Album Review: Drake, ‘Scorpion’

drake-scorpion-album-cover

The time has come. Drake has finally unleashed his highly anticipated fifth official studio album, Scorpion. Presented as a double album with features from the likes of JAY-Z and Michael Jackson, Scorpion presents Drake at the top of his game. He defends his crown while still retaining his comfortability at the zenith of rap; he easily maneuvers through his most cutting songs, turn-up anthems, and late night emotional odysseys with an enviable ease. If it wasn’t clear before, Scorpion has cemented Drake’s place as one if it’s greatest successes and greatest artists of hip-hop.

On Side A, marketed as the rap side of Scorpion, Drake cinematically chronicles the events and altercations that have brought him the hunger that he severely lacked on his previous album, Views. On album opener, “Survival,” he recalls the beefs he has overcome (“I’ve had real Philly niggas try to write my endin’…/…I’ve had scuffles with bad boys that wasn’t pretendin'”) with an air of braggadocio (“My Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions”). On this side of Scorpion, Drake also confirms the existence of his son, which Pusha-T alleged in his eviscerating diss track, “The Story of Adidon,” on a standout track built around a glorious Mariah Carey sample (“Emotionless”). Additionally, on Side A, Drake has his most fruitful experimentations with trap music in his entire career thus far. From the grimiest beats (“Nonstop”) to dramatic traditional Atlanta trap (“Mob Ties”) and some of the sickest drums in hip-hop (“Can’t Take a Joke”), Drake clearly has something to prove on Side A. We’ve all heard the criticisms, and especially after the lackluster Views and the relatively lightweight “God’s Plan” and “Nice for What,” Drake needed to remind us that he can still rap.

Whether he’s toying with his cadence during his infamous subliminal disses (“8 Out of 10”) or reimaging his classic flows where he hovers just around and over the pocket of the beat (“Can’t Take a Joke”), Drake, the rapper, is alive and well. Moreover, the final two tracks on Side A may be the best and most important tracks on that side of the album. The penultimate song, “Talk Up,” which features Jay-Z, is a bombshell of a song that skates over a rattling dirty South production. Hov’s verse is clearly recent as he references the murder of XXXTentacion (“Y’all killed X, let Zimmerman live, streets is done”), but that is not even the best part of his verse. Hov has been delivering great flows for the past two or three years, but this flow sounds especially youthful and energetic. He recalls the infamous 92 bricks anecdote from 2001’s “Never Change” and revels in his status as the most influential and important rapper living today. Hov runs victory laps around Drake on this track, but both artists hold their own a song that is more than worthy of being the proper sequel to the meritorious, “Pound Cake / Paris Morton Music 2.” Drake closes out the incredibly strong Side A with “Is There More,” an existential and spacey track on which Drake ponders where he goes from here and how he can truly achieve pure happiness. This is a surprisingly dark track, but a perfect segue into the fervent and emotional Side B.

Side B of Scorpion combines the most histrionic of Drake’s liquor-induced Take Care streams of consciousness with the luscious production of Nothing Was the Same and Drake’s new found maturity. The opener, “Peak,” isn’t incredibly special, but sonically it does a fine job at setting the tone for a new section of Scorpion, the “R&B” side. Thankfully, the album finds its footing and begins a streak of great songs with the 1-2-3-4 punch of “Summer Games,” “Jaded,” “Nice for What,” and “Finesse.” “Games” is a sweet throwback to the So Far Gone era, and the crazy loop of the “breaking my heart” line might be the best thing on Scorpion. The New Orleans bounce is still crisp on “Nice,” and “Jaded” has the most sensuous and emotional ad-libs and backing vocals, courtesy of Ty Dolla $ign. “Finesse,” however, is the most intriguing out of the aforementioned tracks; with gospel-influenced background harmonies and a playful vocal delivery (the way he says “finesse” is everything), Drake might have found yet another new sound that fits him like a glove.

The rest of Side B is quite incredible. Drake even samples a Nicki Minaj live performance of “Boss Ass Bitch” on the experimental “That’s How You Feel.” Somehow, that exquisitely transitions into a modern trap R&B song with an uncredited Future collaboration (“Blue Tint”). The final five tracks on Scorpion are some of the best tracks on the album. Drake is regretful, vindictive, and somehow finds solace in his pain and intuition. This is a Drake that is older and more experienced, one that is more attuned to his own shortcomings as a person and a lover. While “Ratchet Happy Birthday” is significantly underwhelming, “In My Feelings” is classic Drake at his most candid, complete with NOLA bounce and Atlanta and Lil Wayne samples. His duet with the legendary Michael Jackson is fine, but it does feel odd and almost unnatural to hear Michael’s voice on a brand new record. To be clear, this song, “Don’t Matter to Me,” is similar to Justin Timberlake’s 2014 collaboration with MJ, “Love Never Felt So Good.” The song was a previously unreleased MJ track to which another singer recorded vocals, there is no sampling of MJ here. The track precedes the immaculate “After Dark,” which features Ty Dolla $ign and the late Static Major. Much like Jay did on his track on Side A, Ty steals the show here with an impressive and emotive vocal performance.

Finally, Scorpion closes with “March 14th” where Drake utters the key phrase, “changing from a boy to a man.” Scorpion is simultaneously a bookend to Drake’s years at the top of the game and an introduction to a more seasoned and mature artist. Scorpion combines the best parts of Take CareNothing Was the SameSo Far Gone, and If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late to create an album that is both classic “Drake” and a celebration of his growth and inimitable talent. Yes, the album does tend to drag at times, but with so many incredible tracks the quality more than makes up for the length.

KEY TRACKS: “Emotionless,” “Survival,” “After Dark,” “Summer Games”

SCORE: 70

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