundred times when I don’t get the credit/Seen this movie a hundred times, I know where it’s headed”), he emphasizes how tough he can be on “Nonstop” (“Yeah I’m light-skinned, but I’m still a dark n***a”) and “Elevate” has him bragging about his wealth (“If you need me, you can’t call me, I stay busy makin’ money/You know what is on my mind, all I think about is hunnids”). It’s almost cause for concern, but then “Emotionless” comes around and things get interesting. A master of his own social media brand, Drake questions the worth of it all (“Scrollin’ through life and fishin’ for praise/Opinions from total strangers take me out of my ways/I’m tryna see who’s there on the other end of the shade/Most times it’s just somebody that’s under-aged/That’s probably just alone and afraid/And lashin’ out so that someone else can feel they pain”). As groan-worthy as it is to flip “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world” into an excuse, the social media mogul Drake seems to have something of an internal crisis as a new father (“Until you starin’ at your seed, you can never relate”). Drake seems paranoid and more unsure of himself than ever before, not taking shots at anyone specific but lashing out at the collective of detractors. More so, he seems less interested in proving himself than being comfortable as the R&B/rapper everyone’s pegged him to be (“Kiss my son on the forehead then kiss your a** goodbye/As luck would have it, I’ve settled into my role as the good guy”). “Is There More” feels like an arrogant kiss-off to those looking to see him suffer, as if he answers all of the questions people have for him during his most recent scandals (“Only lyin’ I do is lyin’ out in the tropics/Only cryin’ I do is cryin’ from laughin’ ’bout it/Only lackin’ I can do is my lack of responses/Only rest that I do is ‘Where the rest of my commas?’”). For all the waiting the world did for his response to Pusha T, Drake seems happy to let everyone stew in their hype.
Then the magnifying lens tries to focus on Drake’s intent during the second disc, a scattered timeline of somber loverboy Drake on the verge of facing one of the most shocking moments of his life. The second disc is a more lush, moody collection of songs and seemingly brings out the best in Drake as a performer. In terms of his singing, it’s the best of his entire career with the falsettos fitting the appropriate vibes and low croon also sliding into each groove. The slow burn of “Peak” lets Drake elevate his own melodies without diving into unnecessary high notes while “In My Feelings” has the more uplifting dance beat (not dancehall though, thankfully) for Drake to sing a little higher. While the whole record is low-key, it’s done in different ways. One minute there’s the bounce of “Nice For What,” the next is the trap-lounge of “Ratchet Happy Birthday,” and then comes the hot reggae of “After Dark.” Drake is a man who likes mixing music together, but at least here the vibe is consistent and never boring. While More Life’s singing tracks were overtly reaching for pop success, Scorpion’s second disc follows the R&B vibe of Views with a bit more energy and texture. The likes of “Don’t Matter To Me” and “Final Fantasy” also highlight the influence of Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak while “Jaded” and “Finesse” harken back to the early days of The Weeknd.
Zooming in a little closer to the lyrics, however, shows the most scattershot Drake’s head has been at in his career. At the start on “Peak,” he’s alone again and looking back on old flames, also using the modern dating crutch of cell phones to speak his mind (“Talk used to be cheap, nowadays it’s free/People are only as tough as they phone allows them to be”). “Summer Games” furthers that in more detail with Drake stingy about his love saying “I love you” too fast and more cripples of social media (“Yeah, you say I led you on, but you followed me/I follow one of your friends, you unfollow me/Then you block them so they can’t see you likin’ someone just like me”). “That’s How You Feel” and “Jaded” are rather mean songs about Drake either feeling hurt by his ex or implying that everything she’s done for fun is a way to get over him (“Time, it done left you with a broken heart/Hardly excuses how you play with mine/Mindin’ my business and you show up/Up to no good, I should’ve seen the signs”). When Drake isn’t mending his heart, his heart rate is on a constant high out of some sort of fear. “In My Feelings” seems like a sweet, if not desperate call to women the distant women in his life, while “After Dark” wants to turn a late-night booty call into a bunch of needy text messages (“Late night like Left Eye, I’m creepin’/Assuming the worst ’cause I haven’t heard from you all weekend/Your silence is drivin’ me up the wall, up the wall/I cannot tell if you’re duckin’ calls or missin’ calls”). As hard as he tries with his impressive singing, a closer look at lyrics shows that Drake is more flawed and emotionally distant than ever before and at this point, it’s starting to lose its luster. It’s actually somewhat cute that he tries to win back swagger points with empowerment of “Nice For What” or the smooth come-on of “Ratchet Happy Birthday” (“They tried it, they went for it/All year and you’re still here, just ignore it/If it ain’t the real thing, you don’t want it). The one legitimate, straight-forward, sexy slow jam is “Final Fantasy” where Drake basically sings out one of his wet dreams (“Arch back, heart attack, cardiac/I need it nasty like, like Evil Angel, like Vivid/You know, nasty like how they give it”).
Like most Drake records, the final track is the real main event. “March 14” is Drake facing one of his worst fears: he’s reliving a split parental relationship all over again, only this time he’s to blame (“Single father, I hate when I hear it/I used to challenge my parents on every album/Now I’m embarrassed to tell ’em I ended up as a co-parent”). He’s remarkably mature about it, seeing the positive (“This the first positive DNA we ever celebrated”) and negative (“I got an empty crib in my empty crib”) in the situation while also being upfront with his newborn son (“Hopefully by the time you hear this/Me and your mother will have come around/Instead of always cuttin’ each other down”). THIS is the true appeal of Drake: confessional, self-conscious and detailed. As sensitive and protective Drake has laid himself out to be in his songs, it’s when he’s vulnerable and emotionally-raw where he’s interesting and compelling. Listening to him take a long, hard, five-minute look in the mirror with a mic in his hand is better for him than being surrounded by the hottest women in the best lighting and a billion dollars dumped on the city of Toronto. If Drake got his foot in the door by being so introspective on himself, why doesn’t he stick with that. Not to say that every song he does has to be “Doing It Wrong,” but he’s losing the ability to make repeats of “The Motto.”
Scorpion might be the most frustrating Drake album to date, because it seems like Drake taking two steps back when he had a chance to lunge forward. The production is impressive and Drake’s performance is the most heightened and energetic its been in the last three years, especially on the second disc. But it seems like Drake has picked the worst sides of himself to develop on this album: the social media diva and the creepy ex-boyfriend. It’s not unusual for rappers to spend a whole album flexing their success and dissing haters, but in the case of Drake it seems somewhat pathetic. Maybe if the Pusha T info dump didn’t happen, Scorpion would’ve seemed run of the mill. But given another chance to make himself as outstanding an artist he claims to be, Drake seems perfectly content to stay in his carefully-crafted comfort zone. What Drake seems to call being “upset” most people would probably better associate with “bored.”