The 31-year-old rapper made his highly anticipated return in a big way, dropping a 25-track double album titled Scorpion on Friday, June 29. Clocking in at just a few seconds under 90 minutes, the project is dauntingly long, but it’s undoubtedly his most personal work to date. That rare glimpse into the life of Aubrey Graham, as he was born, makes it worth a listen, even though there’s a fair amount of filler along the way.
Like an old-school vinyl, Drake separates Scorpion into two segments: Side A has all of the hip-hop songs you’ll need to spin this summer, while Side B is packed with slower R&B jams and even a surprising collaboration with the late Michael Jackson.
The rap side kicks off with “Survival.” Over a luxurious beat, Drake boasts that his “Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions,” but moments later he softens his stance: “This just the intro / Let me not get ahead of myself.” The party officially starts with the next track, the club-ready “Nonstop,” on which he executes each bar in a way that he’s never really done before, alternating between hard-hitting jabs and a whisper-like tone. His fire-emoji-worthy delivery makes it the best track on the record.
A bombshell comes early on during the soulful “Emotionless,” which features a looping sample from Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged performance of her 1991 hit “Emotions.” Confirming a rumored started in a recent diss track by his rival Pusha T, Drake admits he has an 8-month-old son from a one-night stand with former porn star Sophie Brussaux: “I wasn’t hidin’ my kid from the world / I was hidin’ the world from my kid.”
He further addresses his newfound role as a father on “March 14,” the closing track of Side B. “She not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine / [My mom] Sandi used to tell me all it takes is one time, and all it took was one time / S–t, we only met two times, two times,” he reflects. “Single father, I hate when I hear it / I used to challenge my parents on every album / Now I’m embarrassed to tell them I ended up as a coparent.” He then notes that he has only met his son, Adonis, once so far, when he brought him “like 20 gifts” at Christmas time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — back to Side A, which hits a lull with several missteps, such as “Elevate,” “Mob Ties” and the forgettable Jay-Z collaboration “Talk Up.” There are some lyrical high points, though. “Sandra’s Rose,” named after Drake’s mother, finds him bragging, “Every title doin’ numbers like I’m Miss Adele.” And on “Can’t Take a Joke,” Champagne Papi tackles life as a celebrity on Instagram: “Back and forth to Italy / My comment section killin’ me.” (The app apparently bugs Drake so much that the editor’s notes that accompany Scorpion on Apple Music find him poking fun at critical comments such as “Drake doesn’t even write his own songs,” “Drake makes music for girls” and “Drake is a pop artist,” among others.)
And then, of course, there are the previously released singles “God’s Plan” and “I’m Upset,” both of which are clear standouts on the first half and continue to dominate urban radio due to their boisterous lyrics and upbeat melodies.
Side A closes with the ironically titled “Is There More” (oh, there is), and Side B gets off to a slow start. The midtempo “Peak” starts a lovelorn theme, which continues on many songs that follow. “Summer Games” just might be about Drake’s ex Rihanna and their brief 2016 fling, but that’s open for debate. “You said ‘I love you’ too fast / So much for that, girl, summer just started / And we’re already done,” he croons over a synthesizer as the beat of a drum kicks in.
But again, Side B is marred by imperfection. “Ratchet Happy Birthday” isn’t nearly as fun as its title, and “In My Feelings” starts off strong but struggles to emulate the New Orleans bounce style that it seeks. Instead, it just sounds jumbled in the final minute.
Throughout Scorpion, there are plenty of samples of R&B classics, which add a nice touch. “Is There More” interpolates “More Than a Woman” by the late Aaliyah, whom Drake has long adored, and the endearing single “Nice for What” features a loop of Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor.” (The latter is one of few cheery songs on the otherwise melancholy Side B.) On “That’s How You Feel,” Drake heavily samples a live performance of his labelmate Nicki Minaj’s “Boss Ass Bitch” between his verses. And another highlight is the Jackson-featured “Don’t Matter to Me” with its transcendent, though unpolished, vocals from a previously unreleased tune by the King of Pop. It isn’t as radio-friendly as MJ’s dancey posthumous single with Justin Timberlake, “Love Never Felt So Good,” but it still works.
In all, Side A is far superior to Side B. Drake excels when he’s spitting show-offy raps, but he fails to find a pop hit like “Hotline Bling” or “One Dance” this time around. Yes, Scorpion is good — great at times — but like More Life, it runs about 10 songs too long. As the king of streaming, Drake should realize that sometimes less is more.
2.5 stars (out of 4)