While not sonically adventurous, Drake’s fifth studio album, “Scorpion”, is his most telling and observant record to date, revealing major character flaws in an otherwise unblemished career.
An auction house took bargains for a notebook scribbled with verses from Drake’s first ever mixtape the same week he released his 11th full-length project, further cementing his legacy as one of rap’s most valuable acts.
Whereas the auction highlights the legacy of an artist through a nostalgic perspective, “Scorpion” is the intimate conversation with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Introduced to the world nine years ago, a lot has changed for the self-described “wide-eyed and uneducated” rapper that transformed hip-hop through a unique fusion of rap and R&B.
Divided into two discs, the 25 song project was not the perfect split between the two worlds of hip-hop and R&B Drake has irreversibly intertwined. Instead, both side A and side B are successful in achieving the classical-music-inspired ballroom aesthetic put forth in his breakout mixtape “So Far Gone”.
Side A is an exercise in the showmanship expected of a rapper atop of the food chain. The moments of bombastic instrumentation, as featured on “Mob Ties”, “8 out of 10” and “Nonstop”, make it clear that patience has run thin. It is bravado personified, containing constant reminders of Drake’s unattainable success in rap.
“I mean you know I love a challenge, but challenged by who?” he asks on “Is There More”. “Even if you rounded up the numbers and rounded the troops, there’s still nothin’ they could really do.”
However, the overt confidence dominating some songs is severely lacking in others, displaying human insecurities masked by a rap star’s required arrogance.
On various points of the record, Drake mentions the toll that criticism from listeners and betrayals by fellow rappers has had on his approach to his career going forward. While the production by longtime friend and collaborator Noah “40” Shebib, DJ Premier, Boi-1da and Tay Keith (among many others) is piercing, direct and confrontational, Drake’s performance is passive-aggressive, often using subtleties to discuss important issues throughout.
This approach rang in a subtly damning and docile tone by failing to treat forceful criticism in a direct way.
The most potent of these criticisms came from one of Drake’s rap idols, just a few weeks before “Scorpion” would release. Dropping bombshell news of Drake fostering a child with a woman he barely knew, assessing the martial issues his parents faced and Shebib’s failing health due to multiple sclerosis (ironically released on World MS Day), Pusha-T’s “The Story of Adidon” was sinister and unrelenting. Pusha’s diss record called into question the moral character of a man who never admits fault for his own damaging actions.
What began as routine lyrical sparring between the two artists developed into something far more personal and condemning.
As a response, it is clear that pressure forced Drake to posthumously rewrite portions of the album in the waning days before its release as he tries to defend himself. “8 Out of 10” and “Emotionless” are the clearest examples of this, filled with subtle insults to the G.O.O.D Music camp, namely its president Pusha-T and founder Kanye West.
“Meeting my heroes [sic] like seeing how magic works,” says Drake on “Emotionless”. “The people I look up to are going from bad to worse.”
Side B prioritizes the melody and vulnerability that Drake’s music is often coupled with as he once again tackles criticism and betrayal, this time from former lovers.
“Peak” begins Side B as a curious introduction to a lover in a unique circumstance. A bass-heavy and mesmerizing two chord loop reveals that a mysterious English woman has captured Drake’s interest.
Directly following, “Summer Games” tells the tale of an ephemeral romance, seeing sunrise and nightfall within the same summer over a layered, sometimes distracting 1980s-inspired synthetic keyboard melody. In describing the tone of the relationship, Drake admits to using immature tactics on social media to decipher his lover’s true intention.
“I follow one of your friends, you unfollow me,” sings Drake. “Then you block them so they can’t see you liking someone just like me.” Poignant.
The veil of the mysterious woman’s identity is finally lifted on the third song on Side B. “Jaded” is one of the sonic highlights on the record. It begins with an abrupt pop followed by the soothing sound of sand falling on the ground. Each instrumental element blends together contrasting Drake’s structured and rigid harmonizing, which never ventures too far from the original melody.
As “Jaded” progresses, Drake sings in a freeform stream-of-consciousness. His pain is uncontainable and therefore revealing, describing with chilling detail a woman who broke his heart after being given what she “needed.” In the case of a singer-songwriter from the West Midlands community in England named Jorja Smith, a feature on Drake’s previous full-length LP “More Life” would suffice. Details of the relationship and its sour nature pour out as Drake expresses feeling taken advantage of.
“Yes, I’m hurting, yes I’m jaded,” sings Drake in a reaction to the romance’s sudden end. “You played me: low down, dirty, shameful, crazy.”
A few oddly sequenced tracks interrupt Side B’s attempts to support its richly dark sonic pitch. “Blue Tint”, “Ratchet Happy Birthday” and “In My Feelings” are all divergent missteps in the flow of Scorpion’s latter half. In fact, each of the album’s promotional singles, “God’s Plan”, “I’m Upset” and “Nice For What” bear the same distracting effect.
While containing some major flaws, “Scorpion” is the first Drake album that reveals as much about his character as it does his personal life. Drake’s return to the ornamental sound on songs like “Brand New” and “Fear” in “So Far Gone” is refreshing, even if the mystique behind his character has been lost.
“I would rather have you remember me how we met,” says Drake, making his obsession with reputation known on “Is There More”. “I would rather lose my leg than lose their respect.”