Take Care, renowned as it is, is not Drake’s magnum opus. The 2011 effort indeed consists of strokes of genius in the honesty of ‘Marvins Room’ and the ambience of ‘The Ride’, but its flaws, even if far and few between, continue to reveal themselves in the years after its release. As much as we like to remember the album with an air of melancholy, overly sweet cut like ‘We’ll Be Fine’ and the Nicki Minaj-assisted ‘Make Me Proud’ pierce that atmosphere and feel somewhat out of place. It’s difficult to imagine that Drake and co. don’t regret the omissions of ‘Dreams Money Can Buy’ and ‘Club Paradise’ to fill those spots. A tad over 80 minutes long, the sophomore is almost arduous in the middle. To their credit, Drake and 40 have acknowledged some missteps with the album.
“There’s just moments where I feel like two songs could have been one great song or arrangements could have been a little different,” Drake told Elliott Wilson during CRWN in 2013 (watch at the 5 minute mark in the clip below), shortly after the release of Nothing Was The Same. Fully aware of where they could develop, Drake and 40 locked in for that album with the challenge of keeping it to 13 tracks. The result is the true masterpiece in Drake’s discography and this honour is owed largely to the length and sequencing of the LP. Where two years prior the braggadocio of ‘Lord Knows’ and the vulnerability of ‘Doing It Wrong’ were comfortably apart, this 13-track cut off point forced Drake into a song like ‘Wu-Tang Forever’, blending the two seamlessly. Consequently, up until this point in his career, Drake had made strides to improve with each LP. Then came If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
A personal favourite in the Drake repertoire, If You’re Reading This is by all means a strong body of work. Its high points arguably exceed those of NWTS and it absolutely boasts a consistent, cohesive theme. But it also marks the rehashing of this insistence of adding for the sake of adding. With its two bonus tracks, IYRTITL sits at 19 tracks. Then came VIEWS with 20 tracks. Up next and taking the crown was More Life with 22 tracks (along with the veil of being a “playlist”). But Drake’s latest release, Scorpion, triumphs with a not so grand total of 25 tracks.
Though part of this rise can be attributed to the benefits of the new streaming era, it still feels disingenuous to lump Drake in with the likes of Migos and Chris Brown when his artistry is more highly valued than many of his peers. 25 new Drake songs out likely means a quarter of the Billboard Hot 100 in his grasp. However, it also seems that Drake’s obsession with churning out hits and having multiple songs in Hip-Hop’s rotation is a root cause of this decision.
As good as his music can be, Drake’s subject matter is much too safe and predictable to hold our attention for so long. He takes no risks. DJ Booth were able to put most of his discography into 10 types of songs last year and it begs the question of whether we need 90 minutes of music about the tribulations of fame, being successful and women. Again, the issue with Drake’s album have not always been the quality of the music, but rather the arrangement of that music.
In some places outside of U.S. Hip-Hop, the cultural trend is not to put out a successful album. In many cases, albums are dead. As an example, until very recently, the UK scene relied on a hit single rather than a well-crafted collection of music. OVO Sound’s head honcho would benefit greatly from this method, obviously not because he’s incapable of crafting a solid album top to bottom, but because he thrives on a song to song basis. Some of those loosies rank higher than the album cuts.
The increase of tracks with each album in the past few years becomes even more befuddling when you realise it’s a problem that Drake is not only aware of, but already solved five years ago. In that same CRWN interview, he told YN “a lot of our projects have been like 17 songs, 18 songs, a collection of music that I never feel like it’s enough so what I do is I overcompensate, I try and include as much as I can.” He also acknowledged the downside of bloated albums, stating that with his third solo, he “really tried to make a piece that wasn’t too much music to the point where you have to pick out your favourites, I just wanted it to flow from front to back.” So why go back to the old ways for every project since? It’s hard not to feel like backwards steps have been taken or making the best, most cohesive music is not as much of a priority for Drake as being the biggest out and having numbers on his side. It’s hardly coincidental that his intentionally shortest, closest to conceptual album is his best.
When ‘March 14’ ends, the double-album proposition remains unjustified. There is no running concept in either of the sides and splitting the music up was just a cheap way to defend an unnecessarily long project. In fact, concepts have felt like an afterthought for Drake for a while now. VIEWS’ attempt to show the change in seasons in Toronto from cold, to hot, back to cold again felt like a half-assed way to explain downbeat music, then Caribbean-infused tunes and bangers, then more downbeat music. Drake albums with the exception of NWTS feel more like a compilation of music rather than a piece of music itself, more Lil Wayne-esque than Kendrick Lamar. I honestly feel that I could craft a better Drake album than Take Care with all of his music from around 2011 but I can’t say the same for Kendrick Lamar with DAMN. last year.
Is this approach a bad thing, per se? Not necessarily. In a way, Scorpion is serving its purpose to perfection, making it a success, just not in a lane that many people care for. If we never hear another bar of music from him again, history will be extremely kind to Canada’s star and it can be said with certainty and sincerity that he’ll be remembered as a great. But in terms of legacy, an extension of the method that brought us Nothing Was The Same would be a step in the right direction.
There is a quote by early 20th century French writer Antonie de Saint-Exupery that speaks to less being more. It reads “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” With the fat trimmed and genres once again blended, Scorpion could be a stellar 16 song effort. Instead, it’s another body of work that feels like chore to sit all the way through and divides the public. Drake’s biggest competition is himself and if he’s unconcerned with how his work ranks against that of his peers, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to want to create his own best album for his own artistry’s sake.
– by Akaash Sharma