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The Highs And Lows Of Drake’s Scorpion

It’s official: Drake (aka Aubrey Graham) is unassailable. The Canadian hip-hopper is back on top despite that humiliating take-down by Pusha-T. King Push had been quietly feuding with Drizzy for years. In June, things came to a head – culminating in Pusha unleashing the savagely personal missive ‘The Story Of Adidon’. The Clipse MC accused Drake of “hiding a child” with former adult film star Sophie Brussaux and of being a “deadbeat mothafucka” – the expose all but ruining his good guy image. For the art, Pusha uncovered an old image of Drake wearing blackface – surely more damaging than even any paternity drama. But, with Scorpion, Drake reclaims authorship of his own narrative – and admits to some flaws. Mind, he is evasive. Drake doesn’t directly address the blackface furore beyond an earlier Instagram statement. In the song ‘Emotionless’ he raps, “They always ask, “Why let the story run if it’s false?/You know a wise man once said nothin’ at all.”

Regardless, Scorpion, Drake’s fifth album proper, has smashed streaming records – the star becoming Spotify’s regent. Scorpion has also spawned several singles, including ‘God’s Plan’ (an Australian chart-topper), ‘Nice For What’ and ‘I’m Upset’ (the video of which cleverly revisits Drake’s old TV show, Degrassi: The Next Generation). Drizzy is saved by the braggadocio.

Conceived as a double-album, with 25 tracks, Scorpion represents Drake as both a street-savvy rapper (Side A) and smooth R&B singer (Side B). Sonically, it’s less experimental (and less all-embracing) than last year’s “playlist”, More Life. But Drake’s curation is shrewd. He has actually contrived a way to have a guest spot from the late King Of Pop himself, Michael Jackson.

The 6 God is surprisingly self-aware. The opening ‘Survival’ references how Drake is seen through the lens of memedom: “My Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions.” Then, in ‘Can’t Take a Joke’, he spills, “Back and forth to Italy/ My comment section killin’ me/ I swear I get so passionate/ Y’all do not know the half of it.” Still, not every one is digging Scorpion. The average review rating on Metacritic is 68 (and Pitchfork gave it 6.9). So what is the vibe?

Why Scorpion Rules

Drake can do it all

Like Kanye West, Drake is the very embodiment of the ‘post-rapper’. At some points, he is a compelling MC (fans apparently don’t care about charges of ghostwriting, once a hip-hop crime) and, at others, a smooth quiet storm vocalist. As a hip-hopper, Drake ushered in a new interiority. He raps less about the streets than his inner life and feelings. It’s no wonder that Drake is frequently dubbed an emo-rapper. These aspects of his persona are accentuated on Scorpion with its dual sides. The album has Drake’s sharpest bars (cue: the grinding electro ‘Nonstop’), but it also contains some of his most revealing songs (‘March 14’).

Drake is sly AF

In Scorpion’s victorious intro, ‘Survival’, Drake cites past beefs with Meek Mill (“I’ve had real Philly n****s try to write my endin'”) and Bad Boy’s Puff Daddy, aka Diddy which most of us had totally forgotten about. However, Drake generally prefers to be subliminal – and cryptic – with his disses. As such, any interpretation is inevitably speculative (there’s possibly some shadowboxing with Yeezy). But, in addition to acknowledging his son (and rationalising the secrecy), Drake does fire back at Pusha over the “deadbeat” diss. In ‘8 Out Of 10′, he raps, “The only deadbeats is whatever beats I been rappin’ to” and then “Kiss my son on the forehead, then kiss your ass goodbye/As luck would have it, I’ve settled into my role as the good guy.”

Drake is a canny curator

More Life was Drake’s most musically adventurous project. In comparison, Scorpion, heavy on trap, is streamlined. Drake has moved on from his dancehall phase and is now enamoured of Southern US styles like New Orleans bounce.

The bulk of Scorpion‘s production comes from Drake’s old allies – led by his OVO Sound partner Noah “40” Shebib. Drake has recruited a legendary hip-hop beatmaker in DJ Premier, who brings a vintage soul fervour to ‘Sandra’s Rose’ (titled for Drake’s florist mother).

The samples on Scorpion are cool, too. Music heads flipped out when Drake (well, producer Murda Beatz) lifted the hook for ‘Nice For What’ from Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor’. ‘Emotionless’ is elevated by the gospel tones of Mariah Carey – sampling the club remix of her C+C Music Factory-helmed ‘Emotions’. Best of all, Drake has Aussie soulstress Nai Palm (of Hiatus Kaiyote) riff off Aaliyah’s ‘More Than A Woman’ in ‘Is There More’. The Aaliyah classic was previously sampled by Solange on A Seat At The Table.

There has been much excitement over the presence of Michael Jackson on Scorpion‘s ‘Don’t Matter To Me’. But Drake also pays homage to another cult R&B figure in Static Major, aka Stephen Garrett. Garrett was a member of the cherished R&B trio Playa, associated with Timbaland’s fold. They released one album, 1998’s Cheers 2 U, entailing a duet with Aaliyah, whom Drake stans. Garrett was likewise an influential songwriter, notably penning ‘More Than A Woman’. He died in 2008. Nevertheless, Garrett is granted feature status on ‘After Dark’. Elsewhere on Scorpion, ‘In My Feelings’ samples Lil Wayne’s ‘Lollipop’, which also featured Garrett.

Apart from Jackson, the flossiest guest is Drake’s onetime foe Jay-Z on ‘Talk Up’ – produced by Three 6 Mafia’s DJ Paul. If Drake has been criticised for being apolitical in the Trump era, then Hov has no such qualms. He raps, “I got your President tweetin’, I won’t even meet with him/ Y’all killed X [murdered rapper XXXTentacion] and let [George] Zimmerman [who fatally shot Trayvon Martin] live, shhh, streets is done.”

Scorpion’s highlights:

‘Nonstop’, ‘Emotionless’, ‘God’s Plan’, ‘Is There More’, ‘After Dark’ (Featuring Static Major and Ty Dolla $ign), ‘March 14’.

Why Scorpion misses the mark

The album is way too long

Is Scorpion more bloat than GOAT? Drake’s last album, 2016’s VIEWS, blew up – and gave us the iconic hits ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘One Dance’. Yet, overall, VIEWS underwhelmed critics and fans alike due to its filler. Scorpion has the same problem. It would have worked better as a single set. Conceivably, Drake opted for the double-album format to fulfil his contract with Cash Money (via Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment). On ‘Is There More’ he raps, “Yeah, soon as this album drop I’m out of the deal.” Oddly, Drake left off (the underrated) ‘Diplomatic Immunity’ from January.

Drake doesn’t say much that is new

Drake’s unique selling point is his emo sensibility. The 31-year-old typically raps about Toronto, fame, haters, money and women – albeit existentially. He’s not abandoning those themes on Scorpion. Though considered a confessional artist, Drake can be furtive. On Scorpion, the star confirms that he’s a father. And, specifically in ‘Emotionless’, he explains why he didn’t share the news. “I wasn’t hidin’ my kid from the world/ I was hidin’ the world from my kid.” The most revelatory song is the closer ‘March 14’, written for his son, who is unnamed. While again never mentioning Brussaux, Drake discloses that the pair only ever had two encounters – and that relations are currently thwart (even ‘I’m Upset’ hinted at alimony issues). Drake has seen his kid once – yet he’s committed to co-parenting. Drake acknowledges his fears of being an absent parent, as his own dad was. Alas, he’s still self-absorbed.

The Michael Jackson song isn’t that amazing

One of the most buzz songs on Scorpion is ‘Don’t Matter To Me’ – future R&B produced by 40 alongside Nineteen85 (the guy behind the Drake’n’B bops ‘Hold On, We’re Going Home’, ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘One Dance’). Rumours suggest that Drake originally intended to have The Weeknd sing on the track – but they fell out when Drizzy had a dalliance with The Weeknd’s on/off supermodel love Bella Hadid. (In ‘Sandra’s Rose’, Drake raps cheekily, “My house is full of supermodels just like [Bella’s father] Mohamed Hadid.”) Ditching The Weeknd for Michael Jackson, with whom he’s often compared, is some serious shade. ‘Don’t Matter To Me’ uses previously unaired vocals Jackson recorded during sessions with Canadian soft rocker Paul Anka in the ’80s. But, beyond the hype, it’s not very memorable. In fact, it could be a cast-off of The Weeknd’s.

Scorpion’s lowlights:

‘Ratchet Happy Birthday’, ‘Don’t Matter To Me’ (featuring Michael Jackson), ‘Final Fantasy’.

Drake’s new album ‘Scorpion’ is, of course, out now.

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