070618Scorpion

Courtesy of Young Money Entertainment

July 9, 2018

TEST SPIN | Drake – Scorpion

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Scorpion, Drake’s 5th studio album and 9th overall project, comes at a crucial time in his career. With three studio albums that core fans live and die by, his 4th album, Views, made an attempt to capture his ever-ballooning fanbase — balancing pop hits, club bangers, crooning ballads and a handful of regular raps. The project was widely viewed as his worst album by critics while simultaneously becoming his highest selling album accumulating 4.14 million sales in 2016 and cementing him as the biggest artist in the world.

The music world waited in suspense for Scorpion, pondering what he would do: would it be an album for the core fans? Would it be a pop album? How much of it would be rap, and how many times will we hear Drake sing? On Friday, Drake answered: Scorpion would be an album for everyone. At 25 songs, the double disk album gives a handful of songs to every listener: some introspective raps and high-tempo bangers on the A side and some smooth R&B and pop singles on the B side. Scorpion is an album with songs to please anyone but capture the heart of no-one.

The A side features a handful of tracks (“Survival,” “Emotionless,” “Sandra’s Rose,” “Is There More”) that show Drake can rap but that still sound lazy and distracted, as if he has something to say but hasn’t give it the time or effort to really capture his audience’s ears. Perhaps the album’s high point, Drake shows an unprecedented level of vulnerability and openness when addressing his new child on “March 14”:

“It’s breakin’ my spirit / Single father, I hate when I hear it / I used to challenge my parents on every album / Now I’m embarrassed to tell ’em I ended up as a co-parent / Always promised the family unit / I wanted it to be different because I’ve been through it / But this is the harsh truth now.”

Ever so poignantly, Drake opens up about his struggles bearing a child with a woman that he hardly knows, having resented growing up under separated parents himself. As the melody shifts, and crooner Drake comes out, he mourns that, in this deeply discouraging time, he is alone without people he can trust. Drake’s ever-growing braggadocious self is surprisingly — and refreshingly — absent on the album.

The pre-released smash singles “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What” are accompanied by forgettable chart attempts (“I’m Upset,” “Blue Tint”) and some cringeworthy regrets pending (“8 Out Of 10,” “Ratchet Birthday Song”). The aggressive club records are undoubtedly less impressive than the Atlanta sound they try to emulate. Bloc Boi certainly got the better track between “Nonstop” and “Look Alive.” Drake certainly isn’t struggling from “Mob Ties” and “Can’t Take a Joke” is just terrible. “Talk Up” holds its own, although everyone would be better off without another Rolex/time punchline (sorry Hov).

Drake reusing and appropriating new sounds is nothing new (earning him the name “culture vulture”), what is new is how bad they are. “One Dance” was the most streamed song on Spotify ever, and previous project, More Life, saw him appease new and old fans with “Drake Marley,” his culture-given Jamaican alter ego, and collaborations with upcoming London grime artists Giggs and Skepta. Fans would hardly pine to hear Drake mispronounce “respect,” imitating Atlanta artists, or much less matching them with awful punchlines “I’m light skin but I’m still a dark ***** ”. “Survival” shows Drake at home, with a quintessential OVO beat and cheeky, clever punchlines (“House on both coasts, but I live on the charts”).

Those looking for sensual Drake will find him on the B side, with a flurry of bedroom ballads (“Peak,” “Jaded,” “Finesse,” “After Dark,” “Final Fantasy”) and some classic, archetypal Drake talking to women, sharing his feelings on whatever they have done to him (“Summer Games,” “That’s How You Feel,” “In My Feelings,” “Don’t Matter to Me”). Much like the A side, the middle two fall short in chasing other sounds (“In My Feelings” is just a lazy, less impressive “Nice for What”), while “Don’t Matter to Me” is carried by stellar instrumentation and an unreleased Michael Jackson sample (think “Teenage Fever” but slightly less catchy and less actual Drake).

And that seems to be Scorpion’s shortcoming. The album feels bloated by either fillers or songs where Drake comes off distracted, lazy or uninspired. He might be “upset,” but he also sounds bored and fatigued. With a tweaked chorus or different beat, the highlights could have become classics, and the mediocre records could be revisited (is there a more classic Drake rap beat than “8 Out Of 10,” right under the most annoying chorus Drake has ever sung?). “Is There More” is rapped over what sounds like a creaking door, or furniture being dragged over a wooden floor, and “That’s How You Feel” is an R&B smash with a respectable chorus. With rambling thoughts, disjointed lyrics and empty hooks, Scorpion loses its shine in the same places that brought Drake his fame and acclaim.

Above all, what Scorpion misses is what quintessentially identified Drake: his ability to rap and sing. Largely responsible for the revival of R&B, Drake left a lane that he not only forged, but also hardly lacks popularity or profitability, as seen by Bryson Tiller, Tory Lanez, Kehlani, 6lack and PARTYNEXTDOOR, to name a few. When the music is written without inspiration, without care – or perhaps not by Drake at all – the fans notice, and the cries for Drake to grow with them have only grown louder.

I have joined those Drake fans, yelling that Drake is falling apart, that his music is getting worse and that the hit song from his latest project shouldn’t repeat “jumpman” 46 times (or mention the Taliban, perhaps). If consumers miss that Drake, Views, and now Scorpion (which is already on track to break all streaming/sales records) certainly aren’t evidence of that. Rather, they show that whatever the critics say, and however disappointed we are, we will still know at least half of the album by heart, and Drake will only continue to break more records and dominate the music industry. Scorpion reaffirms Drake’s newer identity and priority as a pop star with an album title as generic and unexplained as the music itself.

But the time will come when the world will tire of uninspired Drake. With Kendrick’s DAMN outselling More Life, that moment might be closer than we think. As a Drake fan since Comeback Season (released in 2007) who has savored the glimmers and specks of brilliance over the past few years, Scorpion is the end for me. Biggie’s Life After Death was also a double album, released after his tragic death and is perhaps an appropriate parallel to Scorpion: incomplete and an unnecessary end to an otherwise monumental artist. Falling in love with a story should be effortless, and with each of Aubrey’s latest projects, it seems increasingly belabored, artificial and contrived. And as I put my headphones on and play “Trust Issues” or “Marvin’s Room” for the umpteenth time, I accept that I likely won’t hear records like that ever again, records that really pull at my heart — at least from my favorite artist.

3/5

 

Nick Mileti is a graduate from the class of 2017. He can be reached at ncm45@cornell.edu.