Sorry, how many tracks?
Drake albums are something of an annual tradition now, and after ending last year’s More Life with the words “I’ll be back 2018 to give you the summary”, the rapper released his latest album, Scorpion, today. Advertisements leading up to the release of the record hyped it up as a double album with an ‘A side’ and a ‘B side’ – more specifically, a rap side and an R&B side, as Mal of the Joe Budden podcast said earlier this week.
The final record is not quite as clear cut as that, though. While it is a double album, once it’s been flattened onto a streaming service, all this really means is that it’s very, very long. There are hip hop tunes and R&B tunes, but Drake has always flirted with the two styles anyway. In the end, Scorpion follows a tried-and-tested formula: there are lyrics about fake friends, oblique references to recent beefs, and one or two personal revelations that are sure to generate headlines over the next few weeks. It’s a Drake album, then. Here’s what you need to know about it.
IT ALL STARTS WITH A NOTE
When Scorpion went up on Apple Music earlier today, it came with an ‘Editor’s Note’ that was written by Drake himself. In it, he acknowledges some of the criticisms that have been flung his way recently: “I hate when Drake raps. Drake sings too much. Drake is a pop artist. Drake doesn’t even write his own songs. Drake took an L. Drake didn’t start from the bottom. Drake is finished. I like Drake’s older stuff. Drake makes music for girls. Drake thinks he’s Jamaican. Drake is an actor. Drake changed. Anybody else > Drake … Yeah yeah we know.”
Presumably this is a way of brushing all these criticisms off – yeah, we know – because at the end of the day, Drake is still putting out number ones, and will probably continue to do that for years to come. But number ones aren’t necessarily an indication of artistry, especially given how easy it is to game the charts in the streaming era. Plus, a lot of these things are true – he didn’t start from the bottom, unless you really stretch the definition of what ‘the bottom’ means. Drake is making a point here, but we’re not sure what that is.
HE TALKS ABOUT HIS KID
Cast your mind back to the heady days of, er, a couple of weeks ago, and you’ll remember Pusha T’s “The Story of Adidon”, a Drake diss that alleged that the rapper had fathered a lovechild. Drake acknowledges that this diss was, in fact, based on fact, and talks about his kid for the first time on the album. “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world, I was hiding the world from my kid,” he raps on “Emotionless”. “Breaking news in my life I don’t run to the blogs / The only ones I want to tell are in my phone I can call / They always ask, ‘Why let it run if it’s false?’ / You know a wise man once said nothing at all.”
On the album’s closing track, “March 14”, he addresses it more directly. “She not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine,” he raps. “Single father, I hate when I hear it / I used to challenge my parents on every album / Now I’m embarrassed to tell ’em I ended up as a co-parent / Always promised the family unit / I wanted it to be different because I been through it, but this is the harsh truth now.”
IT FEATURES A BUNCH OF DEAD GUYS (AND SOME LIVING ONES)
Drake is such a powerful figure in the music industry that he can ask anyone for a guest feature and they’ll probably say ‘yes’. He’s so powerful, in fact, that it doesn’t even matter if that person exists in a corporeal form or not. “Don’t Matter to Me”, Scorpion’s 22nd track, features the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, despite the obvious fact that he died in 2009. As TMZ report, the track is a previously unreleased MJ tune that Drake has added his vocals too, much like the 2014 Justin Timberlake/Jacko duet “Love Never Felt So Good”.
He’s not the only phantom presence on the album, though. Static Major, the rapper/singer/songwriter/producer who died in 2008, shares a credit with hardworking and very-much-alive songwriter Ty Dolla $ign on “After Dark”. Drake has previously sampled a video of Static Major performing for his Take Care track “Look What You’ve Done”. “This man (Drake) has never met Static a day in his life yet he shows more love than the people who claim to be his brother,” wrote Static Major’s widow, Avonti Garrett, in a since-deleted Instagram post, as Complex point out. “I will always do my best to keep his legacy alive even if I stand alone.”
Jay-Z, also alive though sounding increasingly somnambulant, also provides a guest verse on “Talk Up”, where he says that the ‘streets’ murdered rapper XXXtentacion while allowing George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, to continue living his life in peace: “Y’all killed X and let Zimmerman live, streets is done.”
There are other voices (some of which are sampled) on the album, too – such as Future, Nicki Minaj, Big Freedia, and UK rapper Stefflon Don – but they don’t get a featured credit. Producers like Noah “40” Shebib, DJ Premier, and Boi-1da also work behind the boards, but it’s a clear departure from last year’s lighter, collaboration-packed More Life.
IT SAMPLES MARIAH CAREY, ATLANTA, AND MORE
“In My Feelings” samples episode of Donald Glover’s Atlanta, which was set at a party in Drake’s house. He uses a line of dialogue – “I don’t even care, I need a photo with Drake because my Instagram is weak as fuck” – to close out the tune. But there are other samples too, from Mariah Carey’s “Emotions (Remix)” on the clever flip “Emotionless”, to a Nicki Minaj live performance on “That’s How You Feel”.
IT’S ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE
A lot has been written about the recent trend of really long albums, and how they’re essentially designed to game chart certifications, which can be lucrative. Kanye West recently decided to do the opposite, producing a string of albums clocking in at a lean seven tracks, but Drake clearly didn’t get the memo. It’s a shame though, because these algorithm-busting decisions don’t do much for the real fans except tire them out. Scorpion could easily be 15 (yes, 15) tracks shorter and would probably pack a lot more punch.
Elsewhere, there are other tracks that will probably increase Drake’s streaming royalties, whether deliberately or not. Plenty of people have created ‘spam’ songs, which feature certain keywords that are frequently searched for in their titles, thus pushing them high up the search engine on streaming services. Scorpion’s ludicrously named “Ratchet Happy Birthday” is likely to get more than a few passive streams this way.
All in all, this is a healthy and totally normal state for a creative industry to be in.
DRAKE IS A FREE MAN
“Soon as this album drop I'm out of the deal / In the house playin’ D’Angelo, ‘How Does It Feel?’” Those are the words on “Is There More”, the final track on the ‘A’ side of Scorpion. The lyrics seemingly refer to Drake’s deal with Cash Money, which he signed back in 2009 and which he seems to want to get out of. A lot of artists have alleged that the label don’t pay out fairly – Lil Wayne shouted “Fuck Cash Money!” back in 2016, and Drake defended him in his lyrics (“I’m thinking of paying Wayne what Universal owes,” he rapped on “Family Feud Freestyle”). So if we take Drake’s words at face value, it’d appear that he’s a free agent.