“I’m upset! Half a million on my head I can’t accept
Least it made me feel like someone tried they best, yeah
Want to waste a half a million be my guest
Make me want to buy a vest and a Tec…
… but I’m blessed, I just checked!
Hate me, never met me in the flesh”
Honestly the video for “I’m Upset” would be fun with or without Drake’s music. It plays off of the fact he started in Degrassi: The Next Generation but flips the script by having Jay & Silent Bob of the Clerks franchise show up as the local drug dealers, even doing Jay’s “smoking blunts” freestyle at the denouement of the story. If you liked the show or their characters it’s a treat either way and combining the two together is a “remix” right out of hip-hop tradition. Of course the only reason it’s even possible to do this in video form with the actual Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith playing themselves is because Drake is one of the biggest rap stars in the world right now. Whatever the budget was to shoot this video it was probably pocket change to Drake and/or the labels affiliated with his new double album “Scorpion.”
Before this review dropped Drake was smashing all-time streaming records on a variety of music services, undoubtedly putting even more money in his pockets due to performance royalties. Given a lot of fans undoubtedly copped a physical of it the mechanical royalties will fatten his bankroll as well, even though some large retailers are discontinuing CD sales. Even though Aubrey Drake Graham should probably be on cloud nine with all this success, “I’m Upset” is indicative of something the late Christopher Wallace said years ago: “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” From 2012-2018 he’s been entangled in one lawsuit after another, and over the same timespan he’s been engaged in very public feuds with everyone from Chris Brown to Pusha T. The latter has become one of the most talking about beefs of 2018 and even wound up revealing that Drake has had a son by former adult actress Sophie Brussaux, a fact he wound up confirming on this new album.
So yeah Drake is “upset” about a few things, but life’s still good when you’re one of the biggest names in hip-hop, you’re an ambassdor for the Toronto Raptors, you gross $50-$100 million a year in endorsements alone, and you’re so big that people want to beef with you just to get famous. That’s one of the reasons I’ve never been too fond of the Haterade bandwagon that goes around riding on the same old story — Drake’s too pop, too commercial, too mainstream, too selfish, too… whatever their excuse is this week. He’s made some good albums and he’s made some mediocre albums but he’s been consistently making music while other people make complaints. Even if you don’t respect the man respect his hustle. Furthermore I’m down with the fact that Drake released a double album in a day and time where people are saying albums are dead let alone a two disc set. That shows a certain amount of moxie (or if you prefer cajones) in today’s marketplace.
Drake’s resentment toward his haters and his critics motivates songs like “Nice For What,” where the artist is asking himself the question in the song’s title — what does he have to be nice for to people who aren’t nice to him? The production from Murda Beatz and a cast of others samples everyone from Lauryn Hill to Big Tymers, and the mish-mash makes an enjoyable mix. Production helps carry this 90+ minute album. Even if you might eventually tire of hearing his voice, the all-star ensemble of beatsmiths keeps it moving, starting with No I.D.’s “Survival” and ending with T-Minus on disc two’s “March 14.” (Both have co-producers but we’re going with first billed to keep it moving ourselves.) That finale by the way is the song where Drake addresses the birth of his son and settles the rumors once and for all. “I got an empty crib in my empty crib.” You can hear a snippet of it at the end of this video — the full song isn’t free anywhere (yet).
An interesting and perhaps controversial twist is that Drake has a duet with the late Michael Jackson on the song “Don’t Matter to Me,” which is possible because of an initially unreleased recording session from 1983 with Paul Anka, although it eventually did come out as the song “This Is It” four months after his death in 2009 (which resulted in the threat of a lawsuit by Anka and him subsequently receiving 50% of the publishing). Still it’s a fly song from Paul Jeffries and company musically, and it’s exactly the kind of hip-pop that people like to hate on Drake for, but to me it’s just another song that will sound good if I turn on the radio and listen to whatever the local hip-hop/R&B station is playing at the moment.
So really the one question that needs to be answered — is a double album too much Drake all at once? Yes, and no. There are a lot of songs I couldn’t cut if it was pared down to one disc — the DJ Paul produced “Talk Up” featuring Jay-Z, the beautiful harp backdrop and heavy bass of the Boi-1da laced “Final Fantasy,” DJ Premier’s soft and smooth “Sandra’s Rose” and the laconic “After Dark” featuring Static Major and Ty Dolla $ign just to name a few. Then again the latter song is emblematic of something that does at times bug me about Drake — he’s not that good of a singer, but he wants to sing a lot of the time, and he’s very clearly being assisted by studio trickery when he does. It’s not that the songs where he does it are bad, they’re just… plastic. Artificial. Kind of hollow. I could do without songs like “Summer Games” and “Finesse” that fall into that category. Drake the R&B singer doesn’t do much for me outside of “Hotline Bling.” Sometimes it works though when he gets a little more wavy on songs like “In My Feelings,” making him sound like the inspiration for a bunch of copycats in recent years. That’s arguably true. Drake is so big that people copy both his best AND his worst qualities.
To put a bottom line on it Drake’s “Scorpion” is going to be exactly what his fans love and what his haters hate. It’s full of excess, hubris, vanity and unnecessary singing. It’s also full of hip-hop swagger, excellent production, a limited but solid list of cameos, and a lot of pent up feelings being released musically. It’s not his greatest work but it’s easily one of his most ambitious, which still makes it an album worth celebrating and listening to, though perhaps in smaller doses than an hour and a half at a time.