Drake would like to tell you a little story about himself. “I know a girl whose one goal was to visit Rome,” this story begins. “Then she finally got to Rome, and all she did was post pictures for people at home / ’Cause all that mattered was impressin’ everybody she’s known.” Nobody is buying the I know a girl framing: That, my friends, is the Drakest story ever told.
This occurs on “Emotionless,” one of the myriad you-can’t-spell-Lambo-without-LMAO song titles on the 25-track, 89-minute behemoth that is Drake’s fifth proper album, Scorpion. It is joined by “Can’t Take a Joke” (true), “Don’t Matter to Me” (false), “In My Feelings” (obviously), “Jaded” (definitely), and “Is There More” (always). You are forgiven, though, if on first contact you skipped right to “Ratchet Happy Birthday” (amazing), a goofy and borderline offensive throwaway that features the Drakest possible birthday sentiment: “Seems like time’s out of our control.” Sheesh. Somebody needs a vacation after all his vacations. One of the few remaining things Drake and his enormous fan base have in common is Drake-based spiritual exhaustion.
Scorpion is, by design, an ungodly-long slog with just enough bursts of cornball wit and hooky radiance to justify your time and effort, not to mention his. Its absurd length aims to infect you with the same grandiose fatigue that has half-heartedly animated his work from 2016’s pouty victory lap Views onward. While not as explicitly corny in its half-rap, half-R&B double-album framing as Nelly’s 2004 endeavor Sweat/Suit, Scorpion nonetheless breaks down cleanly enough into Dour Rapping and Even Dourer Crooning sides, an exasperating duality that a Twitter user with the handle @gayh0rney nailed four years ago.
*drake singing voice* my dick really ain't that fucked up looking— weird gal (@gayh0rney) June 6, 2014
*drake rapping voice* nah but really it is
As a whole, this record is a stress test to see just how much Drake you can stand, and to what extent Drake can still stand himself. He might abandon ship before you do.
Consider “Emotionless,” which is wonderful, and which solidifies Drake’s efforts to be to Instagram what Pusha-T is to cocaine. The beat chops up Mariah Carey’s virtuosic MTV Unplugged version of “Emotion” to startling effect, one of the suspiciously plentiful moments on Scorpion when a woman’s sampled voice — Lauryn Hill’s, or Nicki Minaj’s, or the late New Orleans rapper Magnolia Shorty’s — jolts both Drake and his spiritually exhausted audience back to life. His verses, meanwhile, are a torrent of Peak Drake one-liners that both further his decade-long campaign of existential dissatisfaction (“There’s times when I wish I was where I was / Back when I used to wish I was here”) and nod to the tabloid-roiling issues of the day (“I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world / I was hiding the world from my kid”). Stars, they’re staring at their phones just like us:
Missin’ out on my days
Scrollin’ through life and fishin’ for praise
Opinions from total strangers take me out of my ways
I’m tryna see who’s there on the other end of the shade
Most times it’s just somebody that’s underage
That’s probably just alone and afraid
And lashin’ out so that someone else can feel they pain
You’ll never guess who else is lashing out so that someone else can feel their pain. No one moment on Scorpion is as hilariously aggrieved as the album’s acidly self-deprecating Apple Music description. (“DRAKE TOOK AN L.”) But aggrievement is, as always, Drake’s dominant mode. “As luck would have it, I’ve settled into my role as a good guy,” he harrumphs on the triumphantly grouchy “8 out of 10,” bringing his disastrous feud with Pusha-T to a merciful, ignoble end. “Yes I’m hurting, yes I’m jaded,” he murmurs on the flatlining “Jaded,” excoriating a younger lover for her fecklessness. “Most of these things I don’t wanna say.” And on “Is There More,” which arrives at Scorpion’s halfway point like a grim taunt, he bangs listlessly on the same None Of This Fulfills Me drum he’s been banging on since 2009’s “Successful,” back before he was all that successful. How’s this for a set of thinking-emoji rhetorical questions:
Is there more to life than goin’ on trips to Dubai?
Yachts on the Fourth of July, G5 soarin’ the skies?
Is there more to life than all of these corporate ties?
And all of these fortunate times?
And all of these asses that never come in proportionate size?
I am sick to death of Drake trying to talk me into disliking Drake! Knock it off, Drake! I love Drake! Who doesn’t, deep down, love Drake?! He is hilarious in a very specific and winsomely corny way! “My Mount Rushmore is me with four different expressions,” he raps on Scorpion opener “Survival,” and that’s just the sort of fist-pumping groaner that compels you to ride out yet another hour-and-a-half-long temper tantrum. If you’re cutting this record down to a Kanye-approved seven tracks, please consider the bass-driven swagger of “Nonstop,” or the humid synth-pop swoon of “Summer Games,” which in its noirish bittersweetness sounds as good as Taylor Swift’s Reputation thought it sounded, and further cements Drake as our foremost chronicler of love in the age of social media:
Yeah, you say I led you on, but you follow me
I follow one of your friends, you unfollow me
Then you block them so they can’t see you likin’ someone just like me
Even this record’s many objectively boring parts have their charms, even if they’re invariably someone else’s charms. A grumpy Jay-Z verse and an eerie unreleased Michael Jackson hook elevate “Talk Up” and “Don’t Matter to Me,” respectively. Late in the game, a crude and raucous sample of Magnolia Shorty’s bounce anthem “Smoking Gun” delightfully jars “In My Feelings” out of its malaise; a live version of Nicki Minaj’s “Boss Ass Bitch” hijacks a moribund “That’s How You Feel” the same way. (“Nice for What,” which lets a sped-up Lauryn Hill do the heavy lifting, completes this trifecta, and remains far and away Scorpion’s best pure pop moment.) These joys are fleeting, especially as the record slumps far past the one-hour mark, but your reward — should you survive two late-breaking sex jams, one of which is named “Final Fantasy” — is the 25th and last track, “March 14,” in which Drake finally addresses that whole “you are hiding a child” business.
It is tempting to say that the meanest line on Pusha-T’s monumental Drake diss “The Story of Adidon” was, “Your music for the past few years been angry and full of lies,” which is at least half-true. Then again, no, that was, like, the 12th-meanest line on “The Story of Adidon.” But that song’s revelation that young Aubrey is a father — a “co-parent,” as Drake now puts it on “March 14,” a visceral shame darkening his voice — does provide Scorpion with its one substantial, essential, plot-forwarding moment. It gives Drake something else to talk about, and, yes, something else to whine about, as opposed to all the whining he does about how success only makes him nostalgic for the days when he would whine about how much he wanted success. And it culminates in the Drakest Drake line ever Drake’d: “I got an empty crib in my empty crib.”
It takes nearly an hour and a half and a novella’s worth of luxurious despondence to reach those nine words, and the payoff — both satisfying and devastating — is still very nearly worth it. Scorpion is a bruising quality vs. quantity death match, and thoroughly exhausting whether you enjoy the ride or not. Drake, as always, is hellbent on not enjoying the ride at all. But don’t let anyone talk you out of still believing in his capacity for greatness. Not even him.