Drake is one of pop culture’s most inscrutable figures. He’s young, with a prolific catalog and the occasional scandal. But at times his appeal is wholly wrapped up in the debate over his self-awareness. Is he a self-styled dork? Is he hard enough to be taken seriously as a rapper? Is he in on the joke?
Scorpion, Drake’s fifth studio album moves slowly, addressing some questions, while dodging others. The double-album is made up of 25 tracks, a few already familiar after months of rotation, like “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What.” Isolated to radio play, both singles sound like hits, the latter using the inventive production Drake built his empire on. But the 23 remaining tracks on Scorpion are, for the most part, much less interesting.
The first side of Scorpion is lethargic rap, half diss track, half armchair analysis of contemporary society. The second side offers more pop-tinged hip hop tracks. Nostalgia-laden samples from Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson on “Emotionless” and “Don’t Matter To Me” are smooth, not gimmicky. And, like always, Drake delivers his technical mastery, incorporating cues from grime, dancehall and soul deep cuts.
Style-wise, several tracks are Migos-ish, Drake providing his own hype via interjection. This translates on the album, but it’s hard to picture him by himself on a stage, capturing that same energy solo. “Summer Games” recalls his 2011 Jamie xx-produced “Take Care” with heavy synths. He’s shed the Afro-Caribbean affectation that defined the fun summer mixtape More Life (2017). On Scorpion, Drake returns to contemporary vibes, but loses the energy of Views (2016) or the swagger of Nothing Was The Same (2013).
Lyrically, the former child actor and current pop star is having a hard time striking the balance between desperation for fame and desire for privacy. Instead of exploring this unique tension, he addresses it (“I wasn’t hidin’ my kid from the world, I was hidin’ the world from my kid”) and moves on. Fame and wealth can be infantilizing, perhaps explaining Drake’s stunted takes.
The gossip-hungry will be disappointed in the lack of substantial dirt. His child-hiding scandal, which feels hilariously inconsequential in 2018, is addressed with his typical sass. Aside from copping to fatherhood and its implicit responsibility, and bemoaning the overall lack of “realness” in his life, there’s very little depth to Scorpion.
A double-album is a bold move, one that says, “12 songs can’t contain my genius.” But ultimately, Scorpion feels like Drake is banking on the lack of editorial process being lauded as ambition. There are still tight rhymes, bombs being hurled at the haters (and, in one of the few mic-drop moments, Rick Pitino, on the slick “Sandra’s Rose”). Drake is consistent as always, but needs to push himself harder and reach a little deeper if he wants to hold your attention for nearly 90 minutes.
Notable Tracks: “8 Out of 10” | “Emotionless” | “Nice For What”