Last year, Drake probably released the worst album of his career. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some shining moments on “Scorpion,” but let’s be real: Pusha T absolutely, unequivocally, WWE-style destroyed Drake during the summer of 2018 when he released a song, “Infrared,” that subtly dissed Drake for not writing his own lines. The dispute was ugly, yielding several diss tracks and exposing an old photo of Drake in blackface as well as his plans to use an Adidas track-suit advertisement to reveal the son he’d been hiding. Finally, Drake stopped responding and just took the loss.
Drake didn’t really have enough time to recover before “Scorpion,” and it’s uncomfortably unclear whether he made the album before or after the beef. If he wrote it before, the songs are supremely disappointing in how emotionless they are, but if they were recorded afterward, they are weak responses. Either way, they aren’t good looks.
But let’s stay focused. “Scorpion” is also just a plain old bad album. Was there anyone that made it through all 1.5 hours without pressing the skip button? Did we really need this much 2018-style Drake? You will hear “God’s Plan” around campus any given weekend, but will you hear it in anyone’s headphones during the week? No. Because this album is like a bag of Lays: vapid, bloated and lacking in nutritional value.
Do not get me wrong though—I love Drake. His music is not the best, but we all have enjoyed “God’s Plan” and “Nice for What” at least once. “Passionfruit” and “Hotline Bling” are Masterpieces, and I will defend that title. I would also argue that this musical expertise is evident throughout his discography as well. I grew up with this dude, and “So Far Gone” is ingrained in my life. That record is the project that I compare the rest of Drake’s work to. “Take Care” is nothing without tracks like “The Calm.” The album “Nothing Was the Same” is great because it reprises the sound of “So Far Gone” in innovative ways. And Drake’s best record, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” is just an hour of what another Drake track calls “Ignant Shit.”
“So Far Gone,” like everything else Drake, has bangers. “Houstatlantavegas” and “Successful” are both thrilling, popular tracks. Most notably, “Best I Ever Had” is an absolute success in every sense. This song has got everything that a hit has needed in the last decade: problematic lyrics, an ear-worm of a lazy chorus and an electrifying instrumental.
This song oozes Drake, whose personality is thick and hangs around the song like cologne. And the golden aspect of Drake’s career-—the genius aesthetic endeavor that is Drake—is present on “Nice For What,” which has that same stench. I’m not saying that this song is a copy or a riff on what came before, but these songs are similar like siblings. “Nice For What” has catchy lyrics, delicious flow and vibrant energy, similarly to Drake’s work ten years ago. In my opinion, these features are what Drake does best.
But where “So Far Gone” pulls ahead of “Scorpion” is also where Drake reveals one of his biggest faults: He doesn’t take risks anymore. For better or worse, “So Far Gone” is filled with songs that experiment across a wide range of ideas. “November 18th” is the best southern hip-hop tribute made by a Canadian; “Little Bit” is a remix of the Lykke Li song of the same name (weird); and “Let’s Call It Off” is a reinterpretation of a Peter Bjorn and John song (weirder). The quality of these songs is up to debate.
Personally, I think the tracks are alright for a debut record. “November 18th” has been a staple of the southern legs of Drake’s tours, and it is also adequately moody. The Lykke Li and Bjorn songs are…well, a little bit more iffy. I like “Let’s Call it Off” some days; other days not so much. But props to Drake for experimentation on a debut mixtape. Compare that to the slew of debut mixtapes coming out by other artists around the same time— Meek Mill, Wiz Khalifa, etc.—and it’s easy to see why Drake was the most successful.
Drake was always aiming to make it big. He can make a hit—that’s a universal fact. But if we’re judging his work as art, there’s gotta be something more here. “So Far Gone” is one of the most listenable Drake projects for me because of how unique it is. It felt fresh then, and still does now, as there is a vibrancy here that is pretty rare for first-time projects.
Ten years later, I can’t say the same for “Scorpion.” I don’t even think I can say the same for the two albums that came before this. Some of the tracks are certainly striking––some even feel like true classics (“Passionfruit,” “Feel No Ways,” “Child’s Play” and especially “Hotline Bling”)––but I really can’t say that “Scorpion” is enjoyable.
I’d say that it comes down to length, but “Scorpion” is only 15 minutes longer than “So Far Gone.” But while “So Far Gone” is at the very least provocative, “Scorpion” just feels bland and uninspired. It gets two stars—one for each hit.