Racking my brain for another, I cannot think of another hip-hop/rap artist that has released a double-album aside from Drake, and for the life of me I cannot come up with another—though I need to admit my knowledge of hip-hop/rap history is woefully underdeveloped. Obviously, a calculated risk on Drake’s (born Aubrey Drake Graham) part, the question remains: is a 90-minute run-time truly warranted for this outing? And before we get to the answer, I have to give credit where credit is due: if anyone in the mainstream hip-hop realm is going to have the gumption (and the resources, for that matter) to undertake a 25-track double-album it is going to be Drake.
With that said, this record has no reason being this long, and by extension this self-indulgent, yet here we are. But again, I can appreciate what Drake was intending to do with “Scorpion” by dividing his two (predominant) personas (more on that later) into the hip-hop/rap artist, making up the first half of “Scorpion” and the latter-half embodying his R&B and pop sensibilities; this division makes it nice if you prefer his pseudo-macho hip-hop, as you have a dedicated half you can enjoy without being subjected to his saccharine pop, and vice-versa if you prefer his pop. Sadly, even with the added space between the two “Drakes,” this record still offers more of the same only in a less concentrated, more diluted package.
Before I get too deep into this review, I have to come clean about something: as a reviewer, I do not enjoy writing negative reviews, at all; I would much rather invest time to praise something that deserves praise and adoration than berating something that fails on an artistic level and, frankly, “Scorpion” is a 90-minute experiment with less than a quarter of that runtime working successfully. If you read or remember the “Scary Hours” EP review earlier this spring you will remember that I greatly enjoyed “God’s Plan,” and despite the cringeworthy music video following the track’s release I still greatly enjoy that song. Yet, for every “God’s Plan” there are five “Can’t Take A Joke”s. Take, for instance, “Nonstop,” which sounds eerily similar to Big Sean’s massive party-anthem “Bounce Back,” from the instrumental beat to the vocal delivery, yet instead of the resilient bounce of Sean’s delivery Drake slinks back into his dark, moody, quasi-do-not-cross-me flow. By itself this presentation may work, yet it is incredibly hard for me to divorce Big Sean’s hit from my mind when listening to Drake’s offering. What is even more confusing is the overall thematic vibe(s) that builds the “foundation” (a rather weak, meandering foundation) of this record.
After the unoriginal, yet swaggering “Nonstop,” Drake switches moods for “Elevate” into a masked sense of hyper-masculine braggadocio that is somehow supposed to come across as melancholic and introspective but seems more like a humble-brag than an honest reflection of himself. As unpleasant as the lyrical contributions are, the instrumentation is rather enjoyable—its slow, ambient and atmospheric body is quite moving. I would greatly enjoy an instrumental version of the song—even with the tired, overused trap-beats, the rest of the instrumentation floats effortlessly and sits comfortably in an area reminiscent of a cup of tea as the grey, early morning rain falls slowly and intentionally. Again, as soon as Drake finds a groove that he could utilize he abandons it in favor of a dead-end stereotypical arrogance you would expect. It really is a shame that so much of this record falls lyrically and vocally flat because much of the instrumentation is quite well done, even great at times. But as a whole,there is too much inconsistency in the personas Drake wants us to see, there are too many painfully bad lines, too many tracks that sound too similar to pre-existing, well-established songs (“Nonstop”/ “Bounce Back”, “I’m Upset” / “Mask Off” by Future) and, frankly, there is just too much Drake.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, there is something about Drake’s endless list of personas that bother me, and I want to explain myself on how these issues relate to “Scorpion” in particular. First, we need to go back to early Drake, the young, hungry, brag-fueled Drake of “Headlines,” “Over,” and “HYFR,” which was immediately usurped by the sensitive, romantic Drake of “Marvin’s Room” and “Contralla” to the pop focus Drake took with “Passionfruit,” “One Dance,” and “Hold On, We’re Going Home”—all of these identities that are completely independent of themselves and rarely, if ever, have any overlap between them. This makes me question Drake as an artist. From the outside, it appears that Drake is attempting to cover every base he can. He wants to appear aggro and “manly”—like a “real” rapper—and he wants to be moody, introspective, yet at the same time wants to be seen as wildly popular and radio-friendly. Which is it? To me, these inconsistencies do not make Drake appear like a mature, varied and well-rounded artist that is secure in his identity; rather, they do quite literally the opposite. Drake comes across as phony and disingenuous. Look at it like this, Drake says he is a true, hardcore rapper, but he was on “Degrassi.” OK, well, maybe his experiences growing up are what make him more inclined to be sensitive and emotional; are we supposed to assume that his bragging about parties, riches and the like is all for show? That Drake is not truly like that? But, wait, he is a pop artist? He has to be semi-clean, right? So, are we going to give Drake a pass for the son he’s hiding (and supposedly abandoned)? Do you see where I am going with this? Drake does not have an identity. Drake is nebulous and unsubstantial to the point that everything he does seems fraudulent and phoned-in.
For “Scorpion” to have been a success he needed to transcend these issues. If Drake had put aside his pension for punching down on artist beneath him—let us be honest, Drake is the biggest artist in his respective genre(s), is there any reason for him to be starting fights with someone like Pusha T?—he needed to take the time to find out who “Drake,” the-artistic-vehicle-for-Aubrey-Drake-Graham, is and instead Drake gave us more of the same thing. Let me be clear, Drake has the potential and the position to become something more than he is, but he has not quite gone there yet. For the first time in Drake’s career, he needs to be honest about who and what “Drake” is. Sooner or later someone with more artistic integrity is going to surpass Drake and like many pop artists Drake will be forgotten … that is unless he is able to make the changes he needs to make and release more songs like “Elevate,” “Jaded,” “Finesse,” and “Don’t Matter to Me” that feel musically, lyrically, emotionally, and artistically authentic despite the hiccups found within aspects of these songs.
So, Drake, if you ever find yourself in this empty corner of Kansas reading this, I challenge you to be honest with yourself, truly honest and see how far it takes you.