Saturday 20 July 2019

Drake 'Scorpion' album review: a response to Pusha T, Jay-Z, and Michael Jackson singing from beyond the grave

4 stars


Ed Power

A second double album in three years from grumpiest rapper alive Drake may not set everyone’s heart aflutter. In 2016, the Toronto arch-curmudgeon put out Views, a muddy sprawl that felt, in the very sorriest sense, like a hip hop War and Peace: miserable, slow, longer than Napoleon’s march on Moscow and with about as many sing-along moments.

So it’s a surprise and rather a delight that Scorpion advances both our understanding of Drake and also his understanding of what is to be a superstar.

The big headline is that Drake has used the release to break his silence over Pusha T’s assertion, on recent Kanye-produced “diss track” The Story of Adidon, that Drake fathered a love child with a porn star.

"I wasn't hiding my kid from the world," he responds on Emotionless, to the strains of a swirling Mariah Carey vocal sample. "I was hiding the world from my kid."

Scorpion’s major guest turn, meanwhile, is by Jay-Z, fresh from the surprise release of Beyoncé hook-up Everything Is Love. As with Drake’s rejoinder to the Pusha diss, there’s a hot-off-the-press sizzle to the elder statesman’s lines, which touch on the shooting dead in late June of controversial rising star XXXTantacion

"Y'all killed X and let Zimmerman live – streets is done,” he says on Talk Up, referencing the gunning down of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent release of his killer, George Zimmerman.

The surfacing of an apparently previously unreleased Michael Jackson sample on Don’t Matter To Me is another talking point. Pop archaeologists have carbon dated the original sessions to slightly before the recording of Thriller; Jackson indeed sounds as if he is singing beyond the grave as his voice swoops in.

Drake has always been a fascinating lyricist, a pop star who thrives on, rather than allow himself be undermined by, his contradictions.That old black and white duality of the hedonist tortured by his excesses has here been upgraded to something that pops with colours yet also feels more nuanced.

Sharper grooves are unquestionably part of the appeal: Nonstop skates on skittering beats; Elevate sparkles breath waterfalls of Autotune and ennui. The spirit of Drake’s big pop moment, Hold On, is elsewhere reprised on In My Feelings, a duet with Magnolia Shorty (a prodigy of Lil Wayne’s NewOrleans Cash Money Records).

The track arrive at the mid-point of side two, where Drake hones his chops as a pop writer – with Ty Dolla $sign/Static Major hookup After Dark perhaps a high point.

It’s already been an intriguing several months for rap. Pusha T has built a new mainstream audience on Daytona, Beyoncé flaunts her rap skills (and facility with f-bombs) on Everything Is Love. Kanye has found a way to simultaneously wax fragile and boastful with Ye.

With Scorpion, Drake has accepted the challenge and raised the ante– resulting in an album that pushes past his previous indulgences to reach what is a high point both for him as an artist and also for the year in hip hop.

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