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'Scorpion'

Drake is the first artist to get one billion streams in a single week with his fifth studio album ‘Scorpion’. The Toronto rapper, singer and - at this point - pop artist is the first to truly master a new generation of music consumers. From the album’s tongue-in-cheek meme-ready cover (you can make your own at MakeYourDrake.com) to the Instagram-ready bars being displayed on billboards around the world, the aesthetic and marketing is as finely tuned as ever. And with its lead single ‘God’s Plan’ building from the top of the year, later being knocked off the top of the US Billboard charts by its predecessor, ‘Nice For What’, there was no way that golden boy Drake could fail.

Enter Pusha T. The Virginia rapper has been exchanging subliminal disses with Drake for some time now - check Drake’s ‘Dreams Money Can Buy’ and Pusha’s ‘Don’t Fuck With Me’, both from 2011 - but it never escalated to anything more until Pusha decided to jab at Drake’s 2015 ghostwriting allegations on ‘Infared’, the closing track of his ‘DAYTONA’ album at the end of May. Within 24 hours of the track’s release, Drake had fired back with ‘Duppy Freestyle’, which interestingly took more shots at ‘Infared’s producer, Kanye West, than it did Pusha himself.

Nonetheless, it was enough to evoke a savage response out of Pusha, ‘The Story Of Adidon’, on which he exposed Drake for “hiding a child,” a son born to adult entertainment star Sophie Brussaux, who had been kept out of public knowledge. Since the beginning of the year Drake has been masquerading as the good guy - giving out money to Miami residents in his ‘God’s Plan’ video, then celebrating powerful women with ‘Nice For What’ - and many thought Pusha’s diss record would be devastating, although in a feud with a self-proclaimed cocaine kingpin and a Trump supporter who considers slavery a choice, it’s baffling that Drake would be considered the bad guy.

The beef was drawn to an abrupt ending when Drake’s mentor and Rap-A-Lot records founder James Prince received anonymous threats that included the addresses of family members, and decided that it wasn’t worth escalating the feud to a point where, as he told Desus & Mero, we might see “results [like] Biggie and Tupac.” Given the commercial response to ‘Scorpion’, ‘The Story Of Adidon’ wasn’t as career-ruining as many had believed, although it does seem to have thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to the album’s content and its extensive run time.

Back in April, six weeks before ‘DAYTONA’s release, Drake had already shared the news that his fifth album would be released in June. A few days later Kanye West would reveal that he intended to release five albums, each on a weekly basis, blocking out the last week of May and the majority of June, leaving just one Friday - at the end of the month - for Drake to drop his album without sharing any limelight.

At the time it all felt very Kanye, as though he was plucking these dates out of thin air and just throwing them out on Twitter during one of his rants. However, in hindsight it was likely more calculated - and if the content of ‘Scorpion’ is to be believed then Drake was certainly a factor. We know that Drake was in Wyoming in March, recording music with Kanye, which is where he contributed writing ‘ye’ cut ‘Yikes’. It’s likely that while he was there he shared some of his own music with the G.O.O.D Music camp - and around the same time he was working on ‘March 14’ the closing track of ‘Scorpion’, that talks about his son; revealing the embarrassment he feels as a single father after calling his own separated parents out on tracks throughout his career.

The fact that we heard this news from Pusha T first, rather than Drake sharing it in the way he’d planned, tampered with the way ‘Scorpion’ would be received and the whole perception of Drake, leaving him understandably frustrated - particularly since he’s unable to openly talk about it. And this is obvious from listening to ‘Scorpion’s first side in particular. It feels as though the irritation has lead Drake down the path of writing almost an album’s worth of new material, full of carefully deployed shots and explanations just itching to be decoded.

Opener ‘Survival’ has him rapping: “Seen this movie a hundred times, I know where it’s headed/ Realise somebody gotta die when no one’ll dead it.” ‘Emotionless’ has him pondering who he can trust after a reference to Kanye and Pusha, both of which he’s referred to as influences in the past: “Meeting all my heroes/ Like seeing how magic works/ Their actions out of character/ Even when they rehearse.” ‘8 Out Of 10’ has him taking shots at Kanye’s rushed album releases “Drizzy ‘bout to drop, the game is in disarray.”

While these tracks prove that Drake’s pen game is as sharp as ever, it’s not quite what fans were looking for following the set-up of ‘God’s Plan’ and ‘Nice For What’, and those that enjoyed the directness of his exchange with Pusha are unlikely to sit around and pick apart a whole disc’s worth of subliminal’s. Therefore, at times ‘Scorpion’ can feel a little bloated and unnecessary - not unlike his previous album ‘Views’ which was criticised for similar reasons.

However, given some time, ‘Scorpion’ is proving to be far superior to his 2016 LP. The album that we’ve been expecting since ‘God’s Plan’ began taking over the clubs in January, is certainly within ‘Scorpion’s 25 tracks, you just need to mine for it a little (hint: it’s mostly on Side B). ‘In My Feelings’ draws from the same New Orleans bounce influence of ‘Nice For What’, and is quickly becoming a new fan favourite with viral choreography videos taking off across Instagram.

‘Summer Games’ feels destined to soundtrack the climax of a coming of age movie in the near future. ‘Sandra’s Rose’ has Drake rapping over DJ Premier’s most luxurious production. ‘After Dark’ finds Drake delivering one of his best R&B-influenced cuts since ‘So Far Gone’, combining some unreleased music from the late Static Major with a stellar contribution from Ty Dolla $ign who also shows up with backing vocals on the excellent ‘Jaded’.

And although the ethics around Michael Jackson’s “feature” on ‘Don’t Matter To Me’ are questionable, the same hook delivered by an OVO-affiliated act like dvsn would have resulted in another highlight. Executive producer 40’s work in bringing all of these tracks to life is stellar as always.

Fans are already beginning to share their own edited ‘Scorpion’ playlists online, and scanning through a few of these quickly brings to mind the saying about “One man’s trash…” Even amongst the fans, there doesn’t seem to be a united vision of which songs need to be cut, just that there are too many for them to listen to right now. And in the streaming era, where we can quickly trim down to a playlist of our favourites, does that even matter?

In many ways Drake’s biggest fault here is putting the rap heavy side first, expecting people to take the time to decode the lyrics before making any judgement. If not for the June release commitment perhaps Drake could have delivered an impressive rap mixtape before delivering an LP in the fourth quarter.

Absorbing ‘Scorpion’s 90-minute run time in one sitting is a big ask, but the ratio of good to bad here is impressively in Drake’s favour. A lot of the music here is safe; it sticks to formulas that have proven to work for Drake and 40 in the past. ‘Scorpion’ might not be Drake’s most innovative work, but it does help to cement 40’s status as one of the best, and most consistent, producers of our generation, and sees Drake breaking ground commercially if not creatively. As listeners cherry pick the tracks that fit their version of Drake, and these songs infiltrate clubs and playlists, ’Scorpion’ won’t be disappearing any time soon.

7/10

Words: Grant Brydon

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