Drake Scorpion

[OVO Sound; 2018]

Rating: 1.5/5

Styles: liturgical summer, simulation life, soul coffee
Others: n/a

“I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become. Because it like, it reminds me of those clique-y girls in high school that used to make fun of everyone else and define what was cool, but in five years, when you all graduate, that shit doesn’t matter. No one gives a fuck about that shit. Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate. It’s scary man, simulation life that we’re living. It scares me.”
– Drake, November 7, 2011

For much of his career, Drake has enjoyed a certain sense of inevitability. The homogeneity and incumbency advantages of radio have only grown more potent in the streaming era; to be among pop’s leading lights is to shape not only the sound itself, but also the very manner in which it is packaged and consumed. The ascent of a song like “One Dance” to global-scale inescapability blurs the line between the song as a discrete entry in the pop canon and the working definition thereof, exculpating Drake’s legacy from examination through the lens of, say, VIEWS as a whole and instead privileging the narrative surrounding its two or three leading singles. Why, then, bother with an album at all? The answer is key to making sense of the mystifying Scorpion: the entire Drake phenomenon is the result of a clash of eras, the refraction of his aspirations to stardom on the scale of Michael Jackson through the reality of a present in which such singular dominance is impossible.

For an album pushing 100 minutes, Scorpion is surprisingly digestible upon first listen. For once — for the first time — the album’s goals, that by which it was to be measured, were wrested from the control of Drake himself. Rather than the universal applicability with which his previous work had found broad acclaim, the audience was interested not in what Drake could say to them, but what he had to say to Pusha T — more broadly, to Kanye West; to the frothing masses of haters; to Sophie Brussaux, the mother of his child. On these terms, the album’s scorecard is remarkably binary: the child scores a firm “acknowledged,” and the much-anticipated response to Pusha T an “incomplete.” Drake’s brand, pardon the expression, had always relied upon a sort of ease, a certainty that any problem could be solved for him, assuming a sufficiently plausible explanation was provided for his credulous fans (should it prove worthy of addressing at all, of course). So long as his affairs — the various “yous,” the various Rihannas — remained unnamed or sufficiently abstracted from everyday affairs, The Boy himself seemed similarly untouchable. It was an illusory impenetrability thoroughly unprepared for real-life instantiation, unprepared for the existence of a son.

When you all graduate, that shit doesn’t matter. Much of Scorpion is premised upon the idea that the birth of Adonis has granted Drake a clean slate on his previously inhabited personae — that this, like the sudden emergence of an accent here or a revamped musculature there, warrants no examination in the light of his existence to-date. The emergence of Adonis is a sea change, an event for which his bed and his mother must make room and, by way of the image Drake has cultivated, a development that will irreversibly alter his public persona. And yet, how much of Scorpion could have appeared on any previous Drake album without raising an eyebrow? Part of this is that The Boy is justifiably resistant to changing his sound; having shaped the pop landscape for nearly a decade now, there is nothing to be gained from experimentation. It’s why Drake offers little here that does not retread the sonic and narrative territory of his previous work — it is perhaps his third consecutive album ruminating on the tribulations of success, and yet few songs offer any acknowledgment whatsoever of the late development in his actual, personal life. Scorpion is not the product of a man undergoing any meaningful personal change; it is the standard, biannual output of the cultural entity that is Drake, with two or three tracks tacked on to give it a sense of time and place, one that necessarily but reluctantly includes its creator’s catastrophic return to Earth.

Scattered across Scorpion are the ruins of what it aspires to be. Perhaps most on-the-nose is the Michael Jackson feature on “Don’t Matter to Me,” heavily rumored and properly credited and, ultimately, indistinct from what any of a dozen living collaborators could’ve provided (not least Drake’s on again, off again hook man The Weeknd). Rather than a musical synergy that justifies reviving the dead, it is a statement: either a flex, a claim to the throne, or the intersection of an utterly deluded self-image and the ability to indulge it. And who can blame The Boy? The formula had never failed him before. A long silence, whether perceived or actual, had yielded “God’s Plan” and “Nice for What,” bare faced yet undeniable appeals to the base that positioned Scorpion as yet another victory lap on music’s status quo, a stepping stone on the seemingly clear path to pop immortality. Drake got caught on autopilot to such an extent that it instantly seemed belated; in an era that simply moves too fast for mere maintenance — a star-studded collaboration here, an effortlessly won beef there — the passage of time meant that the man and The Boy were due for divergence. That separation, the reduction of the endlessly relatable, capital-D Drake into something ironically more real than ever before, leaves only the avatar: a chattering, rote signifier cut loose at last from any meaning.

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