Sprawling R&B odyssey with a side of beef
Andy Hill
17:10 3rd July 2018

Alright, bit of context needed here. Pouty Toronto megastar Drake has been nursing a grievance with rap rival Pusha-T since, ooh, 2012 or so. Drake is usually very, very good at the whole ‘beef’ thing – his crack production crew know exactly how to wangle a hook out of the most unlikely material, and his own ironclad self-confidence and radio-friendly wit usually ensure his side of the argument gets most airplay. And thus he comes out on top, almost by default.

This year, however, Drizzy’s winning streak came grinding to a halt when Pusha-T dropped ‘Adidon’, a diss track that surgically targets Drake’s achilles heel – his secret baby son (gasp), sired with former porn star (gasp) Sophie Brussaux. And it gets worse – the theory is Drake was planning to keep a lid on his paternity until, allegedly, he could winkle a brand tie-in out of it. Gasp.

Here’s a flavour of Pusha-T’s freestyle:

“Sophie knows better as your baby mother / Cleaned her up for IG, but the stench is on her / A baby's involved, it's deeper than rap / We talkin' character, let me keep with the facts”

Ouch.

“You are hiding a child, let that boy come home / Deadbeat mothafucka playin' border patrol, ooh / Adonis is your son / And he deserves more than an Adidas press run”

As such the important tracks here on Scorpion – and those some fans believe are a bit shoehorned in – address his reluctant paternity. Track four ‘Emotionless’ in particular, where over a slick Gospel beat and (would you believe) Mariah Carey sample he tries to tackle the issue head on:

“I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world / I was hiding the world from my kid”

On ‘8/10’ he gets a bit more specific, taking on the ‘deadbeat’ criticism: “The only deadbeats is whatever beats I been rappin' to”

I mean, how much you care about all that depends on what you listen to hip-hop for. If you like the aggro and the beef you’ll love ‘8/10’, and especially the weird little dictaphone rant at the end. But Scorpion is a double album, and covers a vast amount of ground.

So if you like punchlines and humour there’s plenty here to enjoy here. “My Mount Rushmore is me / With four different expressions” on opening track ‘Survival’, for instance, or “Too bad reality checks don’t cover the balances due” on ‘Is There More?’. ‘Ratchet Happy Birthday’ is already a lighting rod for criticism among fans who feel that 25 tracks is excessive, but I reckon it leavens the dark introspection and – to be quite frank – toxicity that is this album’s real hallmark.

Album closer ‘March 14’ sort of says it all really. Drake did not want to be a daddy, and is making no secret of the fact:

“She not my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine / Sandi used to tell me all it takes is one time”

“Single father, I hate when I hear it / I used to challenge my parents on every album / Now I'm embarrassed to tell 'em I ended up as a co-parent / Always promised the family unit”

Even the wry poetry of one-liners like “I got an empty crib / In my empty crib” don’t quite square with the fact that, rather than stepping up and being a man, he’s just regretfully whining. Not cool.

Anywhoo, production wise it’s a treat. Gone is the buffet-style genre hopping of last year’s More Life LP, with it’s grime, world and afrobeat inflections. The strong, pulsing, glossy club tone that evoke the vast subterranean parking lots and private jets that are Drizzy’s natural constituency are out in force, bolder and more toothsome than ever.

There's a Michael Jackson feature, indeed, that doesn't really work, but as a potent example of Drake's commercial muscle it says a lot. Jay-Z also rocks up, sounding tired, but intriguingly referencing the death just last month of XXXTentacion. Certainly can't accuse these lads of letting the grass grow under their feet.

So, look, it’s a satisfying listen, if you're in the car or whatever, and assuming you can hear past Drake's wounded pride and unseemly self-obsession.

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