Drake, "Scorpion" (Republic)
When Drake tells us about 10 minutes into his new album that he's "exhausted and drained," it's clear we're supposed to sympathize with him. The revelation comes in the song "Emotionless," just after the Canadian superstar has more or less confirmed rumors that last year he secretly fathered a child.
"I wasn't hiding my kid from the world / I was hiding the world from my kid," he insists, going on to describe the fatigue created by a culture in which "empty souls" debate the intimate dealings of celebrities like him.
But the only reason the internet is obsessed with Drake's personal life, of course, is because he's been singing and rapping about it for nearly a decade.
And on "Scorpion" he has the audacity to complain about being tired before he's even finished four songs? Imagine how the rest of us feel an hour and 20 minutes later, when he finally brings this 25-track double album to a close.
"Scorpion" is sure to test the endurance of even the most committed Drake fan. Split into two halves, the project showcases both Drake the hip-hop blowhard and Drake the R&B sweetheart.
Whatever the setting, though, he clings doggedly to the same story line: Drake has been maligned or misunderstood, and that hurt his feelings — but also he doesn't care because there's nothing anybody could do to bring him down (except for so-and-so doing such-and-such).
Yet for all its tiresome megalomania, "Scorpion" is so beautifully rendered — from vocals to samples to features to beats — that Drake ends up pulling you over to his side, much like Kanye West did on his similarly vexing "Ye."
"Emotionless" sets those thoughts on the empty souls of the celebrity-industrial complex against a churchy snippet of Mariah Carey's "Emotions," providing a special tenderness. Ditto an appearance by Nai Palm (of Australia's Hiatus Kaiyote) in "Is There More," where her interpolation of a few lines from an old Aaliyah song gives some weight to his rich-guy hand-wringing about whether or not there's "more to life than going on trips to Dubai."
"Scorpion" is full of vivid female vocals, both sung and sampled — a smart but cynical tactic that Drake deploys most effectively in "Nice for What," which layers Lauryn Hill's sped-up "Ex-Factor" over a hectic beat inspired by New Orleans bounce music.
That's just one of the regional styles that Drake, perhaps hip-hop's savviest curatorial mind, nods to here; he also looks to the Memphis rap scene in "Talk Up."
But "Scorpion" also suggests Drake and his expansive team of producers and songwriters were reaching for new territory, as in "Summer Games," a gorgeous synth-pop ballad about how people play with one another on social media.
He exercises a remarkable attention to detail: Check out how he and the production duo of 40 and Nineteen85 stitch together parts of a previously unreleased Michael Jackson vocal to accompany him in the moody "Don't Matter to Me."
"Scorpion" ends, no surprise, with Drake's full accounting of the one thing folks would stick around for: his becoming a parent with a woman he says he met only two times.
At first, "March 14" is uncharacteristically raw, with Drake peppering his frank single father's lament with sharp images. But just as you're wondering whether Drake might've broken through to some new plane of emotional maturity, the hard-knocking hip-hop track transforms into a plush R&B jam in which he quotes Boyz II Men to insist that he's all alone and needs shelter from the rain.
It's as self-pitying — and as pretty — as could be.
MIKAEL WOOD, Los Angeles Times
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