Folks, I don’t know if this will surprise you or not, but it took months for me to listen to Drake’s new album Scorpion. I consider myself a fan of Mr. Aubrey Graham. I remember waiting with bated breath for his last album, Views, to drop in my dorm room, feeling the chilly melodrama of opening track “Keep the Family Close” blow through me, its first line — “All my let’s-just-be-friends are friends I don’t have anymore” — flooring me, not because it’s profound (it’s not) or anguished (it definitely is) but for its inimitable Drake-ness. That’s what you go to Drake for: the unabashedly emotional, somewhat clumsy reflections on relationships that are nonetheless entertaining.
This time was different, however. I tried to avoid Scorpion under the pretense that I wanted to listen to it in the right setting. I turned off “Nonstop” when it came on the radio. I avoided “In My Feelings” Challenge videos. Eventually, I began to realize I was putting it off because it was a chore I had to do, another overlong event album from the biggest rapper in the world I had to hear in full to “keep up.” It wasn’t until I started to prep this piece that I finally sat down and listened to it, and my reluctance was justified.
Drake is, of course, having quite the motherfucking year, and I don’t simply mean that figuratively. He was flying high in February, when he filmed himself giving away thousands of dollars to the citizens of Miami for his “God’s Plan” video, which became an instant hit despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it contains the awful Instagram-caption-ass line “She said do you love me, I tell her only partly / I only love my bed and my mama, I’m sorry.” He continued the hit parade with “Nice For What,” a certified slapper featuring Big Freedia and a Lauryn Hill sample and inspired by the New Orleans bounce scene, with an empowering video featuring dozens of glamorous female celebrities including Olivia Wilde, Rashida Jones, Misty Copeland, Tiffany Haddish, and Letitia Wright.
From there, things started to go wrong. For years, Drake has been harried by accusations of using ghostwriters rather than writing his own lyrics, but a subtle shot from Pusha T on his song “Infared” — “It was written like Nas but it came from Quentin,” referring to Drake’s alleged ghostwriter Quentin Miller — finally elicited a response. He released a diss track called “Duppy Freestyle” where he defended himself for hiring Miller — “And as for Q, man, I changed his life a couple times / Nigga was Kroger workin’ double time”— while criticizing the G.O.O.D. Music CEO’s artistic reliance on his image as a former coke dealer. “You might’ve sold to college kids for Nike and Mercedes,” he says on the track, “but you act like you sold drugs for Escobar in the ’80s.”
Drake, haughtily following up the diss with lackluster new single “I’m Upset” and by billing G.O.O.D. Music for “promotional assistance and career reviving,” had no response for what came next. Pusha released his counter-diss, “The Story of Adidon,” in which, besides using a photo of Drake in blackface as the cover and mocking his producer Noah “40” Shebib’s multiple sclerosis, he publicly exposed a secret love child named Adonis that Drake had conceived with French porn star Sophie Brussaux, and that Drake planned on revealing his existence while promoting a new clothing line with Adidas called Adidon. “You are hiding a child,” Pusha raps in a now-iconic line, “let that boy come home / deadbeat mothafucka playin’ border patrol.”
Extremely personal and devastating in its impact, “The Story of Adidon” is essentially the greatest hit Drake’s career and public reputation has ever taken. It was so bad that Drake had to reconvene the cast of Degrassi for a video to win back public support and use part of Scorpion to explain himself. But this backfired as well. On “Emotionless,” he spins yarns about the destructive nature of social media: a girl who went to Rome “and all she did was post pictures for the people at home”; another woman saving travel pictures to post later; another “happily married till she puts down her phone.” “Look at the way we live,” he says, “I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world / I was hiding the world from my kid.” To be clear, Drake is essentially saying that he concealed the existence of his infant son because social media makes people narcissistic, apparently oblivious to the vapidity and self-importance inherent in making such a statement.
This isn’t even the worst thing about the album. As I listened, I started making a list of all the lines I thought were irredeemably corny. A few examples: “I’m a lightskin but I’m a dark nigga”; “I wanna thank God for working way harder than Satan”; “The only deadbeats is the beats I been rapping to.” Eventually I had to stop, because I found every word he said corny, and because that, combined with the album’s sleepy production and overall lack of any interesting subject matter, it all coalesced into a horrible experience of unbearable length.
This is the crux of the matter. Out everything that’s happened in Drake’s world this year, even the recent, somewhat creepy revelation that the 31-year-old is dating an 18-year-old model and texted teen actress Millie Bobby Brown, if anything kills his career, it will be the fact that he keeps releasing albums that are as long as a July day in the Arizona desert and just as barren of quality. People will like any artist as long as the music’s good, no matter what they do, but Drake is reaching the tipping point where his work can’t make up for the shitty things he does.
Drake, of course, isn’t the only rapper guilty of releasing overlong albums packed with filler. Because streaming sites have made minuscule the amount of royalties artists receive from individual songs, recording artists have had to find find alternative means of income. Some tour more often, while other release records and merchandise more frequently. A select few, however, mostly high-profile rappers, have found another option: using their notoriety and vast fandoms, they release two or three discs worth of songs in one go, resulting in bloated releases packed with mediocre material that, by measure of their cultural cachet, we all have to suffer through just to stay up to date. Migos, currently touring with Drake, is infamous for this practice, and you could also accuse Rae Sremmurd and Travis Scott of doing the same thing.
Scorpion has shown the cracks in this model, and in Drake’s persona. Rather than the underdog he thinks he is, he’s simply a rich man making us suffer through his personal drama. He doesn’t need our money. The next time he tries to release an album as unpleasant as this one, let’s all just skip it.
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