THE OVO MUSIC MOGUL’S LATEST OFFERING IS BREAKING ALL THE RECORDS, BUT IS THERE SUBSTANCE BEHIND THE STATS?
As I settle down to digest to Drake’s latest album, trying to balance a mixture of excitement, wariness and intrigue, I can’t help but notice the introduction he offers to Scorpion is strangely petulant.
Out of character for the man who serenely swatted aside Meek Mill’s agitations in 2015, and who, more recently, emerged from Pusha T’s supposedly career-shattering bombshell that Drake has a secret child with another platinum plaque under his belt, a new collection of smashed records and quite credible claims to being the number one artist of this generation. Somehow, the criticisms and ridicule Drake often has to face for being a rapper that sings only serves to aid his progression. Drake won the beef with Meek Mill without ever addressing the allegations of ghostwriting. Out of the 25 tracks on Scorpion, just one of them concerns Pusha T’s baby accusation. Such is the power of Drake’s PR machine, he doesn’t really need to properly respond to his detractors, because he’s the one looking down on the rest of the industry. If anything, the constant attempts to undermine the Toronto crooner help reinforce his lucrative image as rap’s outsider, the downtrodden nice-guy who gets a bit too emotional in public.
But this is why the note Drake headers his new album with on Apple Music seems odd. It consists of all the stereotypical jibes aimed at the rapper, such as: “DRAKE SINGS TOO MUCH…DRAKE DOESN’T EVEN WRITE HIS OWN SONGS…DRAKE DIDN’T START FROM THE BOTTOM…DRAKE MAKES MUSIC FOR GIRLS…DRAKE IS AN ACTOR” before finishing with the dismissive, “YEAH YEAH WE KNOW”. This comes across initially as unusually petty, perhaps showing a chink in Drake’s armour betraying that he does really care what people are saying about him. His short rebuke isn’t really strong enough to make it sound otherwise. However, the main course itself soon overshadows any doubts about this aperitif.
Admittedly, seeing that the tracklist read 25 songs long made me nervous. The likes of the Migos, Playboi Carti, Post Malone and Tory Lanez all failed to excite over longer projects, while Kanye West’s recent series of efficient, well-structured 7-track albums seemed to epitomise the appetite of the modern short attention span. Furthermore, Drake’s Views and More Life suffered critically from a lack of variation, yet still thrived commercially. Is Scorpion another example of a mediocre project that’s benefited from exceptional promotion?
It appears the answer is no. There aren’t many artists who can carry a 25 song album, and had you asked me a month ago, I wouldn’t have said Drake was one of them. However, on Scorpion he shows us why he is the maestro of judging the right mood for a song, and juggles the braggadocious with the vulnerable expertly. It benefits from being split into two acts, the first being all rap and the second being predominantly R&B.
Act I shows off Drake’s primary weapon - his lyricism. His storytelling ability is second to none in the rap world, and he punctuates each line with a level of introspection that usually means the song’s catchiness has to be sacrificed, as if often the case with Kendrick Lamar. But Drake delivers on all fronts, with ‘Emotionless’ being the jewel in the lyrical crown. It has so far gone largely under the radar, but if you listen to just one track off the album, listen to this one. It perfectly sums up Drake’s awareness of the times and his talent for expressing these in an engaging, insightful way. He comes across as witty, but tinges the track with a sadness with regards to where the social media age is taking us (“I know a girl happily married 'til she puts down her phone/I know a girl that saves pictures from places she's flown/To post later and make it look like she still on the go/Look at the way we live”).
‘Nonstop’ and ‘Elevate’ bring Drake’s perspective firmly back to the present, as he celebrates his success and sends out ominous warnings to his competitors. Not much more needs to be said about the smash hit of the year, ‘God’s Plan’, which cements Act I together, while ‘Mob Ties’ also deserves a mention as exemplary of the variation in Scorpion, with Drake switching up his flow and range, and maintaining the listener’s attention as a result. Act I tapers off towards the end, with a surprise feature from Drake’s arch-nemesis Jay-Z serving as the main point of intrigue.
Act II contains more of the typical ‘album tracks’ that the hardcore fans might give a second listen but the majority will find forgettable. Drake seems to have honed his tendency towards downcast, hazy laments, and Scorpion’s second half seems like a more polished hark back to Drake’s earlier projects, where singing was a much more central weapon in his armoury. ‘Jaded’ and ‘Finesse’ are perfectly orchestrated in their laconic, resigned melancholy, while ‘Nice For What’ and ‘Ratchet Happy Birthday' provide more upbeat counterparts.
And of course, you can’t have a Drake album without having a song that manages to go viral. On Views it was ‘Hotline Bling’, on Scorpion, this role is fulfilled by the enchantingly melodic ‘In My Feelings’, which has spawned a dance move challenge being attempted by numerous celebrities. The song itself is catchy, but its successor in the tracklist, ‘Don’t Matter To Me’, featuring a moving hook from a previously unreleased Michael Jackson song, steals the spotlight in Act II. This is Drake seemingly placing himself on a par with the pop legend, due to him recently breaking Jackson’s record of American Music Awards nominations, along with his 1983 chart record of the number of consecutive weeks at number one.
The album closes with ‘March 14’, without doubt the most personal of the 25. Drake confirms he has a child, and takes us through the emotional and mental journey that took him on, confessing his regret at being a single father (“Always promised the family unit/I wanted it to be different because I've been through it”) and how his mentality has had to change with the birth of his son (“Realize I gotta think for two now/I gotta make it, I better make it”). Again, Drake’s adept wordplay is showcased whilst not cheapening the message of the track (“But this Champagne toast is short-lived/I got an empty crib in my empty crib”), as he tentatively meanders from line to line, his pain seeping through the pauses. The fact that Drake opted for this honest, remorseful response to Pusha T’s accusations about his child is further evidence that Drake knows how to handle and win a public battle.
Drake has always been renowned for the openness and tenderness of his rhymes, but in recent times his authenticity had been called into question. Was he just a frontman for a major marketing strategy? Did he use ghostwriters? Did he have a secret child?
Scorpion doesn’t give us all the answers, but to quote Gone with the Wind’s Rhett Butler - ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’. Scorpion exceeds its most recent predecessors in almost every department, as Drake somehow raises his own bar yet again. As Pusha T and Meek Mill learnt the hard way, any frogs that try to swim across to the king of rap’s throne will get stung without fail.
Why? Because it’s in a Scorpion’s nature.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?