thu 20/06/2024

CD: Drake - Scorpion | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Drake - Scorpion

CD: Drake - Scorpion

Rap star's 25-track epic: streaming triumph or editing disaster?

Scorpion: two halves but not really an album

This is Drake’s account of his astrological sign, the only one to be represented in multiple forms: an eagle and phoenix as well as the poisonous creepy-crawlie.

(At an unwieldy 25 songs, on a kind-of double album, divided into two kind-of halves, it certainly isn’t a reference to the petite, nimble insect that comes quickly to a point.) It’s part hip hop album, part R&B album, with a (slightly) different vibe for each, a separation which some critics have regretted as a regression from the previously boundary-busting performer.  

The album, if that’s what it is, highlights what we already knew were Drake’s strengths – versatility, fluency, and a huge, glossy-sounding production budget – and his weaknesses, namely a lack of focus and narcissism. Though to list either is perhaps to miss the point. Scorpion is release as event, blowing away both streaming records and Pusha T’s recent diss track, “The Story of Adidon”, with the sheer vastness of his numbers.

And it’s probably not even worth wondering, given the fluid state of form and genre in music, whether this sprawling collection works as an album, since it won’t mostly be listened to as such. In the age of the playlist, that kind of coherence is increasingly irrelevant: the album as concept will have been algorithmed and playlisted to death. Nonetheless, the discipline of that format might have been helpful in focusing his ideas. Versatility and sprawl are not the same, as an editor has clearly not told him. “Mob Ties” and “Finesse” are plain dull, while “Ratchet Happy Birthday” is so vapid, perhaps Drake is hoping to boost streaming numbers by making people listen twice in disbelief.

Yet when they work, there’s an understated sense of order and harmony between the components of the song. “Don’t Matter to Me” is a beauty, a spooky Michael Jackson sample drifting over the bitter, break-up lyrics. The Mariah Carey sample on “Emotionless”, one of the tracks in which Drake addresses Pusha T’s recent revelation of his fatherhood, is set perfectly against Drake’s narration with a similar skill, revealing, subtly, that he’s anything but.

Despite its success, “Emotionless” has a different problem. Rappers (like most creative figures, in fairness) have always been sensitive to competitive slight. Fortunately for everyone’s well-being, today’s beefs are focused on, and resolved through, Instagram and Twitter (see also the dispute with Meek Mill about whether Drake writes his own lyrics) rather than a tragic Biggie/Tupac scenario. Yet there’s a danger in the way that social media has become message as well as medium. Drake doesn’t seem to be aware of the irony of a social media star such as himself, whose public persona, and relationships with other musicians, are depicted mainly through social media, complaining of “Scrollin' through life and fishin' for praise / Opinions from total strangers take me out of my ways”. Though no one longs for the bullets of earlier beefs, a sense of engaging with life outside Instagram might help Drake escape his self-obsession. Ironically given its depths of self-absorption, it’s possible that in years to come, Scorpion will be more remembered as a landmark in the rapidly shifting sands of music media and production, than for anything it says about Drake himself.


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