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Drake - Scorpion (Album Review)

Monday, 09 July 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

A common criticism levelled at Drake over the years is that his records tend to sound the same, but it’s a jab that misses the mark. While it's true that the Toronto megastar has developed a dependable formula, delivering introverted yet accessible rhymes over new school production, there's a clear distinction between his sonically expansive early works and his minimalist quasi-dancehall records of recent years.

The turning point was the 2015 mixtape 'If You're Reading This, It's Too Late', which garnered critical acclaim and was notable for several reasons. Firstly, it presented Drake as a battle rap-inspired combatant with barbed punchlines and sharp put downs, moving away from the narcissistic, lightweight persona of previous records. And secondly, the nocturnal production was game-changing, utilising woozy reverb, dramatic piano motifs and unexpected vocal samples.

You get the impression that Drake understood the significance, too, as he's spent the past three years attempting to recreate this dynamic, albeit with a sprinkling of new influences.

On the surface, choosing to explicitly draw from neo-soul and dancehall is artistically bold given his well established aesthetic but, if anything, the biggest drawback has been an unwillingness to deviate from his comfort zone. He has cloaked his ambition by reusing the same played-out flows and rhythmic patterns again and again – and his rapping hasn't been up to much either.

'Scorpion' is a frustrating mess because it suffers from both of these problems. His flows are more simplified than ever before and there's a general lethargy that encompasses the entire release. Worse, Drake maintains this dirge-like approach over two whole discs. The single Nice For What, with its passionate vocals and bouncy rhythm, sounds like it's wandered onto the wrong album. By the end of side one it already feels as if he's run out of things to say, with most verses revolving around uninteresting personal anecdotes and platitudes about staying true to himself.

Drake's lyricism has always been hit and miss: rare highlight Sandra's Rose, brimming with similes and witty comparisons, inevitably contrasts with characteristic moping about the trappings of fame on the likes of Finesse (“fashion week is more your thing than mine / I can't even lie / I'd rather stay inside”). What's more surprising, especially in light of his high-profile beef with Pusha T, is his watered down delivery. The nadir is I'm Upset, a tepid rebuttal to recent disses where Drake lifelessly rambles over the dullest beat he's ever spat on.

Devotees seeking depth will be rewarded with the odd grower, though. Emotionless showcases some neat flows and a unique gospel-led beat while Elevate's claustrophobic production is peculiarly gripping. But for listeners tuned out to the Drake brand as a whole, not least the minutiae of his personal life being exhaustively dissected at every opportunity, there's little about 'Scorpion' worth staying for. 'Views' was panned for being aimless and needlessly long, but it at least invoked a sense of atmosphere. Ultimately, 'Scorpion' struggles to invoke much of anything at all.

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