Drake: Scorpion review – a maddening monument to superstardom

Veering from swaggering soul to eerie electronica, this mega-album is bloated, rambling – yet frequently gorgeous and funny

On an album filled with revelations, perhaps the most startling one arrives during Can’t Take a Joke (a song that would win the award for the most Drake-esque title in history were it not for the existence of his recent single I’m Upset): Drake reads the comments. Moreover, he says, the comments are “killing me”, so much so that the personal note written by Drake and attached to Scorpion is entirely comprised of negative ones: DRAKE IS FINISHED, DRAKE IS A POP ARTIST, DRAKE MAKES MUSIC FOR GIRLS, etc.

That seems astonishing on one level, and offers a curious insight into the life of one of the most successful artists of his era. It would appear that a man who’s had more Billboard Hot 100 hits than any solo artist in history spends his time sequestered away in his $8m Hidden Hills mansion ignoring the entreaties of neighbours Miley Cyrus and LeAnn Rimes to join them for a boozy barbecue in favour of rummaging around below the line and fulminating over what baz_27 has to say about him. “Scrolling through life and fishing for praise,” he offers on Emotionless, as a sample of ’s Emotions wails in the background. “Opinions from total strangers take me out of my ways.”

But on another level: well, of course he does. From the start, Drake’s whole schtick has revolved around solipsism and self-pity – how could he resist such a rich seam of inspiration, so many reasons to feel sorry for himself?

If it’s true, then he can hardly have missed the gag that began circulating online when Scorpion was announced as two albums – one rap, one R&B – prompting , “Biggie released a double after he died too”, earning himself 12,000 retweets in the process, the joke being that Drake seems to have come off noticeably the worse in his beef with Pusha-T and .

Said beef shows no sign of letting up over the course of Scorpion. On the album closer, March 14, he deals with Pusha’s big allegation – that Drake fathered a secret son – in a way that you have to say is impressively on-brand. Above sparse backing involving nothing more than drums and an impressively warped, psychedelic D’Angelo sample, he admits the “harsh truth”, promises to be there for his child, then turns his attention to underlining the real victim in all of this, which, with a certain thundering inevitability, turns out to be Drake. “I’m out there on the front lines, trying to make sure that I see him sometimes, it’s breaking my spirit,” he raps, before breaking into an old Boyz II Men song: “No one to cry on, I’m all alone, I need shelter from the rain to ease the pain.”

Elsewhere, Drake takes aim at West’s line about him being light-skinned, mocks him for the 2016 rumours that he was $56m in debt and huffs that West and Pusha-T’s recent albums were of uneven quality: “When I heard the shit I was skipping through that.” He sounds committed – as if the ongoing war of words has forced him on to his mettle – and he has a point, although one might reasonably respond: look who’s talking.

You can understand Drake’s desire to make a grandiose statement that covers every musical base from trap to the 90s R&B slow jam of After Dark, but the problem with Scorpion is that there isn’t quite enough strong material here to support its gargantuan running time. There is audible flab in the flat I’m Upset and Nonstop, and the featherweight pop of Ratchet Happy Birthday. Some missteps seem baffling – Mob Ties, a dreary, by-numbers homage to Migos frankly feels a bit beneath him – and others overly familiar: Finesse is another one of those minor, melodically rambling Drake tracks that gives every impression that he’s just making it up as he goes along.

It’s infuriating because Scorpion is frequently fantastic, making a stronger claim for Drake’s greatness than any amount of swaggering braggadocio. Don’t Matter to Me isolates a sample (from an unreleased vocal cleared by Jackson’s estate) over pillowy synthesisers, emphasising the overlooked eeriness of his voice. Summer Games is a bold exercise in minimalism – an electronic riff that consists of one note runs through the entire song – and feels hypnotic rather than wearying. The DJ Premier-produced Sandra’s Rose is a gorgeous confection of old soul samples and churchy organ.

For an artist who’s not exactly renowned for his sense of humour, there’s a real wit about In My Feelings’ incorporation of a scene referencing Drake in Donald Glover’s TV comedy . And if Finesse represents Drake’s Auto-Tuned meandering at its most shaggy, then Peak shows that approach at its best: crawl-paced and authentically weird, its atmosphere of small-hours melancholy supported by harsh electronic tones and the unexpected sound of British MC Stefflon Don and some schoolfriends discussing the state of their love lives.

Whatever anyone’s saying in the comments section or on social media, Drake is such a huge star that Scorpion is a guaranteed smash. You wouldn’t be surprised if it breaks yet another streaming record. But the fact that it’s a good album that could have been great had a firmer editing hand been applied perhaps tells you more about the isolation of mega-fame than any of its author’s depictions of moneyed angst: it offers the sound of a world in which no one will tell a superstar that enough is enough.
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