Drake has unquestionably been at the top of the hip-hop hierarchy for some time. As recently as last year, his claim, “I’m top two, and I’m not two” was not an outlandish one, given the immense commercial success which follows virtually every record he touches. Since bursting onto the scene almost a decade ago, the rapper / singer has been a ubiquitous presence in clubs, millennial aux cords and post-breakup playlists.
That’s why it was so shocking when Pusha T released “The Story of Adidon,” a diss track aimed at Drake which essentially broke the story of his secret illegitimate child with an adult film actress. “Adidon” created an ugly stain on Drake’s carefully crafted public persona, exposing the once-untouchable Goliath. The pressure was suddenly on him to deliver with this new album, or else face talk of a career decline.
“Scorpion” neither vindicates Drake, nor does it declare him washed-up. The rapper sticks to what has worked with him for his entire career — operating in the space between hip-hop and R&B. In making “Scorpion” into a double album split into rap and R&B sides, Drake continues to embrace the double identity that catapulted him into massive success in the first place. This is the safe move for him, as it more or less guarantees continued commercial success.
The album’s weaknesses largely lie in its failure to innovate or expand on Drake’s artistry, and contains too much filler. Although he has tended towards longer releases, “Scorpion” is almost a chore to listen through. It is the antithesis to Kanye West’s recent string of seven-song releases, and on par with Migos’ “Culture II” strategy of maximizing profits by creating an extremely long album to boost streaming numbers. For someone as shrewd and calculated as Drake, this was almost certainly the plan — Drake’s Plan, if you will.
Despite the filler, the album does contain some obvious highlights. Akin to how the similarly bloated “Views” had absolute bangers in “One Dance” and “Too Good,” “Scorpion” is worth listening to just to catch its gems. The singles “God’s Plan” and “Nice for What” are already certified hits and possibly the best songs on the album. “Nonstop” and “In My Feelings” are pure infectious energy, while “Summer Games” is another classic Drake heartbreak song that fans of the sad boy anthem “Marvin’s Room” will undoubtedly enjoy.
Thematically, Drake mostly sticks with classic Drake-isms, with one major exception. This consists of bravado and finesse, the pressure and expectation of the spotlight, the rapper’s reign as a musical icon, the struggles of dating as a millennial, and … being a father?
That’s right, Drake not only acknowledges, but embraces his child several times in “Scorpion.” Long a master of public image manipulation, in standout track “Emotionless” he expertly maneuvers the Adidon situation by flipping the narrative: “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid.” The world is cruel and heartless as evidenced by all the people coming for Drake’s throat, and as a father it is his responsibility to protect his son from the same. In “March 14,” he discusses in-depth how his son came to be and laments being a single father, especially given his resentment of his own father for the same thing while he was growing up.
As charming and convincing as these tracks may be, the rest of the album makes it quite clear they are more of a contingency plan to the “Adidon” fiasco rather than a genuine embracing of fatherhood. Right after he professes how much he cares about his child in “Emotionless,” the next track “God’s Plan” includes the lyrics, “I only love my bed and my momma.” In “I’m Upset,” he groans at the prospect of paying child support: “Every month I’m supposed to pay her bills and get her what she want.” Although both tracks were released before “Adidon,” they directly contradict his embracing of fatherhood and raises questions whether he is mature enough to really be one.
In the end, “Scorpion” is just another Drake album. In sticking with the formula that precipitated his success in the first place, Drake provides fans with some smooth throwbacks but also invites yet more creative stagnation into his career. The album is lined with fluff but is worth a listen just for the standouts and his revelation of being a father. Only time will tell if this marks the beginning of Drake’s inevitable decline, but for now, expect to hear “Scorpion” virtually everywhere all summer.