God’s Pan: The Dull Melodrama Of Drake

Miguelito examines the sting-less "Scorpion"
By    July 8, 2018

Art by Charito Yap

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Miguelito is holding on until we come home.

In July of 2009, Drake had recently signed with Cash Money Records. He was asked to join the America’s Most Wanted Tour with Lil Wayne and “Best I Ever Had” was about to peak at the number two spot on the Billboard Charts. He also couldn’t walk very well. A few weeks prior, he’d torn multiple ligaments in his right knee during a pick-up basketball game. According to him, he “just took the wrong step.”

On July 31st, he re-injured the knee on stage at the Susquehanna Bank Center (now BB&T Pavilion) in Camden, NJ. This is after downgrading his headlining position on tour to a guest spot in Wayne’s set because of the initial injury. Video shows him hobbling back into the darkness and artificial fog with assistance from multiple crew members. Across the stage Weezy is puzzled, shrugging with his palms extended before he says, “This nigga really got a bad leg…I thought that shit was only on his TV show,” an obvious reference to Aubrey’s wheelchair bound Degrassi character. Two days later, on August 2nd, he wrote in a blog post titled “Angels and Demons”:

This bottle of Opus One is low but my spirits are high my friends… lord only knows what other damage I have done [to my knee]. On the bright side I will begin the reflecting and soul searching that its going to take to make this album and my outfit on the night I fell was crack. I will forever push myself beyond the limits despite advice and recommendations given because even with this new found success I am still the kid who wanted this more than anything in the world.”

If this feels excessive for an injury that affects over 100,000 people every year, that’s because it is. The amount of accessible medical history on his knee ligaments is staggering. After the incident, Drizzy gave fastidious recaps and follow-up interviews to multiple outlets about the specifics of the injury, even tweeting to his own knee as if it were a separate personality before the reparative operation in September of that same year. A relatively frequent accident and normal recovery were made into a paradigm-shifting event. He codified a mundane injury and mythologized it in a blog post titled after chosen and fallen seraphim, a straw hurdle he’d overcome on the path to his label debut.

Drake makes a big deal out of things and has for the past decade (you could say things have indeed been the same). So Far Gone is named for the opening line of “The Calm,” a song that essentially stemmed from a drunken phone argument with his uncle that spiraled into a diatribe about women complaining. Take Care, sometimes referred to as “peak Drake” (if that phrase has any meaning), is littered with songs like “Good Ones Go” and “Doing It Wrong” where he elevates a few bad dates to some universal experience of amorous masochism. He started the album that everyone abbreviates with a song called “Legend.” We must also never forget the melodramatic cum stain that is “I Get Lonely Too.”

Last week, Drake released Scorpion, his [x]th project depending on how you choose to count, and the latest retelling of the 6 God’s self-commissioned homeric hymn. This time he just had to discuss a child. On the album, he presents women, his son, fans, nondescript ‘ops,’ and anthropomorphized forces of evil as obstacles that revolve around the ultimacy of his existence and draw their meaning from their role in his heroic journey. But mostly women. It’s hard to be Team Drake when the problems he presents are either self-created illusions or perpetuated by him being, well, Drake.  

The difficulty starts with how he delivers the music. The album is billed as a double LP, with the front side tilted more to rappity rap Drake and the latter half filled with romantic, narcissistic ruminations. As it’s been in the past, his rapping is tolerable, especially when consumed in a public setting, if not a bit deceptive. On “Elevate,” he uses a simple end rhyme, like he does on many tracks, but quickens his delivery of lines at the top of the bar so it sounds more complex (“When I was pumping gas on road trips to go from Cincinnati on to Dayton/ I couldn’t gauge it I wanna thank God for working way harder than Satan”). It’s not awful or devoid of skill, just lackluster and predictable.

Instead of getting swept into his thoughts in the hypnotic fashion of Valee, Young Nudy, or Drakeo—all of whom use end rhymes to compelling results—it feels like reading a transcript of Drake’s bars through a microscope. His natural enunciation makes the delivery stilted too and when he tries to break from it, like saying ‘bossesses’ on “Final Fantasy,” it sounds forced. We remember the tape with Future.

Even if it’s unremarkable, there are enjoyable moments of his rapping, which seem to fall around the heights of its production. “Nice for What” is a good song and definitively the best of Murda Beatz’s instrumental to date. DJ Paul is cryptic on “Talk Up” in the absolute literal sense of slapping drum machines in the presence of sepulchers, though several Memphis rappers deserved this beat. Shimmying to “Nonstop” and its dismantling Tay Keith drums isn’t a sin, though it’s an accelerated use of a 21 Savage flow.

He glides on “Blue Tint” with the energy of More Life’s “Ice Melts,” which shares producer Supah Mario’s heliotropic influence. Scorpion’s sound doesn’t range as much as More Life’s, which eliminates space for a vivifying Thug presence similar to “Sacrifices.” but it’s safe background music for [insert social function].

Ultimately, what Drake says detracts from the enticing parts of his delivery or production. Scorpion comes weeks after Pusha T revealed Drake’s hidden parentage to close their hilariously banal exchange. (Click here for my authoritative recap of the beef.) He confirms the allegations on “March 14th” in a manner that undercuts the narrative of him as a conciliatory parental unit (“Hopefully by the time you hear this, me and your mother will have come around  Instead of always cuttin’ each other down”).

Within the first twenty seconds he says, “She ain’t my lover like Billie Jean, but the kid is mine,” placing the actual mother of his child on a lower status than a pop song caricature of a liar. You say y’all have communication issues? This feels like a way to perpetuate the same problems he bemoans so he can still play tortured. You’re dragged behind the story because there’s not enough relatability to join.

Then there are lines like, “You had potential, I coulda shaped it” (“Jaded”), which are held as examples of high negging in pickup artist schools, hung up like inspirational pictures of hummingbirds with ‘persistence’ written below them. He delivers it like he’s the victim when it only highlights him as the common denominator in his tabloid escapades. Any talk of “mob ties” or “ops” comes off as disingenuous and fabricated too when you remember Blocboy probably showed him his first draco (fine, maybe it was 21).

Based on what he shares and how he divulges it, it’s difficult to submit yourself to that Christ-like narrative. He has no obligation to share details and the ones he does don’t make you root for him. Mythologizing isn’t unique to Drake and confronting it isn’t a moral victory. The inconsistencies just give his music an ambivalence that isn’t gripping and people are starting to acknowledge it.

Last fall, The Hollywood Reporter ran a profile of Drake centered on his “ambitious push into tv and film” and his business acumen. He’s praised as a “marketing genius” in a quote from Steve Golin, head of Anonymous Content production house, and Jimmy Iovine says he’d give Drake a company to run “in a minute.”

The Apple Music description of Scorpion, an all-caps laundry list of vernacular Drake slander that covers his affinity for Jamaica, the exhausting discussion about his ghostwriters, and “what genre is Drake, really?,” is a troll of more simplistic trolls. He puts “Is There More” as the last track of the album’s first numbering sequence, a cheeky acknowledgment that the album is long. On a weekend where his face was pixelated on every streaming service screen, the music feels like an extension of his PR department. His aggrandizing has expanded beyond boring medical conditions and blog posts to a self-referencing cycle of sabotage and overcoming. It’s Drake vs. The World and he’s perpetually bouncing between victim and victor.

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