In the wake of Drake’s billion-stream behemoth of a double album, Scorpion, the question on most people’s collective mind is a simple one: Where does the Canadian rap icon go from here?
His latest full-length release, which contains his now-expected array of hit singles, finds Drizzy at a bit of a crossroads artistically. The commercial success continues to be quite impressive, carrying with it a level of popularity that makes him virtually unsinkable as a rapper. However, Drake’s output has become more and more akin to an assembly line approach, one that has an increasingly corporatized, fast food flavor to it.
So what happened? How did Drake, in fewer than five years, go from being one of the genre’s most unique-sounding personalities to a rapper who is stuck in neutral artistically? It’s an odd trajectory to wrap your head around, especially when you consider that the 6ix God has still maintained his stranglehold on the global pop culture scene, transforming more into a brand or entity, than a musical beacon, at this point. In the day and age when ‘influencers’ run rampant, we can still count Drake at the top at the list– his co-sign from a musical standpoint is also as meaningful as ever. Thus his influence is almost above music– it lives from a bird eye’s view– while the sounds and intricacies that his music provides are less influential than the man (or ‘brand’) himself.
That fact remains despite the hits that his public persona has taken this year, direct shots have yet to fatally damage his mainstream marketability. His beef with Pusha T, one that ended with a disastrously pedestrian response to the GOOD Music veteran’s diss track “The Story of Adidon,” was a calculated move that somehow caught rap’s golden boy by surprise. For an artist who has always moved as deliberately and as carefully in the public eye as Drake does, one must wonder how that was even possible.
Even worse was when he addressed those issues head-on in his lyrics for Scorpion, most notably on the track “Emotionless.” The writing was more confessional that abrasive, full of cheesy, put-on emoting that, for listeners, is getting easier and easier to see through. For example, in reference to those deadbeat dad accusations, he had this to say:
“Look at the way we live/I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world/I was hiding the world from my kid.”
Not cringy enough for you? What about this, which most people saw as direct(ish) shade thrown at Pusha:
“From empty souls who just wake up and looked to debate/Until you starin’ at your seed, you can never relate.”
Scorpion’s legacy may end up being an important plot point in Drake’s career narrative. Will he continue to dilute his sound, be a slave to the mainstream and become hip-hop’s equivalent to Maroon 5, a once-interesting group who sold their originality in exchange for the trappings of pop success? Or, unlike the Adam Levine-led outfit, will he make a conscious return to his indie-style mixtape roots, a move that would inject some much-needed personality into his music going forward? One of those options feels necessary and the other inevitable.
This isn’t to say that Aubrey has lost his emceeing chops. In fact, his delivery and ability to weave a consistent energy in and out of his most recent material demonstrate just how far he’s come since his So Far Gone days. However, his overwhelming pop music appeal, particularly since 2016’s Views, has shrouded that talent in layers upon layers of repetitive, bland song construction. Unfortunately, the formula has grown old on Scorpion, an LP has this inescapable stench of staleness that it can’t seem to shake, like that car Seinfeld regretted leaving in the valet parker’s hands.
Maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance that Drake can return to his form from earlier this decade when he was dropping mixtapes that epitomized the slow-burn energy his long-time fans fell in love with. Exhibit A would be If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, a record that remains the high-water mark of his discography, harnessing this wonderful sense of urgency while pairing down his already bloated sense of mainstream obligation to a barely noticeable level. Hell, even his joint mixtape with Future, What a Time to Be Alive, still feels far more exciting and immediate, even if parts of it border on being a Watch the Throne imitation.
Sadly, that paragraph feels more like a pipedream than a likelihood. His dominance of the hip-hop/rap and pop music conversations during the past 36 months has led to the creation of a huge amount of expectation that he’ll just continue to churn out the hits. You know, keep feeding the hungry masses the same combination over and over again because, hey, why stop. It works. It’s a proven winner. In terms of growing an already powerful music empire to unparalleled heights, there’s literally no reason for Drake and his camp to dete from their current course.
Because of the famed emcee’s enormous success, the city of Toronto, Canada has also become the birthplace of this decade’s prototypical rap/R&B hybrid model. Go down the list of urban radio’s hit parade and you’ll find many faces that started off in this breeding ground, including The Weeknd, dvsn, Tory Lanez, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Roy Woods, Majid Jordan and more. You could convincingly argue that, without Drake paving the way, all those artists may never have been discovered, much less tasted such worldwide fame.
The 6ix God is, without a doubt, the poster boy for a certain kind of vibe and, in some ways, that’s why I was left wanting so much more out of Scorpion. The stripped-back production and simplistic rhymes showcased an artist who, at times, sounded bored by his own persona rather than a craftsman performing at peak efficiency. With few exceptions, the vibe is the only thing that stands out on his new record, which is the same tact he took with Views and More Life. All three LPs were lacking in killer material and seemed to be overflowing with the filler variety.
Drake’s next move will certainly be a much-anticipated one for devoted stans and casual hip-hop enthusiasts alike. Maybe I’m wrong for criticizing his latest release for basically ticking all the boxes that his level of fame requires, but what’s wrong with wanting more from an individual of superlative talent and unabated mass appeal? In sports, when you’re counting on your star player to make the big play in the closing moments of a big game, it’s disappointing when he or she shies away from that spotlight. In the wake of the Pusha T salvos and the unplanned revelation about a child the world didn’t know he fathered, Drake had an opportunity to really do something special. To silence his critics once and for all. That kind of action wasn’t taken.
From that angle, Scorpion feels more like a missed opportunity than a hit album. Tracks like “God’s Plan,” “Nice For What” and “In My Feelings” will likely be on many party playlists for the foreseeable future and, to be honest, I’m cool with that. All three of those tracks utilize catchy production to enhance their respective hooks, all of which are great. That said, I don’t think any selection from Scorpion will enhance Drake’s legacy. Only a record that has less surface sheen and more gritty, hard-earned soul will do that. Here’s hoping his next full-length release will dip at least a few toes into that pool.