On Friday (June 29), Drake is set to finally release Scorpion, the rapper’s first full-length effort in either one or two years, depending on how much stock you put in the “playlist” designation he assigned his 2017 More Life set.
Though the album is all but guaranteed to be a success — there’s a reason why you rarely read a Drake essay these days without the phrase “too big to fail” appearing at least once — the set comes at an interesting time in the 6 God’s career. While he seems currently poised to reach heights few artists in hip-hop history have previously achieved, his credibility with hip-hop heads and critics nonetheless seems on unusually shaky footing. Can he continue his commercial winning streak while winning back the tastemakers whose approval he most craves? Here are the biggest questions facing Drake on his upcoming fifth official studio album.
What, if anything, did he learn from the middling fan and critical reception to Views? As his most poorly reviewed (and derisively memed) set to date, 2016’s Views could serve as something of a teaching point for Drake — about keeping his sets more focus in sound and length, and generally about being less overbearing a presence on his own records. Those lessons were somewhat internalized on unofficial “playlist” follow-up More Life, which ran just as long as Views but flowed a little more cohesively from section to section, and which saw its MC taking a somewhat lighter touch, relying more on outside voices and less on deep-Drake lyrical myopia.
From the track list recently confirmed by Drake via Instagram, it appears that a shorter set is not in the cards for Drake on Scorpion: 25 tracks are listed, spread across two “side”s. However, that could imply either more unwieldy sprawl, or perhaps a more organized focus, particularly if the rumors of the split being half-R&B and half-rap focused are to be believed. (Those might be overstated, though, given that that previous releases “Nice for What” and “I’m Upset” — both hip-hop tracks, at least by Drake standards — appear on different halves of the tracklist.)
And anyway, Drake would also be at least somewhat justified in looking back on the reception to Views and deciding his approach doesn’t really need changing. While the set received something of a critical drubbing, it also put up stratospheric sales and streaming numbers, launched what was then the biggest hit of his career in “One Dance,” and even earned the rapper his first nomination for album of the year at the 2017 Grammys. It may have brought him to a low point critically, but commercially it was a new high for Young Aubrey, one whose arc has only trended further upward in the years since. Whether or not Scorpion follows in the mold of Views will provide interesting insight into what Drake is paying more attention to these days: social media or the charts.
How will this album’s reception by affected by the month of Kanye and Carters releases that preceded it? On the one hand, hip-hop listeners are likely exhausted by the month of event releases that have marked this early summer: Beginning with Pusha T’s Daytona and ending with Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E., it’s been a month of following breadcrumb trails to big-ticket album drops, first premiered at mysterious listening parties and then held from public consumption until unpredictable hours later in the weekend. As exec producer on five (and lead artist on two) such consecutive releases, Kanye is the primary party responsible, but don’t forget JAY and Bey either, who crashed Nas’ weekend with their joint Everything Is Love album, further fanning the content flames and getting hip-hop heads talking in Best Summer Ever terms. In other words, it’s a lot for Drake to come in at the end of and still expect to generate the excitement he normally would — listeners may very well already need a break from this supposed G.O.A.T. summer, if they haven’t tapped out altogether.
On the other hand, as overwhelming as the rollouts for the five Kanye-shepherded sets have been, the actual LPs have been relative get-in, get-out affairs, none lasting over a half-hour. The Carters followed suit there as well, with Everything Is Love running a tight 38 minutes. Consider this: the five G.O.O.D music LPs and EIL combined last a total of 45 tracks, while Drake’s new set alone is 25 tracks. Coming after this succession of short releases, the bloat of Scorpion could end up seeming doubly exhausting. However, if Spotify numbers have demonstrated anything in 2018, it’s that public appetite for Drake is practically insatiable — so if there’s one artist who could come in after six courses of tapas and still get the room chowing down on a 40-ounce porterhouse, it’s him.
What are the chances of a reteaming with Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj? The Holy Trinity of Young Money have made magic together numerous times before: “Bedrock,” “Only,” “Truffle Butter.” But in the last three years, the only appearance the trio have made together on the same song was on Minaj’s “No Frauds,” released as her 2017 response to Remy Ma’s infamous “Shether” callout, and generally met with a tepid Internet response — though it debuted in the Hot 100’s top 20. With Wayne long entangled in label drama and Drake and Nicki’s relationship strained (in large part by the former’s 2015 feud with Meek Mill, then the latter’s significant other), it’s hardly surprising that simultaneous appearances from the three have lately been few and far between.
But there are signs that point to a potential reunion on Scorpion. Minaj shouted out her YMCMB co-stars on her recent “Barbie Tingz” single, rapping, “Cause we the big three, don’t need a big speech/ We made the biggest impact, check the spreadsheet.” And Nicki and Wayne have already linked back up for the former’s “Rich Sex,” to appear on her own upcoming Queen album. With Wayne now officially freed from his legal issues and association with estranged mentor Birdman, might the time be right for a triumphant reunion on record, via one of the year’s most anticipated albums?
Will he give, well, more life to the Pusha T feud? Speaking of G.O.O.D music. The feud that proved much more compelling June drama than the NBA finals has since been deaded on both sides, both from Drake’s corner by imposting Houston rap impersario (and longtime Drizzy booster) J Prince, and by Pusha producer / G.O.O.D Music teammate Kanye West. And the lack of a musical response from Aubrey in the weeks since his longtime foe dropped the lethal “Story of Adidon” — instead changing the subject with the headline-catching “Upset” video — would certainly seem to have snuffed out whatever oxygen remained from what is now arguably the most impactful beef of the rapper’s drama-ridden career.
However, it’s still the No. 1 thing many Drake fans (and haters) will be listening for when they give Scorpion its first listen on Thursday morning: Will he attempt to advance the narrative of the feud, which currently has Drake suffering a rare loss in an otherwise relatively uninterrupted (and unprecedented) run of success? Will he acknowledge the loss, and attempt to move on by refocusing attention back on those recent accomplishments? Will he address the child Pusha famously accused him of hiding? Or will he ignore the subject completely? Whatever the answer ends up being, expect it to dominate news headlines surrounding the album in the 24 hours to follow.
Will Scorpion cement 2018 as Drake’s biggest year? Kicking off the calendar by being No. 1 on the Hot 100 for 18 of the first 26 weeks is a pretty good start towards marking 2018 as the summation of Drake’s imperial phase, the period in which he proves himself most commercially untouchable and least artistically questionable. But the relatively muted reception to the “I’m Upset” single stalled that momentum somewhat, and of course “The Story of Adidon” threatened to reverse its course altogether. But the “Upset” video appears to have gotten him back on track, and it’s worth pointing out that “Nice for What” returned to No. 1 even after the Pusha evisceration. As Sterling K. Brown-as-Chris Darden would say, Drake’s made of goddamn teflon.
But for 2018 to mark a clear new high for Drake, he still needs Scorpion to be an unqualified triumph. It has to sell well — if not as much as the million moved first-week by Views, then at least in the same ballpark — but also be well-received by fans and critics. If it is, not only will it cement this year as true Peak Drake, but it’ll move him into the all-time rankings for the biggest any rapper has ever been at one point in time, and that might be a legacy to make any lingering vestiges of the Pusha feud feel like the absolute smallest of potatoes in comparison. If it isn’t, then it’s worth asking if Drake will ever achieve the level of four-quadrant success that several of his heroes have — including his Young Money mentor ten years earlier — and what impact that might have on his status in discussion of hip-hop’s all-time greats, which he’s longed his entire career to be part of.