Critic's Notebook: Drake Overplays His Hand on Bloated Double Album 'Scorpion'
Drake's exhausting, uneven double rap/RnB record finds the artist trying to be all things to all people.
Drake dropped his new album Scorpion late last night, and it’s a double decker of obese proportions; he’s a glutton for punishment and, well, just generally a glutton. The rapper-actor-singer is the consummate consumer, and this record finds him gorging himself on his own personae.
Drake’s had a busy year, from making moms cry for his tearjerker/charity exploitation video for “God’s Plan” to getting embroiled with Pusha T in a very public, messy rap tete-a-tete that left him wounded, but not broken. After all, he’s at his Drake-iest when he’s got a little blood on his lip and is backed into some sort of defensive posture.
Pusha T took what was originally a fairly straightforward back-and-forth rap beef and escalated it to legendary status, with Drake coming out the other end a true heel. Pusha called out Drake for using ghostwriters, and Drake came back and started criticizing Pusha and Kanye’s families. This led Pusha to reveal that — in addition to dredging up a photo of Drizzy in blackface — Drake had secretly fathered a child and hadn’t been a figure in the child’s life. That swiftly ended the beef, even though Drake tried to pretend he had a comeback that would be “career-ending,” which feels more like kayfabe than a real warning. Drake is a lot of things, but a credible violent threat has never been one of them. He’s also never been as much rapper as performer, and this year has exposed that even further.
The new record is an attempt to make you forget that Drake dipped his toe too far into the waters of ruthless old-school rap battles and got deeply humiliated for very personal failings. As such, the bloated double LP overcompensates and feels indulgent, even by Drizzy standards. No one should be putting out double albums in 2018. There’s really no reason — especially here.
The first disc is a straightforward rap record and does nothing to make you feel like Drake is anything but the Milhouse of the rap game. “I’m Upset” is one of the whiniest moments, in a career defined by them. He boasts, “I always take the money over sex,” which is both weird and sad. “8 out of 10” comes off like a knockoff Ghostface record. “Mob Ties” is Drake cosplaying a mumble rapper, talking about outsourcing his problems to contract killers. “Can’t Take a Joke” is more tough-guy talk, sub bass growls and gun sound effects. There’s really nothing less menacing than Drake threatening gunplay; he’s the guy moms love and that’s always been his lane.
“Sandra’s Rose” is another fake Kanye beat on which he brays about being betrayed over and over again. “Talk Up” features Jay-Z and a flip of the “Dope Man” sample but is relatively disposable. The last track, “Is There More,” feels like his version of “Is That All There Is?,” where he refers to himself as Maya Angelou because, why not? A brief moment of clarity comes in his self-interrogation, “Is there any sense in doin' these songs when I'm high?” before he goes on, “Is there more to life than goin' on trips to Dubai?” Deep, man. The first album feels as flat as Ye in parts, and like a rough draft that was rushed to press.
The best part of this double album — like much of Drake’s discography — is the production. Of course, it’s the result of a whopping 32 producers being commissioned for the 25 songs in the package, led by the creative direction of OVO stalwart 40. As a result, there are some interesting sonic moments, even if there isn’t much cohesion outside of an affinity for low frequencies and baroque existential loops. That said, after ten songs or so the quantization starts to really suck the life out of things and listening becomes quite the slog.
Luckily, the second record is much more interesting since it’s RnB, a genre in which Drake is much more of a natural and at home to. “Summer Games” is probably the most unexpected and unique song on the disc and almost feels like some lost new/no wave gem. “Nice for What” and “In My Feelings” find Drake taking on New Orleans bounce with an RnB twist, and might be two of the most enduring tracks here. “That’s How You Feel” is another strong flip of a Nicki Minaj sample.
Moreover, the humorous bits land far more often on the second album than the first. Moments like the quiet storm interlude at the tail of "After Dark" and the track "Ratchet Happy Birthday" are genuinely endearing. When he's not taking himself so seriously, he's much more pleasant to be around. But even if the second disc has enough high points to make it worthwhile, there’s still tons of filler here.
The most hype in the record’s promotional cycle was focused on a posthumous Michael Jackson guest spot delivering the hook on “Don’t Matter To Me,” which is as unsettling as a Tupac hologram, but ultimately not as offensive. It sounds like a Weeknd B-side but is weird enough to break up some of the exhaustion of listening to this whole thing in one sitting. (Everything about Drake is exhausting, really, like that friend who turns a quick coffee into a two hour psychotherapy session about them. He just wants to be loved by everyone. But it’s a tiring affair.)
Finally, Drake addresses the Pusha track on “March 14,” where he acknowledges his child Adonis for the first time on the record and offers his version of a mea culpa. Though it’s a positive thing that he wants to be in his son’s life after a public flogging, the apology falls flat.
Regardless of his morality, Scorpion is proof that Drake has no editor and no distinct worldview. In trying to please too many people — rap heads, soccer moms and everyone in between — he’s lost a sense of himself. He still has some ideas worth exploring, but he more often comes off as trying to sound like someone else. The new album ticks a lot of boxes but ultimately, like the apology song, is the work of a man who wants to do the right thing but rarely for the right reasons.