Drake – Scorpion
Genre: Rap, R&B
“A baby’s involved, it’s deeper than rap/We talkin’ character, let me keep with the facts/You are hiding a child, let that boy come home”
—Pusha T, “The Story of Adidon”
These are the now-infamous lines that capped off one of the hottest rap beefs in years, maybe of all time. After Pusha T sparked the fuel on “Infrared”, his target Drake responded with a calm, calculated response on “Duppy Freestyle”. But this was what really ignited the fire, as Pusha would then go on to unleash “The Story of Adidon”, arguably one of the most brutal diss tracks in all of hip-hop. Drake had already had a huge 2018; “God’s Plan” became possibly his biggest hit of his career, and its follow-up, the bounce-fueled “Nice For What”, also found itself great success. These are what the mainstream will remember about Drake this year for. The Pusha T beef is what the fans will remember. On “Duppy Freestyle”, you can tell Drake was in a mindset that he had better things to do, more of just a brush-off than a diss. But Pusha’s lines on “Infrared” suggested fuel for a much bigger fire, and that fire was what “The Story of Adidon” brought out. Whatever wave Drake was riding suddenly crashed; his defense of his use of blackface, his release of “I’m Upset”—a contender for his worst song ever—and his backing out of dropping a potentially career-ending Pusha response all affected what was one of his biggest years ever.
Despite all this, Scorpion is not a 90-minute response to “The Story of Adidon”. But the beef surely affected the album, as much of it is built around his son, named Adonis. “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world/I was hiding the world from my kid”, he raps on “Emotionless”. He goes much more in depth about it in “March 14”, one of his most personal tracks in a sea full of them. Those are the most major mentions of Adonis, however; elsewhere, his son only shows up in passing references. But the beef still holds an aura over Scorpion. The opening track “Survival” continues in Drake’s long line of standout intros, reflecting on past faceoffs (“I’ve had real Philly n—s try to write my ending/I’ve had scuffles with Bad Boys that wasn’t pretending”), and addressing the flaws that come with being at the top (“The crown is broken in pieces, but there’s more in my possession”). These tropes have been Drake staples for a long time, but with so much going on behind the scenes, it’s a bit more interesting this time around. And with 25 tracks, split into an A side and a B side, Scorpion should use this to expand more on this, and if it did, it could be a much better album. Unfortunately, Scorpion falls far too deep into worn-out tropes and cliches over its runtime that it instead becomes Drake’s most boring and drawn-out effort yet, even with its occasional moments of brilliance.
Side A, the rap-focused side, is extremely hit-or-miss, with its tracks either reaching very high highs or very low lows. His undeniable love for ‘90s R&B classics continues here; “Emotionless” flips a Mariah Carey classic into one of his best tracks in recent memory; “Is There More’’ reworks a verse from a 2001 Aaliyah song. His great eye for introspectiveness is at no shortage here either, paying homage to his florist mother (“Sandra’s Rose”), reflecting on those he has benefitted over the years (“Elevate”), and questioning his general status overall (“Is There More”). Drake has previously shined on introspective cuts due to his raw honesty and lack of hesitation to tell it how it is, and it’s no different on these cuts. JAY Z also shows up for a verse on the menacing, DJ Paul-produced, N.W.A.-sampling “Talk Up”, delivering one of the standout lines of the album (“Y’all killed X and let Zimmerman live, streets is done”). Unfortunately, the high points of Side A are majorly offsetted by a barrage of lazy stabs at trap cliches and ripped-off flows. “I’m Upset” is a strong contender for his worst song ever, a generic, disheartened retelling of drawn-out tropes coated in a flow that sounds like he just woke up and was forced into recording it. “Mob Ties” is such a blatant ripoff of Young Thug that it’s hard to believe his complete absence from the credits. The intimidating bassline of “Nonstop” is the only thing saving it from its uninspired, half-baked boasts. Even with its occasional flashes of greatness, Side A is too caught up in retelling things we’ve already heard from him, only in a much more boring way.
Side B, the R&B-focused side, offers a little more cohesion and contains most of the album’s best songs; ever since Take Care in 2011, fans have anticipated a full R&B album from Drake, and Side B is the closest thing we’ll get to that, giving him all the space he needs to create melancholy, slow-burning ballads. While it does suffer from the same problem Side A did (rehashing old tropes), the thing is that, this time around, it actually sounds pretty great for the most part. “Summer Games” and “Finesse” are tailor-made for late-night summer drives, while “Jaded” makes even the most Drake-esque mannerisms (“That’s why I’m not with nobody/‘Cause I don’t wanna hurt nobody”) sound great. Elsewhere, he flexes his VIP status by enlisting unreleased Michael Jackson vocals to heighten the mood of “Don’t Matter To Me”, and recruits Future for an energetic banger on “Blue Tint”. “In My Feelings” expands on the New Orleans bounce infusions that “Nice For What” utilized, and already seems poised to become the next big hit off the album. Just like Side A, it’s nothing we haven’t heard in the past from Drake, but for the most part, it should satisfy those clamoring for a full R&B project from Drake, and avoids the lethargic deliveries of Side A.
But even if Side B offers much more than Side A in terms of quality, it should not be ignored that even with it being split into two sides, Scorpion is still 25 tracks and 90 minutes long. Ever since Migos released the 24-track Culture II in January, artists have been packing as many songs as they can into their albums, for one primary reason; streaming numbers. Billboard has now allowed streaming numbers to count towards album sales, so that means that the more songs equals more streams equals more sales. Bingo. But the main question is; why would Drake, of all people, need to do this? Drake is one of the few artists that could record themselves literally screaming into the mic for a full-length album and still break chart records. Everything Drake puts out will garner tons of listeners anyway; what’s the point of stuffing so much in? By the time Side B rolls around, 39 minutes have already passed, 39 minutes comprised mostly of filler with a few major highlights. Sure, most of the album’s best songs are past that point, but it’s already been such a chore leading up to it that it’s easy to lose much interest by then. If Drake shaved about three or four or maybe even five tracks off each side, Scorpion could rank among his strongest efforts. But instead we’re left with an overlong, overstuffed mess of an album with some moments of excellence.
And here’s the thing; length isn’t anything new to Drake. His previous studio album, 2016’s Views, clocked in at 20 tracks, while his 2017 “playlist” More Life sat at 22. However, both albums (well, not as much on Views) mostly avoided Scorpion’s issue by playing around with new styles and sounds. Views introduced a newfound fascination with Caribbean music, which also gave him connections to several different artists across the world and propelled him even further mainstream, although it itself did suffer from several tracks that could’ve been left out. More Life expanded this even further, culminating in tropical-style summer anthems like “Passionfruit”, “Madiba Riddim”, “Get It Together” and “Blem”, while also delving into British grime music and putting lesser-known artists on the map, making it ultimately his most sprawling and experimental project yet. However, after all the experimentations of these two efforts, it would have made much more sense for Scorpion to expand even more with all this. Yet instead, we’re back where we left off pre-Views, except minus the creativity of projects like If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and Nothing Was the Same. Sure, Scorpion definitely has its moments, but really, it just comes across as Drake trying too hard to pander to too many people, losing itself in cliches, and ultimately preventing it from separating itself from Drake’s previous efforts. Try again next time.
Photo courtesy of Cash Money Records