2018 has been a year stuffed with excellent releases from some of hip-hop’s heavy hitters. While the past few weeks were owned by Kanye West and the Carters, it can be argued that no album was as heavily anticipated as Drake’s fifth studio album, Scorpion. It ended up on our radar back on April 16, which gave us over two months to sit back in anticipation and wait. In the era of the surprise release, the art of listener anticipation is almost unheard of.
Before the arrival of Scorpion, Drake found himself embroiled in a heated rivalry with G.O.O.D. Music’s Pusha T. There was nothing new about the feud, but it had certainly reached a boiling point by the time King Push dropped his Daytona album and baited Drake into the battle arena with “Infared.”
What followed was a blistering reply courtesy of Drake’s “Duppy Freestyle” that only played right into Pusha T’s hands. “The Story Of Adidon” was a vicious verbal lashing that drew blood with scorching revelations about Drake’s secret child and habitual line stepping, with bars aimed at Drake’s perceived identity crisis, daddy issues and mocking of longtime friend and producer Noah “40” Shebib’s battle with multiple sclerosis.
It forced Drake to regroup and put in question how Scorpion would be received in the midst of turmoil and what many consider to be a blemish on his spotless record. Alas, Scorpion has arrived shrouded in mystery, offering nearly 90 minutes of new music.
As always, it’ll take time for the public to decide where this ranks among the Toronto rapper’s catalog, but here are five things that immediately jumped out upon first listen.
Drake Confirms He Has a Son
There were those who fullly expected that Drake would avoid addressing the accusations laid out by Pusha T on “The Story Of Adidon.” Of all the things that King Push suggested in the scathing diss track, it was the revelation that Drake was a father that took people most by surprise. Drake nudges at this throughout the album on songs like “8 Out of 10” and “Emotionless.”
He keeps it simple on the former (“The only deadbeats is whatever beats I been rapping to” and “Kiss my son on the forehead then kiss your ass goodbye”) and then spends a little more time on the subject with the latter: “I wasn't hiding my kid from the world/ I was hiding the world from my kid/ From empty souls who just wake up and looked to debate/ Until you starin' at your seed, you can never relate/ Breakin' news in my life, I don't run to the blogs/ The only ones I wanna tell are the ones I can call/ They always ask, 'Why let the story run if it's false?'/ You know a wise man once said nothin' at all.”
But it all comes full circle on the album’s closer, “March 14th.”
While the date has led to much speculation, the song itself directly addresses Drake being a parent as he goes in-depth on becoming a father and leaves a lot of messaging that his son will eventually hear when he gets older. “I had to come to terms with the fact that it's not a maybe,” he rhymes. “That shit is in stone, sealed and signed. She not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine.”
More importantly, it doesn’t serve as a response to Pusha T as much as it takes on the complexity of Drake's relationship with the child’s mother, Sophie Brussaux, and how he’s taken to the fact that he’s now a dad. The song closes with a reinterpretation of Boyz II Men’s 1994 song “Khalil,” which is meant to demonstrate how fatherhood forced maturity out of the Canadian rapper.
Drake Reads & Hears Everything That You Are Saying
Don’t mistake Drake’s silence as him ignoring how the masses have raked him over the coals ever since Pusha T’s “The Story Of Adidon” broke the Internet. The Toronto rapper has always had an interesting relationship with his fans and detractors, who seem to shift their allegiance based on whether or not Drake has a catchy tune. He was the toast of the town when he fired at Pusha T on “Duppy Freestyle” but then became the cowardly lion who tucked his tail when things got hot after Pusha T responded. This has become par for the course in Drake’s career, and he takes some time to address it on the lengthy offering.
Whether it be the humorous editor’s notes of the album on Apple Music, the Mariah Carey sampled “Emotionless” (“Don't hit me when you hear this and tell me your favorite song/ Don't tell me how you knew it would be like this all along”) or the album’s opener, “Survival,” where he rhymes about enduring numerous feuds, Drake is well aware of his fair-weather fans and wants you to know that he’s not bothered by their shifting allegiances.
JAY-Z Might Have Had the Most Potent Line
Although Pusha T vs. Drake cast a massive shadow over the pending release of the album, the beef that really needed to be addressed in short order was between JAY-Z and the streets on the DJ Paul-produced “Talk Up.”
After Drake completes his trash talking session, JAY-Z proceeds to close out the session with an extraordinarily precise indictment of the streets. “Y’all killed X and let Zimmerman live, streets is done,” he says.
It’s exhaled with a certain exasperation that speaks in volumes of something that hasn’t really been discussed since the tragic murder of XXXTentacion on June 18. It’s a striking line because it gives you an idea of how recent Hov’s verse was recorded, but even more so because it examines a street culture that is more caught up with the elimination of their own rather than those outsiders who have walked away unscathed after targeting young African Americans. It’s a scathing yet sobering analysis of a community still reeling from a senseless murder. But leave it to JAY-Z to roll up his sleeves and address something that others may overlook.
The Album Is Bloated, But for a Reason
There’s a lot to like on Scorpion, but it could have easily been trimmed down for a more succinct listen. Surely, somebody will chop these 25 songs down to a playlist that will be easier to consume in one sitting. There’s definitely a lot of fat that could have been trimmed. Songs such as the brilliant pairing with DJ Premier, “Sandra’s Rose,” or the midnight groove of the posthumous Michael Jackson collaboration, “Don’t Matter to Me,” could have benefited from eradicating tracks like “Ratchet Happy Birthday” and “Summer Games” from the album. As it is, there’s a lot of chasing the songs you like and enduring the songs that are standard Drake fare. Then again, those songs will likely grow on people and rattle from the speakers of cars over the summer.
However, there’s a line that may explain why this a double album.
“Soon as this album drop I’m out of the deal,” he laments on “Is There More.” Could it mean that Drake released more songs to fulfill his contractual obligation to Cash Money and is now a free agent? It could be a similar messaging that was rumored to be aimed at Cash Money head honcho Birdman on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. But what does it all mean? Only time will tell.
Did Drake Record This in June?
If you listen closely to the references on Scorpion, it certainly feels like a significant portion of the album was recorded over the past few weeks. Of course, songs such as “God’s Plan” and “I’m Upset” may have been sitting in the vault for a little while, but it is evident that Drake went back to the lab after the Pusha T beef was in full swing. It’s unlikely that the 6 God would have addressed being a father without his rival raking him over the coals, which means songs like “Emotionless,” “Survival,” and “March 14” could have all been recorded over the past few weeks. And with JAY-Z referencing XXXTentacion’s death on “Talk It Up,” we should be led to believe that perhaps half of this album was crafted over the past couple of weeks.
But the better question now is what would the album have sounded like without the Pusha T feud? We'll never know.