Who’s giving out this much return on investment?”
So sings Drake on Survival, the cinematic overture to his sprawling, 25-track double album Scorpion, which was released overnight.
He’s certainly prolific. The 90-minute opus arrives just a year after his More Life mixtape, and features two UK number ones – God’s Plan and Nice For What.
But does Scorpion have a sting in its tail?
It’s tricky to assess such a multi-faceted record after a couple of plays. In fact, it’s hard not to collapse completely under the sheer weight of the music. But here are some initial impressions.
Drake admits to having a son
Earlier this year, Pusha T unleashed a storm when he rapped that Drake had a secret child with porn star Sophie Brussaux, on the vicious diss track The Story of Adidon.
Drake addresses the story on Emotionless – a soulful track that samples Mariah Carey’s MTV Unplugged performance of Emotions.
“I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world,” he raps. “I was hiding the world from my kid.”
On the closing track, March 14, he adds: “She’s not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine.”
He continues: “I’m out here on front lines just tryna make sure that I see him sometimes. It’s breaking my spirit/A single father, I hate when I hear it.
“I used to challenge my parents on every album/Now I’m embarrassed to tell them I ended up as a co-parent.”
Michael Jackson’s vocals on Don’t Matter To Me appear to come from previously unreleased music.
“All of a sudden you say you don’t want me no more,” sings the King Of Pop, who died nine years ago this week. “All of a sudden you say that I closed the door… It don’t matter to me.”
Paul Anka is listed as a co-writer on the track – dating it to 1983, when he collaborated with Jackson for his album Walk a Fine Line.
Summer Games is an early stand-out
Prior to release, Drake collaborator OVO Mal suggested Scorpion would be divided into two halves – a rap side and an R&B side.
The record basically cleaves to that template, showcasing the star’s twin loves – sunshine state hip-hop and sad-boy soul (never forget, this is a man who has a tattoo of Sade on his torso).
But Summer Games, the second track of “disc two”, is a revelation – a story of a summer romance that’s powered by the sort of sinister, pulsing synths you’d expect to hear on Stranger Things.
If there’s any justice, it’ll be the next single.
…But don’t expect any major surprises
Drake’s songs are like Google Maps: You always know the destination when you set off.
Almost all of Scorpion’s 25 tracks set up a groove and ride it for three minutes, with no deviation or development (the sudden burst of Latin percussion at the end of In My Feelings is a welcome exception).
It’s perfect for the streaming era. Every track is destined for a different mood-based playlist somewhere on Spotify.
But after Kanye West dropped five albums in five weeks, each one packed with musical handbrake turns, you’re left wishing Drake had inherited some of his sense of adventure.
Jay-Z references the death of XXXTentacion
Jay-Z’s guest verse on Talk Up must have been submitted close to the wire, as it references the murder of rapper XXXTentacion in Florida just last week.
“Y’all killed X and let Zimmerman live – streets is done,” he says.
The lyric refers to George Zimmerman, who shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. He was later cleared of second degree murder; but not before the New Black Panther Party put a bounty on his head.
The rapper also references Donald Trump’s administration with the lyric: “I got your President tweeting [but] I won’t even meet with him”.
Drake is extremely self-aware
Drake’s liner notes for Scorpion are basically a greatest hits of the criticisms levelled at him.
“I hate when Drake raps. Drake sings too much. Drake doesn’t even write his own songs. Drake makes music for girls. Drake is finished,” he writes in all-caps, adding the post-script: “Yeah, yeah. We know.”
In other words: Let the music speak for itself.
But he is aware of the conversation around his personal life and his fame, even sampling dialogue from an episode of the TV show Atlanta, set at a party in his house (he was unaware of the storyline before the show broadcast).
The line – “I need a photo with Drake, because my Instagram is weak” – is spoken by Zazie Beetz’s character Van, who is determined to capitalise on her A-list invitation – and goes on to steal Drake’s jacket as a memento.
On Final Fantasy, Drake samples another TV show, the Jeremy Kyle-esque Maury, where a guest taking a paternity test delivers the zinger: “Who’d they say that baby look like? Drake!”
And let’s not forget the video for I’m Upset, where Drake reunited the cast of Canadian drama Degrassi: The Next Generation, which he starred in as a teenager.
It’s never clear whether he’s poking fun at his public image, or railing against it. But he sums up his philosophy beautifully in Emotionless.
“They always ask, ‘Why let the story run if it’s false?'” he raps. “You know, a wise man once said… Nothing at all.”
A lot of artists come unstuck when they craft a double record. Even The Beatles’ White Album has a few serious dips in quality (don’t @ me).
Drake keeps the quality threshold pretty high on this release – apart from the inexplicably feeble Ratchet Happy Birthday.
You’ll probably want to cherry-pick the tracks that reflect your favourite Drake (combative rap Drake; late-night horndog Drake; mopey sadface Drake; upbeat house party Drake) for your personal playlist, but there’s something for everyone.
I’d start with the cinematic opener Survival; the sparse, combative Nonstop; the Future collaboration Blue Tint; and the seductive soul jam After Dark – alongside the three singles and Summer Games.