Drake is in obvious need of an editor. All three of his most recent full-lengths – 2016’s Views, 2017’s More Life, and last week’s Scorpion — have exceeded 80 minutes in length. And while there’s always a place for long, ambitious media, there’s never any epic scope, focused sound, or chronological narrative to Drake's near-90-minute opuses.
And that’s fine. Drizzy has made great music from day one, but more often than not, he’s throwing a bunch of ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks. However, the general consensus on his last three projects is that less is sticking than usual.
Drake’s never been more successful on the charts as he has been the last two years. He didn’t score his first No. 1 on the Streets Talkin Hot 100 as a lead artist until 2016’s “One Dance,” but since then, he’s had two more with “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What,” topping the chart for a combined 18 weeks already in 2018. It’s become practically inevitable that every new Drake album will break streaming records and achieve multi-Platinum status.
But this all might have just as much to do with Drake's desire to pad his commercial stats as it does with his improved pop instincts. Both Views and Scorpion were eligible for Platinum status from the RIAA upon arrival thanks to the popularity of pre-release singles, which had months of streaming numbers accumulated before the full albums even hit DSPs. And thanks to rules for the Streets Talkin 200 albums chart that equate 1500 streams of an album's individual track to one equivalent album unit, LPs with more tracks cast a wider net for racking up those stream totals, thus giving sets as lengthy as Scorpion a leg up with their overall numbers.
Scorpion might be a little more cohesive, sonically and thematically speaking, than its immediate predecessor, More Life — which was billed as a “playlist” rather than an album. It’s still a little jumbled though, despite being split into “A” and “B” sides that are ostensibly meant to show Drake’s rap and R&B sides, respectively. We don’t know what Drake originally intended Scorpion to sound like when he announced it back in April, because it’s fairly clear that recent events caused some updates to be made in the past few weeks: Would Drake be rapping as much about his recently revealed son if Pusha T hadn’t called him out for “hiding a child” on his now-infamous “The Story of Adidon” dis track? Would he devote as much time to subliminal shots at his rivals? Who knows, but Scorpion is definitely built around those topics.
In any event, the best moments on Scorpion don't come when his bars start sounding like tabloid fodder, but rather when he seems more focused on the song than the message contained within. Drake doesn’t make albums with overarching themes, but Scorpion is the closest he’s ever come to that, and consequently it’s the best argument against 80-minute Drake albums. It would be a much easier listen were the toxic, angry Drake edited out as much as possible, and the curatorially adventurous Drake highlighted.
Here’s a proposed edit of the Scorpion tracklist that does just that, while halving the set length and losing its original A/B divide, for a more cohesive and easily digested version of the unwieldy double album. (You can listen to a Spotify playlist of our edit at the bottom of the post.)
In the past, Drake’s been fond of kicking off albums with soul-sampling, rap-heavy cuts (see: “Tuscan Leather” and “Over My Dead Body”). This one, which gratuitously lifts from an extended remix of Mariah Carey’s “Emotions,” perfectly follows in that mold. “Emotionless” is Drake at his absolute pettiest, opening by telling people to stop hitting him up with reactions to his album, and moving onto brutal takedowns of social media usage in verse two. That perfectly sets the stage for the rest of Scorpion.
2. “Nice For What”
Pre-release single “Nice For What” continues the soulful vibe of “Emotionless,” but has a more positive tone that directly counteracts the latter song’s judgmental attacks on women. What could be better for Drake’s public image than contrasting his misogynistic tendencies with the female empowerment he attempted in the “Nice For What” video? “Emotionless” is propulsive, but not necessarily upbeat, so this song acts as a shot in the arm.
3. “In My Feelings”
The two tracks on Scorpion that contain nods to New Orleans bounce music go back-to-back here, with the Big Freedia-sampling “Nice for What” being followed by “In My Feelings,” which which lifts elements from late genre pioneer Magnolia Shorty, and also slices up Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” in the choppy style favored by bounce DJs. Befitting the title, Drake is uncharacteristically nostalgic and romantic on “In My Feelings,” which is a nice vibe for the start of the album.
Perhaps the second-most nostalgic song on the album, “Elevate” finds Drake reminiscing about pumping his own gas and barely being able to afford champagne. Instead of focusing negative energy on his perceived enemies, he turns his attention on his closest friends and pledges to keep on grinding.
5. “Ratchet Happy Birthday”
This entry could be the most divisive: Many listeners have taken to social media to complain about the goofy, somewhat cheap-sounding “Ratchet Happy Birthday,” which really has nothing to do with the themes discussed on the rest of the album. But Drake’s rarely ever this carefree anymore, and it's tough not to do a spit-take on hearing him advise “petty bullshit shouldn’t excite you” after spending close to an hour taking subliminal shots and justifying his relative absence in his son’s life. Just forget your preconceptions and go with it.
6. “After Dark”
“Ratchet Happy Birthday” is the party, “After Dark” occurs when everyone else has gone home and Drake starts trying to charm the pants off the birthday girl. Luckily, he’s got late R&B master Static Major and current loverboy supreme Ty Dolla $ign in tow. The Ty verse, in particular, is one of Scorpion’s best moments.
7. “Blue Tint”
If you haven’t noticed by now, this reorganized album also has a bit of a first half/second half divide to it, but instead of using Drake’s method of vocal delivery as the variable, it’s his light and dark sides that are split up. “Blue Tint,” a Side B banger featuring additional vocals from Future, is a nice pivot point. Drake mostly just flexes on this one, but the beat hints at some darkness underneath. What’s more, “Blue Tint” is better than the majority of Drake and Future’s 2015 collaborative album, What a Time to Be Alive.
8. “Mob Ties”
Then we’re thrown right into ice water. On paper, it seems a bit silly for Drake to call a song “Mob Ties” at this point in his career, but once you hit play, you’re hard-pressed to deny how hard this one is. Besides, it's a perfect build up to…
The actual bangerific climax of Scorpion. Propelled by a beat from Memphis upstart Tay Keith, who Drake previously worked with on his and BlocBoy JB’s “Look Alive,” “Nonstop” is a pulse-quickening, bass-heavy slab of trap. Drake albums always have a song or two that find him a little out of his depth trying to keep up with new trends, and his use of a young producer and somewhat lazy 21 Savage flows make “Nonstop” the chief offender on Scorpion. Still, it slaps too much to prompt overt hate.
10. “Talk Up”
The jury’s still out on the source of the vocal sample that’s deployed on the hook of “Nonstop,” but one thing’s for sure: it sounds a hell of a lot like Three 6 Mafia. What better segue, then, into the track that’s definitely produced by the legendary Memphis group's DJ Paul? You can find Three 6's fingerprints all over rap these days, but it’s less common to see such a high-profile production placement for one of their sonic architects. To top it off, another living icon, JAY-Z, gifts Drizzy a rare guest verse. That’s quite an eclectic portion of the Hip-Hop Hall of Fame on one track.
Now, at long last, we get some #SadDrake. “Jaded” is the second of Ty Dolla $ign’s two features on the album, and although he’s only in the background of this track, the power of his considerable vocal presence can’t be ignored. While most of Drake’s negativity on Scorpion is reserved for his haters and rivals, “Jaded” finds him back in his old wheelhouse of complaining about women. In most hands, that’s a tired subject, but Drake’s pretty much made a career off of it, and still somehow retains some sympathetic qualities while expounding upon his rocky love life.
12. “Summer Games”
Perhaps the poppiest track on Scorpion, “Summer Games” makes great use of chunky ‘80s synths, vocal chops, and bombastic drums. You can always tell when Drake devotes more attention than usual to a pop hook, as was the case on “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “Hotline Bling,” and “Passionfruit,” and similarly, he absolutely floats on the chorus of “Summer Games.” Even if the rest of Scorpion has nothing to with the vibe or themes of “Summer Games” — and most of it really doesn’t – this song’s too good to leave out.
13. “God’s Plan”
The first time Drake included a months-old single on an album, he threw “Hotline Bling” on at the very end of Views, and although it didn’t necessarily seem to fit, it didn’t interrupt the flow of the album either. “God’s Plan” is a great single, and paints Drake in much lighter tones than the rest of the album, so it seems like as good a postscript as any. At the very least, it’s a better concluding note than “March 14th,” the non-apology track Drake wrote for his son.