#DrakeSZN, and thus the promise of summer, commenced last Friday. Of late, the music industry has flirted with the idea of thrift, but Drake is a showman with a distaste for restraint: Scorpion, his fifth solo effort, embraces immoderation, a two-disc, 25-track affair that runs an obnoxious 90 minutes in full. It’s a mega-production that siphons attention, even if it doesn’t say much of anything.
A paragon and pariah of internet culture, Drake is what you might consider a stylist with no real style: he borrows and sheds and tinkers, happily discarding or appropriating to the times. He is a chameleon, a hoarder of identities foreign and overfamiliar. His music is tailor-fit for our increasingly perverted modes of transmission. He is a meme, Instagram caption, and tweet waiting to launch itself into the daily hellfire of online chatter—a fact a number of music and lifestyle publications raced to reflect. There’s already a Drake lyric generator, created in 2017, that culls memorable lines from each of his LPs—more proof that the Toronto rapper’s life makes for a certain kind of millennial male template, but only if you want it to be. (You don’t.)
Scorpion masquerades as self-examination, which only heightens its overwrought sentimentality: Side A grapples with ego, legacy, and fame, while Side B shifts to downtempo. “I find it funny how I keep on talkin’ and commas increase/ I’m standin’ at the top of where you n***** are climbin’ to reach,” he raps on “Sandra’s Rose.” Later, on the chorus of “Blue Tint,” he’s characteristically unrepentant: “What a time this is, to be alive for this shit, president doing us in.” Together, the thick of the album cools into a smoky but futile collection of jagged rap and R&B puzzle pieces. There’s a posthumous feature from Michael Jackson, a Mariah Carey sample (the ironically titled “Emotionless”; Drake has never lacked for emotion), assists from Jay-Z and Ty Dolla $ign, and a song titled “March 14,” on which the 31-year-old rapper—recently outed as a father by Pusha-T on a diss track from May—speaks to his newborn son, Adonis. Scorpion is exhausting and overstuffed, an album dry on thematic audacity. Love, money, family. We’ve heard these notes before.
When one considers the volume of Drake’s early period, it’s hard not to see his latest feat as a kind of failed project of self-documentation. His thematic repetition can often read as diaristic, but one begins to wonder—worry even—if Drake is ready to grow up, a notion he hints at in final exhales of the closing track. “I’m changing from a boy to a man/ No one to guide me, I’m all alone.”
Ultimately, though, growth is beside the point with him. Sometimes self-optimization is merely a matter of output. Drake’s catalog numbers five albums, five mixtapes, two compilations, one EP, dozens and dozens of music videos, and hundreds of songs. It’s extensive, often exceptional work. But the more and more he produces, the more it actually becomes work—laboring, with increasing reluctance, through 20, 30, 40 songs (at this point, a 40-song album does not seem out of reach).
Sometimes self-optimization is merely a matter of output. But the more and more Drake produces, the more it actually becomes work.
A meticulous calculus emerges across his string of releases: He’s self-aggrandizing, self-absorbed, self-deprecating, self-destructive, self-referential, a man guided by voices and moods and styles who is forever in search of personal clarity. Drake has built himself into a network of networks, into a continuum. He’s always looking forward and back, a prism of old and new. According to a series of Instagram Stories he posted just before the album’s release, inspiration for Scorpion ranged from upstarts—Smiley_61st, Lil Baby, Booggz, Ama Lou, City Girls—to rap classicists such as 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G.
Most of all, Scorpion builds on the momentum he first initiated on 2016’s More Life, his 22-song “playlist” of global synthesis. Textually, that album was more successful, but, like Scorpion, it was a bloated experiment shaped for the streaming era. It was merely a matter of output, a quantity sum game. Underneath the ego that fills much of Drake’s work, there persists a sense of longing that he both wants to transcend and embrace who he is.
That doesn’t translate as clearly as one would hope for on Scorpion. But it doesn’t necessarily matter. With 25 songs, Drake has played the only game there is left to play—total ubiquity. On Saturday afternoon, I received an email from an Apple executive explaining how Scorpion had broken the “ALL TIME first day streaming record with more than 170 million streams on Apple Music.” According to the rep, “that is also the most streams in a single day on any service, ever.” So, you see, whether Drake truly wants to grow up, be a father, or atone for his sins is immaterial. Whether we believe him matters even less. All he has to do is keep talking.