Not since he burst onto the rap scene in 2009, has Canadian megastar Drake had his back to the wall.
However, that’s exactly where the former teen soap star found himself in the lead up to his just released fifth studio album, Scorpion, following a highly-publicised on-wax beef with Pusha-T in early June.
The stoush spawned Pusha-T’s vicious diss track “The Story of Adidon” – in which he outs Drake for fathering a secret child. It was arguably Drake’s first unanimous set-back in his almost decade-long career at hip-hop’s summit. And the internet let him know it, in no uncertain terms.
But perhaps it was also the best thing that could’ve happened to Toronto’s favourite son.
After coasting in recent years off the commercial successes of streaming behemoths Views and More Life, Drake’s watertight grip on hip-hop was suddenly under threat.
He responds in style on Scorpion, sending a statement that his hip-hop run won’t end any time soon.
At 25 tracks and 89 minutes long (including previously released number one smashes “God’s Plan”, “Nice For What” and lead single “I’m Upset”), the album ran the risk of coming off as bloated. This may explain why Drake packaged Scorpion as a two-piece set.
The decision to split the album into an A and B side – the former being all rap, the latter mostly R’nB – proves a masterstroke. Song sequencing has long been a struggle for Drake; jamming snarling raps and sultry crooning into the same tracklist has occasionally overloaded listeners in the past.
But with the liberty of a singular focus on two essentially separate projects, Drake impresses. While the lyrical content doesn’t stretch far beyond his usual boundaries of love, lust, heartbreak, braggadocio and paranoia, he finds ways to make it interesting. That said, this is an album for devoted Drake fans – if you can’t stand the 6 God, then Scorpion isn’t for you.
Side A begins with the steely “Survival”, featuring some of the 31-year-old’s most cocksure rapping (“My Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions,” he proclaims). It sets the tone perfectly.
On top of lush production from trusted collaborators Noah “40” Shebib and Boi-1da, as well as high-profile names like DJ Premier, No I.D. and DJ Paul, Drake flexes his versatility brilliantly.
There’s deep introspection on “Emotionless”, a Mariah Carey-sampling gem in which Drake first acknowledges his son. Club bangers are covered with speaker-rattlers “Nonstop” and “Mob Ties”; and hip-hop purists are catered to with the bar-heavy “Sandra’s Rose”, “8 out of 10” and “Is There More”.
Jay-Z makes an engaging appearance on “Talk Up”, referencing the recent murder of XXXTentacion (Y’all killed X, let Zimmerman live / Streets is done).
Overall, there’s a hunger in Drake’s rapping not heard since the early 2010s, and Side A would work well as a standalone record. It’s fortunate it isn’t, however, because Side B is utterly fantastic.
Again, nothing about it is overly experimental or uncomfortable for Drake on the singing portion of the LP – he stays well within the confines that have served him so well. And yet, it’s enthralling. Standout songs include the sweet “Summer Games”, the future hit “In My Feelings”, the downbeat “Jaded”, and the uptempo “Blue Tint”.
Oh, and Michael Jackson casually pops up on “Don’t Matter To Me”. Drake acquired unreleased Jackson vocals from a 1983 recording session with Paul Anka, and they sound hauntingly beautiful on this stripped back bop.
Drake concludes the album with the superb “March 14”, an emotional ode to his newborn son where he refutes the narrative that he’s an absent father.
Still, there are downfalls across Scorpion. At times Drake’s navel-gazing borders on obnoxious; there are a few duds throughout (namely the bizarre “Ratchet Happy Birthday”); and it can be draining to listen to the full double album in its entirety. But when you view Scorpion as two different creations rolled out under the same banner, it’s an undeniable winner.
Drake has managed to appease his incredibly diverse fan-base, and they clearly appreciate what he gave them. Scorpion obliterated single-day streaming records on Spotify and Apple Music, and is projected to have the largest debut sales week of 2018 on the Billboard 200 – with around 775,000 sales-plus streaming units expected in the US. It’s also slated to land at number one on the ARIA chart, and 12 of its tracks currently sit in the top 25 of the Australian Spotify rankings.
While it might not be the out-and-out rap classic social media is baying for, Scorpion is another great offering from hip-hop’s most luminous figure. – Featured Image – Screenshot, YouTube.