Drake Defends His Name and Protects His Game on Double Album ‘Scorpion’
Canadian rapper Drake is surely one of today’s biggest names in hip-hop — that is, if you exactly consider him hip-hop. He has alternated between raging on the streets growling about his “Worst Behavior” to prancing around colorful rooms in jubilant song and dance with “Hotline Bling.” This time around, Drake has chosen to release an ambitious 25-song record titled “Scorpion.” He has described the undertaking as split into two halves, the first more hip-hop oriented, and the second more R&B centered.
“Survival” opens the double album with a short, minimal, classic hip-hop beat, based around a short sample from German composer Claude Larson’s “Talex,” which gives the instrumental all its character. Drake’s rambling delivery on the intro sounds more spoken word than rapping, but the second song, “Nonstop” promptly brings back the edge,with standard trap snare pattern and repeated snippets from Mackk Daddy Ju’s ‘90s “My Head is Spinning,” adding some old school gangster flavor.“Elevate” finds Drake singing again. He seems to have a knack for writing instantly catchy hooks,,though he typically sings them in the least charismatic way. The rap lyrics of the entire song are half sung to fit with the chorus melody, an it does make for a flowing, catchy number.
The album’s fourth track, “Emotionless,” picks up with a beat of skittering trap hats and a prominent Mariah Carey sample. Draze is on top of this flow here, going on a digression of sorts, expressing uncertainty of the future. At one point, he addresses Pusha-T’s recent allegation that he had secretly had a song, explaining,”I wasn’t hidin’ my kid from the world / I was hidin’ the world from my kid.” At any rate, Drake’s quibbles about the world, at large, cannot be all-consuming. After all, the album’s next track is the ubiquitous singsong “God’s Plan — catchy from beginning to end, and generally positive in sentiment. “I’m Upset” is the inevitable rap song about the downside to fame and leechers on. The barebones, syncopated, repetitive beat fits perfectly for his clipped lines and steady meter here.
After the wildly popular singles “God’s Plan” and I’m Upset” comes “8 Out of 10,” with a bit of a classic New York flavor, accompanied by cheery, triumphant sampled bits. On this one, Drake calls out Pusha-T and the haters, dismisses their judgment, and brags of his female fanbase, attesting, “Your sister is pressin’ play.” “Mob Ties” is dancy, propulsive, catchy number about cutting ties with people who have betrayed you. With lyrics like, “I fuck with the mob and I got ties (lotta ties, lotta ties) / Knock you off to pay their tithes / They want me gone but don’t know why / It’s too late for all that lovey-dovey shit / I’m your brother shit, all that other shit,” the major melodies of the tune put a rather fun spin on the solemn subject matter. “Can’t Take a Joke” is a clear standout, instantly infectious. Sometimes, a couple half-rapped melodic phrases repeated incessantly over a crisp,hard beat, is really all you need to craft a classic song. This track explores the extravagant life, and calls out those who come to lack humor along their rise to fame. Next,” Sandra’s Rose” further tackles the glamorous lifestyle, but Finds Drake ultimately emerging rather disillusioned, and assuming the moniker of “Sandra’s flower,” in reference to his florist mother Sandra.
The second to last track on A Side, “Talk Up,” brings Jay-Z and Drake together for the first time since 2016, putting an end to speculation about beef between the two. The beat is made from boom bap building blocks, a faint sample from NWA’s “Dopeman” The drums cut in and out spontaneously, and the chemistry between Drake and Jay, with their widely different styles and voices, makes for an engaging interplay. Finally, Drake brings the album’s first side to closure, taking up a darker, murkier, droney beat, grounded in only rim shots and prickly high hats. over which he dedicates his lyrics to the quest for higher forms of fulfillment.
And now for the overhaul — the unprecedented second act, B Side, opens with “Peak” and a persistently sluggish, uncluttered downtempo beat, with hazy ripples of sub bass, and and an occasional synth sound. The way they overbearing kick drums and claps lag palpably, Drakes’ slow, gliding vocals take on a surreal feel, as if just outside time. “Summer Games” is a novel track with Drake singing in tandem with busy percussion. “Jaded” revisits the subject matter of “Sandra Rose,” When he’s on his strictly singing duties, he can sometimes recall the understated elegance of James Blake, and the sinuous melodies of the Weeknd, but without the surfeit of affected melisma that characterizes so much R&B-related fare.
Drake’s summer anthem, the New Orleans Bounce music-influenced “Nice For What” is an absolute banger, beginning with a shout out from Bounce legend Big Freedia, and continuing to be a nonstop rump-shaking riot of a cut. Though many of Drake’s B side songs are simplistic, not particularly creative, but relatable, and memorable enough to make successful R&B and pop songs. His voice can also sound a bit flat, as in the beginning of “Ratchet Happy Birthday,” although the innocent cheer of that song more that makes up for it. “That’s How You Feel,” featuring Nicki Minaj, and “Blue Tint,” featuring Future, are both hybrid songs that effectively elements of both Drake’s traditional rapping and his new take on singing. There are also lower moments, however, such as “In My Feelings” another Bounce influenced-track, which could be a hell of a dance number if not compromised by an inane chorus bit. One especially unique song is a rendition of “Don’t Matter To Me,” featuring posthumous vocals from Michael Jackson. The collaboration is produced remarkably well, never coming across as audibly forced. Things get arguably their most R&B on “After Dark,” featuring Static Major and Ty Dolla $ign, after which Drake closes the record out with two more standard hip-hop tracks, “Final Fantasy” and “March 14,” penned for his now confirmed son Adonis. “I had to come to terms with the fact that it’s not a maybe / That shit is in stone, sealed and signed / She not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine.”
“Scorpion” is certainly a progression for Drake. There are many artists who routinely choose to redefine their sounds, but attempting to expand your repertoire to simultaneously create two or more distinctive sounds, different genres, is something different altogether. Drake seems to be somewhat still feeling his way around in his latest grand plans, but he has generally managed to deliver quality on Both A Side and B Side of the new record.
“Scorpion” is available June 29 on Apple Music.