The first double album by a hip-hop act was released in 1988. The accomplishment belongs to DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, with their sophomore album, He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper. It was a game-changer for the duo; an album that went on to win hip-hop’s first GRAMMY Award for Best Rap Performance (“Parents Just Don't Understand”), universal acclaim, and the commercial success of pop stars.
Thirty years later, hip-hop has built a long history of album releases split into two discs. Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, Wu-Tang’s Wu-Tang Forever, OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, and the list goes on. With the release of Scorpion, his fifth studio album, Drake joins this prestigious group.
As an artist who cares about legacy, and as a student of hip-hop, splitting the album into A and B sides is more than just another attempt to break streaming records. No, this is Drake’s chance to do as many legends have done before him. To join their ranks is to place another trophy on his mantle.
The first 12 tracks on side A are rumored to be the rap disc, which makes sense given two of three pre-release singles ("God's Plan" and "I'm Upset") are both present and accounted for. With JAY-Z listed as the sole guest rap feature, the possibilities are high. There’s also a production credit from the legendary DJ Premier ("Sandra's Rose).
We’ve spent the past week speculating what he will say, and now there’s nothing left for us to do but press play. In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish. Round 1!
One hour, 30 minutes. Drake never loved us. Slow build up. He's equipped with his rap voice. This isn’t the pop star. Ha, that Mt. Rushmore line was nice. Conceited but nice. He just mentioned Philly guys. Just mentioned Bad Boy scuffles. Woo. I like how he’s rhyming. Very cinematic. The opening scene to a movie about a mobster who has survived the life and is reflecting on it all. Was that molly line a shot at Makonnen? I love how he sounds unsettled while sitting in the comfiest Lazy Boy. So far my favorite Drake intro since “Legend.” He just referred to his Dennis' suits. Yep, he wrote this intro after the beef. I’m excited. For a very mellow song and a passive-aggressive voice, it’s a rush. Strong begging.
Tay Keith drop! Memphis production! This might be the dirtiest trap beat I’ve ever heard Drake on. If you stand too close to your speakers you could catch a case. Disgusting bass. This bounce is something serious. Mobster, trap Drake. There are bars present. Plenty of quotables and we're still on the first verse. That light skin/dark n*gga line was unnecessary. I’ll cringe as I run this one back, but it's too hard to skip. Drake really can’t say he’s a grave digger after…. Nevermind. I’m loving this, though. I want to hear 400 Degreez Juvie on this. Drake’s flow is so sharp. He’s using an interesting whisper style, talking between bars. Reminds me of If You’re Reading This Its Too Late. The beat is monstrous. The trunks will be rattling all summer. Bars about resentment. The sample on the hook? Drake is two-for-two. I’m feeling good about the A-SIDE so far. Drums are crazy.
A slow build up. Melodic style’d intro. Baki passed his drug test, it's a celebration! I love the way he switched to that pitch, but I'm not in love with him singing about being busy with his businesses. The second verse is a nice pickup. Drake just mentioned a woman by name, take a shot. Drake is rapping with his chest out. Okay, I take it back, this is a record. I’m so engrossed. Production has been great thus far. Everything has been rather short, though. He’s reflective. I don’t know any of these names he’s mentioning. But the sample is both angelic and haunting. The stoop kid has left the stoop and there’s fire in his eyes.
First five-minute song. This is church. Is this a Mariah sample? For a song titled “Emotionless,” she has me in my feelings. Drums just dropped. Jesus just hit me with a right cross. Drake is talking to someone directly. I’m not sure who, but there’s a weight to his voice. What a misleading title. Who made this beat? [Editor's Note: 40, No I.D., and The 25th Hour] Yep, this is the Drake that I love. He is reflective and poise. “Meeting all my heroes is like seeing how magic works” is a bar. The coded lyrics remind me so much of Jay. If these drums were harder, I would have assumed Just Blaze made this one. So Far Gone rapping, man. He is being far more open. Funny how you can be candid without being direct. This sample will make you feel as if you drank an entire case of Red Bull. Drake telling us about all these different girls he knows. “Emotionless” is taking me back to “Club Paradise.” OH!! HE JUST MENTIONED HIS SON! WOOO. I wasn’t ready! “A wise man once said say nothing at all,” WOOOO! LETS GO! Sample sanging. This is going to be one of those Drake records we talk about years from now. Did he write this after Pusha? How much of this album was done in a month? Keys to roll this one out.
5. "God's Plan"
I’m still stuck on him revealing his son four songs into the album! I wasn’t ready. I’m always lukewarm about Drake singles, “God’s Plan” was no different. Admittedly, like most Drake singles, it grew on me. It’s inescapable, I heard it in Auto-Zone today; God’s plan for me didn't include getting my car fixed at a reasonable price. Anyway, the song is an audio trap earmuff. It’s another simplistic rant from our favorite narcissist but done in a melody that could make the biggest, baddest wolf bounce in the club with three little pigs. Drake is great at crafting these kind of records, so mundane and shallow but relatable. You can be beloved by your entire community, and still feel it in your heart when Drake says, "It’s a lot of bad things they’re wishing on me." The bed and momma line is an incredible trick and the kind of lyric only Drake would rap. This song will play for the next 100 years and there’s nothing we can do about it. Honestly, even if it didn’t already hear it, I probably wouldn’t skip it while playing the album back.
6. "I'm Upset"
Pure comedy sequencing with "I’m Upset" following "God’s Plan." O ye, of little faith? Maybe it was in God’s plan for you to go 50/50 with that young woman. I have to come clean—I don’t hate this song. It’s dull, thin as Andy Milonakis upper lip, but it’s infectious. Even when I’m not upset, I get the urge to say it. Drake has been hit or miss with these trap records since QM was evacuated from his tent. OVO needs to let that boy come home. I really miss the If You're Reading This It's Too Late flows. He had found a much better pocket with records like “10 Bands” and "Energy.” This song sounds so different once Pusha told us about his son. I also have to imagine the Degrassi reunion every time it plays. Reprising Ne-Yo’s "To the left" lyric was done masterfully. I can’t promise I won’t delete this one in six months, but for now, it stays. Glad we got it out the way halfway, though.
7. "8 Out Of 10"
A capella. Something LL would’ve rapped. This beat is HARD! Sounding like 5 PM on Mars! Drake sounds good. Great, actually. “Kiss my son on the forehead and kiss your ass goodbye.” This is a tease response. “I’ve settled into my role as the good guy.” He is machete sharp. This is a rapper who wants to rap. I mean, rap like he’s still trying to convince someone to give him a deal. I wonder who these bars are for. Everything feels like a Pusha-T sub. But it’s all passive aggressive. Who is this? Someone’s voice. I don’t know who this is. “You big mad. I’m happy. Leave me alone.” Hahaha. Yo, this is rude if he sending shots at the other side.
8. "Mob Ties"
Piano keys. The background music for dramatic mafia movie. Drake with the triplet. Sounding like a Toronto Migo. I’m not mad, though. The tempo is great. This sounds like a song that didn’t make Culture II. Is that Offset ad-libs in the background? I take it back, he sorta sound like he came straight from the Eastside of Atlanta. He has the flow and delivery done. Like he studied a bunch of Nudy and Savage before going into the studio. More brags, more life. I’m a bit bored with this second verse. The Dave line is nice. Hmm. Production is trap magic. Houdini in the hood music.
9. "Can't Take a Joke"
Another trap record. Nice drums. Just heard a gun cock. This is a classic Drake flow. He’s hovering in the pocket. Snare is fish grease. Making a song around not taking a joke is so Drake. I have to say, this tempo isn’t the usual Drake tempo and that’s what makes the record fire. He’s a human Hot Wheels doing laps! It’s a nice switch up. Yeah, this knocks. Drake is rapping over some of the best production we've heard him on in years. His ear is still getting sharper after all these years.
10. "Sandra's Rose"
Three more to go. A sample loop! This is incredibly soulful. An interesting transition from the trap record. DRUMS JUST LIFTED ME UP! I'M FLOATING ACROSS HALF COURT LIKE JORDAN IN SPACE JAM! Drake is Michael Corleone smooth. Premo reference. He did this beat. Loving this one. Hearing him over a soul sample fills my backpack with joy. Yep, this album is pieces of all the best Drake albums. “I’m the chosen one flowers never pick themselves”—the Instagram caption for the next two weeks. Ha. He just referenced how n*ggas want a classic and it would be 10 versions of this record. Drake knows exactly what we want. THE CHARLEMAGNE LINE!! This song is colder than a freezer full of Ben and Jerry's. I need more dammit. Boy, oh boy.
11. "Talk Up" ft. JAY-Z
Banging on a door. Hard! This beat is a battering ram. Some dirty, down south DJ Paul production. I can’t imagine JAY-Z on this. It doesn’t sound like anything he would jump on. Drake’s flow sounds like “Free Smoke 2018.” So far, Drake has rarely let me down with the bars. He’s far from the lazy rapper. HOV! HOV! My headphones are on fire. Hov using this flow is a PROBLEM. He's sounding like a young man. HE JUST MENTIONS THE 99 BRICKS! I JUST FAINTED. “I GOT YOUR PRESIDENT TWEETING” I’m sweating. Did he just mentioned XXX death? [Editor's Note: Yes.] WHEN DID HOV DO THIS VERSE!? LAST WEEK???? I’m tweeting from Heaven. God, that made up for that “Pound Cake” verse. The best Drake and Jay collab yet.
12. "Is There More"
I’m still tripping off Hov. What a verse. This is a sample I’m not familiar with. I want to look on Twitter, but I’m certain the timeline looks like the Donald Glover pizza delivery gif. Drake is delivering another strong verse. The imagery. Wow man, wow. He really delivered on the A-SIDE. I don’t need the B-SIDE. This reminds me of "Paris Morton Music 2." Drake going the stream-of-consciousness route has made for such great verses. The Walt Disney bar was nice. “Soon as the album drop I’m out of the deal.” OH SHIT. I’m lost in this verse. There's so much to unpack. What a way to close out A-SIDE. Man, if this was it. Singing. Soulful. Sudden. Damn you, Drake.
Scorpion A-SIDE (first listen) closing throughs:
I’m impressed. Surprisingly, impressed. I didn’t expect to walk away from the A-SIDE immediately wanting to play back it from the top. In fact, at this moment, I have very little interest in the B-SIDE. If I had the choice, I'd wait a week before pressing play on the B-SIDE.
In 12 songs, Drake displayed every side of him that fans have enjoyed and come to love from his past albums. The transparency of So Far Gone and Take Care, the sharpness of Nothing Was the Same, and the trap punch of If You're Reading This It's Too Late. He responded to some of what Pusha said on "The Story of Adidon," he threw some subliminals, but Drake appears to have been more focused on self-reflection than entering the pig pen.
Most importantly, Drake doesn’t sound lazy and bored like he did at times on Views and More Life. This isn’t the Drake who raps like he’s at the top of CN Tower. This is the Drake who has something to prove; he wants us to know that he hasn’t missed a step. And he’s letting us know over some of his best beat selections. From No I.D and 40 ("Survival") to DJ Premier and Maneesh ("Sandra's Rose'), everyone came through with the goods. The 12 songs that make up the A-SIDE is the strongest collection of records we've heard from Drake in quite some time.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited 'Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' as a Wu-Tang Clan double album.