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Album Review: Scorpion by Drake

June 30, 2018

As Drake’s fifth-studio album, the double-disc, 25-track Scorpion features the highest highs of the hip-hop superstar’s 10-year career, but lends itself to some inconsistencies in production, so its incredible moments sometimes feel a little disconnected from one another.

Drake is bar-for-bar his best ever on the rap-centric Side A, as he’s brutally honest both about his place in the industry and some questions about his personal life. He leaves behind the corny lyrics and goofiness of his 2016 studio album Views and instead brings verses to the table that are sure to be iconic for the rest of his career.

The album’s opener, “Survival,” feels as if it was born from the royalty that being the king of modern day music should exude. Drake discusses the pressures of being at the top of the music industry at length. He steadily rolls through the lyrics of the album’s first track, grounding the album in the reality that Drake so perfectly paints throughout as the score gets ever grander.

“Nonstop” follows with a harsh cut into a much grittier beat, and while the production on each track is nothing short of stellar, it feels a bit disconnected from the slow and forceful intro. Regardless, the flow on the second track makes it clear that Drake not only perfectly understands the current trends in rap, but has total mastery of them.

“Elevate” is the Views version of Drake perfected. His swooning vocals line up the perfect hook that transition beautifully into his more traditional version of rap. It sets a high bar for the album that is immediately blown to pieces by “Emotionless,” which upon first listen is clear that it’s among some of the best music that Drake has ever published. It brings back strong memories of the unbelievable production quality of his 2013 album Nothing Was the Same, one of the most iconic projects of the modern hip-hop era. The track’s genius producers, 40, No I.D. and The 25th Hour, beautifully sample the C+C Music remix of Mariah Carey’s “Emotions.” The original track was Mariah’s fifth-straight number one hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and is undoubtedly one of the most earth-shattering vocal performances of all time. It’s that soulful R&B goodness that introduces and then backs up one of the sincerest sets of verses Drake has ever rapped, where he discusses the pressures he feels as an artist and addresses rumors about his own son that he was allegedly hiding from the public. His shocking openness sucks the air out of any criticism he might have received from the parts of his life he’s hidden from the public, and it’s a theme he revisits throughout the rest of the album. The track is powerful, honest and easy to listen to. It’s hip-hop perfection in every possible sense, and rips Scorpion off its hinges and catapults it to classic-status only four songs in.

Drake safely follows up one of his best tracks ever with the chart-topping “God’s Plan” and the more recent “I’m Upset.” The songs are good and already well-known, and while they fit the identity of the album perfectly, the transition to them feels slightly out of place. He changes up his flow on “8 Out of 10,” a shameless throwback to the glory days of 2010-2014 Drizzy. It’s the biggest element in the versatile artist’s repertoire that long-time fans have been desperately missing, and he brings it back in such stunning fashion that it could easily be part of one of the still-celebrated projects from the earlier stages of his career, but the grounded and simpler production on it makes it feel right at home alongside his new material.

“Mob Ties” continues raising the bar as it returns to the new-era Drake, delivering an entire suite of sounds and hooks that sounds both familiar and unheard of from him. It feels like the perfect marriage between the versions of Drake seen on the earlier tracks “Nonstop” and “Elevate.” The themes on the song show an evolution to Drake’s personality; he’s more nuanced and more mature as someone who is exhausted by the drama he can’t seem but be pulled into. Combined with some of the lyrics on the second half of the album, “Mob Ties” paints Drake as a more complex and mature version of his former self. It’s a highlight of an album that repeatedly delivers.

“Can’t Take a Joke” upholds the idea that Drake has mastered modern rap, and is the perfect follow-up to the previous song. The transitions between tracks are smoother and more natural here, and it’s more obvious as Side A nears its end how these tracks form a bigger picture. Sandra’s Rose mimics some of the sounds on “Emotionless,” again invoking Nothing Was the Same while also wrapping in the slow burn of Scorpion’s opener.

“Talk Up,” the first track on the album to have feature credentials, shows Drake and hip-hop legend Jay-Z spitting hard on the state of the industry and the mythological status of their careers. Neither of the duo holds back, and it gives a hard edge that prepares to round out the first side of the album. It’s unfortunate then than some of the content feels recycled from some of the verses on the rest of the album. It’s followed up brilliantly by “Is There More,” where Drake brings into question nearly every aspect of his life after contemplating his dedication and his effect on those around him. The rap-focused side sets up the album’s transition to R&B with a captivating sample from the late sensation Aaliyah.

Side B is where the album truly takes off, as if it hadn’t already delivered some of the highest moments of Drake’s career. If Side A was evolution of Drake’s new style, then the R&B-focused portion of the album is an unabashed return to form that stands right next to Take Care, which is widely considered to be in the upper echelon of all-time great hip-hop albums. It’s a thematic transition as well, bringing us from a matured and focused Drake to one that still laments over relationships and the inevitable difficulties and emotional weight that they bring.

“Peak” opens the R&B side with Drake gushing about his appreciation for European women. It never heads into objectifying territory and fits well with the ending of Side A, where Drake speaks to the fact that hip-hop culture has subconsciously shifted his morals to a direction he’s uncomfortable with. The track ends with a conversation between several female U.K. artists who break down the awful dating etiquette of men in the modern era.

“Summer Games” is a heart-tugging ride through Drake’s regret about letting go of a woman that he felt he wasn’t ready to love. While some of Drake’s love songs can feel a bit eccentric at times due to the lifestyle of one of the present day’s most iconic artists, this track is a simpler and more relatable one that talks about the complications of commitment at length. “Jaded” follows “Summer Games” with the natural wave of feelings that seem to be so inevitable after a downturn in luck, as Drake becomes cynical about the love that burned him so deeply. They’re both equally heart-wrenching and are this album’s version of Take Care’s “Marvin’s Room” and “Doing It Wrong,” so don’t be surprised if you find yourself shedding a tear or two.

“Nice for What” is the ever-popular New Orleans bounce-inspired single that released earlier this year, and holds up just as well in the album as it did as a single, only it feels like it might have been better placed somewhere else in the tracklist so as not to disrupt the somber atmosphere that the rest of Side B hangs its hat on.

Drake dips right back into his brooding sadness with “Finesse,” an ode and loving appreciation to an unknown person. It’s speculated that the song is about model Bella Hadid, but regardless of who Drake is swooning over, it’s clear that he’s not over her as he smoothly slides over the song’s gorgeous hook. It’s followed by what might be one of the weaker songs on the album, “Ratchet Happy Birthday.” The song is good in and of itself, but retreads some messages from Drake’s tracks of old. It’s clear that despite his development and maturation, many of the same love troubles that haunted him years ago still swirl around in his head, and deep in his mind he’s unwilling to move on from those who have caused him pain.

“That’s How You Feel” brings in some light rap as Drake once again solemnly recounts another woman he’s not on the same page with. He sounds regretful, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of remorse in an older Drake who has botched a lot of relationships. The second half of the album has become a recollection of the places where he’s been hurt, and serves as an acknowledgement that no matter how far he has come, things won’t quite be right until he mends his love life. He samples Nicki Minaj on the song to further bring back the memories so many have of the earlier days of his career.

“Blue Tint” follows as another hit in the crowd of top-notch songs, as his reunion with Future on the song is thematically appropriate as Drake talks about dipping back into previous relationships and repeating past actions. The features and samples, whether done intentionally or not, have an added layer to them as they seemingly mirror what’s happening in the lyrics.

New Orleans bounce makes another appearance in a song that could easily be just as big in the club scene as “Nice for What,” as Drake speaks aloud to himself, wondering if the girls he loves so deeply have even the slightest bit of love back toward him. He continues the trend found throughout the whole album, but especially Side B, where he’s left some of the scope of his superstar status behind in favor of relatable feelings that any regular lovelorn person undoubtedly goes through. It’s loaded with samples from Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” Magnolia Shorty’s “Smoking Gun” and an episode of Donald Glover’s Atlanta, and it weaves them all naturally into the sound of the track without them being a disruption.

“Don’t Matter to Me” is unquestionably the most beautiful song on Scorpion, featuring unreleased, sweeping vocals from Michael Jackson. It’s a dream collaboration that pays ode to one of the artists that reshaped modern music at a fundamental level, but it doesn’t let go of the heavy themes of the rest of the album. The song is flawless, and is sure to deservedly be blasting out of every radio in America by the end of next week.

“After Dark” keeps up the unreleased music trend set by the previous song, with the late Static Major and Ty Dolla $ign lending their talents to this risqué, old-school Justin Timberlake-style bedroom track. “Final Fantasy” follows it as a naughty sequel. It’s undoubtedly the big NSFW track on the album, and its sample of a Maury episode fits perfectly with the way the album discusses parenthood.

“March 14” is the closer to the entirety of Scorpion, and ties together all of the album’s themes in such a phenomenal package that it should be accepted as the best closer of any Drake project thus far. He spills all the details about the son that he’s talked about throughout the album, and his regrets for his handling of the situation. He sees himself becoming the worst parts of his own father, and begs for an opportunity at reconciliation. There’s a determination to right his wrongs, and there’s a slight twinge of optimism as Drake looks to repair his situation and reach the level of prosperity in his personal life that he’s reached in his professional life.

The album can be overwhelming upon first listen, as there’s a ton of music and a lot of themes that cross over one another at once, but it’s a project that unfolds the more it’s listened to. Despite a couple of hitches in transition and track ordering, the album feels coherent with an exceptionally high level of production and some of Drake’s best delivery in a long time. His style has developed and evolved from where he was even a year or two ago, solidifying his status at the top of the industry. Not one song is anything less than good, and even then, it’s only a couple that are fewer than fantastic. Splitting the album into two genres worked unbelievably well, as it showcased that Drizzy doesn’t have to mix them and can master two separate-but-coherent sound profiles at once.

Scorpion is a return to form for Drake, whose most recent projects missed the mark for some of his fans when comparing them to the albums that catapulted his superstardom. While it’s too early to tell whether Drake’s most recent album is his best ever, it’s certainly justified to say that it deserves to be part of the conversation.

 

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