Editor's Note: To read our 1-Listen review of the A-SIDE of Drake's Scorpion album, click here.
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 the 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 13 tracks on the album's B-Side are rumored to make up the R&B disc. Releasing an R&B album is something Drake hinted at many years ago, but the project never came into fruition. His last proper full-length release, 2016's Views, is the closest we’ve come to experiencing a Drake album driven almost entirely by R&B and pop production. With features from Ty Dolla $ign, the late Static Major, and the legendary Michael Jackson, the expectations for the album's back half are undeniably higher than the A side. Just seeing Michael’s name listed threatened to break the internet. The pressure is on.
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 2!
Slow tempo. Sonically, it’s apparent you have entered a different album. He’s back, but singing. An instant vibe. Still sweating from the A-SIDE, but the quiet storm music is a nice change. Only Drake could sing, “You going to make me turn up on you” and sound as threatening as a ladybug. Those chords are weird. “People are only tough as their phone allows them to be,” not a lie, but I can’t believe Wheelchair Jimmy is criticizing toughness in 2018. What a year. This is after-hours music. A woman? Sounds like an argument. Someone is overdoing it. Well, all the electricity from the Hov verse is gone.
2. "Summer Games"
I love songs that sound like RPG paradise music. Yep, this is an R&B album. I’m happy we got the rap album first. Build up is smoother than the silk in one of Smino’s hoodies. I wonder if the A-SIDE was about his son, and the B-SIDE is for his baby’s mother? That would be a bigger plot twist than the ending of Watchmen. I like this, though. Love the drums. Taking us back to So Far Gone with the vocals and content. I love how they looped the, “Breaking my heart.” Drake went full R&B, no half stepping. He doesn’t have the strongest vocals, never has, but he makes these melodies work. Kudos to No I.D and 40 for providing the vibes. This is an arrangement that you need when you’re heartbroken in Hawaii trying to get service to send the eye emojis.
Another slow burner. B-SIDE is a playlist of quiet storm records. Ty Dolla on the background vocals! When Drake sends subliminals to rappers we can at least make assumptions, but I have no idea who any of these women are who he's talking about. I’m still partially convinced they’re all imaginary. Ty is killing the backing vocals. I wonder what PND was doing that day? Probably in the studio with Kanye? Can you imagine if rappers trade background singers like Pokemon cards? I’ll trade you a Ty Dolla Sign for a dvsn and an OB OBrien. That’s pretty fair, right? “You’re old enough but you’re still a baby” hahaha. Drake is so Drake, I guess you can only be you. I just need Ty singing “Back around, back around” on loop. This is a keeper, though. When the mood is right.
4. "Nice For What"
Another Drake single that I’m almost certain will be here for an eternity. I have mixed feelings about a man whose moniker is Murda. All his beats sound like music I would play for a newborn. The Lauryn sample is so gorgeous. This is a perfect summer song. It’s the kind of anthem that should’ve been in Girl’s Trip last summer. I've been secretly wishing for a Tiffany Haddish remix. One thing that Drake does well as a songwriter here is not overcrowding the record. Not a favorite, but a great single nonetheless. Kai’s question still stands Drake, ‘Is it “Hotline Bling” or “Nice For What”?'
The production is really good. Drake has all the beats that Teddy Perkins would play after losing his girlfriends. Sorta reminds me of the songwriting from So Far Gone. “Can’t be in a room with you and stand on different sides” is a hurt brother if I've ever heard one. Drums just dropped, and this sounds like a record that needs 6lack. Why haven't the 6 God and 6lack done anything yet? Okay, I like this hook. The way he says "finesse" took me out. This is hot. Drake’s R&B album is something I wanted in 2010. Let's just say I’m happy he gave us the rap side. Who is that harmonizing in the background? I will likely revisit.
6. "Ratchet Happy Birthday"
The keys are summer. Brighter music, pastel colors compared to the darker sounds he’s been singing upon. This sounds too sweet to be called, “Ratchet Happy Birthday.” I was expecting some N.O. bounce! A song 2 Chainz would want to say something ridiculous on. 2 Chainz would probably turn this off if he walked into his surprise party and these keys were playing over the speaker. Those drums! Okay, we getting some bounce. Robotic PND is having a meltdown in the background. Like someone spilled water on his circuit board and he still had to sing. Drake really dropped the ball on not giving this way more bounce. I wonder if this album is about a single woman? It would be interesting; some of these lyrics seem to overlap a bit. Yeah, I’m skipping this one.
7. "That's How You Feel"
A nice tempo. Okay, this is a record. Drake has found the luggage and entered his bag. This is what I was looking forward to. When he finds that middle ground between rapping, singing, and great production. A Nicki vocal sample? Random. Very, random. Second verse narrative is hard to follow. I’m almost certain he's talking about the same woman throughout this album. Who is your Beyoncé, Drake? “Your friends say they miss you, but they don’t really miss you.” I know what you mean, man. Is this song about Nicki? Could be. Drake has been chasing her since I graduated high school and my 10-year anniversary is next year.
8. "Blue Tint"
Supah Mario tag! Sounded like a Future ad-lib. I got excited. Those two are such a weird combo. We got some drums! This is good! R&B trap is a nice lane for Drake. Much more modern than some of the slower chunes. “I had her on ice but then, I watched the ice get thin.” Interesting. HNDRXX! Future’s pitch took me out. Drake and Future sound great together when Fu isn't talking about his demons while Drake is complaining about girls in the strip club. I wish they would’ve let Future add more to the hook, though. I like this one.
9. "In My Feelings"
Another trap R&B record. The title screams Drake. Let's go. Who is Kiki? Drake wants her, whoever she is. Wait, there’s another girl? The beat is like a “Nice For What” tempo and a “God’s Plan” flow fused into a singular entity. I don’t hate it. I like the bounce. I like the whisper-esque flow. Drake is exposing all these girls name. Switch up! This is HARD! Yeah, I like this one a lot. Why isn’t this the beat to “Ratchet Happy Birthday”? He took it way back with the N.O. bounce. Sneaking in the Lil Wayne sample was a nice touch! That’s how you give your boy some royalties. Whoever chopped the samples, a chef kiss. DRAKE SAMPLED THE CHAMPAGNE PAPI EPISODE OF ATLANTA! WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.
10. "Don't Matter To Me" ft. Michael Jackson
Okay, I’m worried about this one. Nice tempo. Slow build up. Very soft drums. Singing Drake. Sounds like MJ phoned in his vocals from Heaven, ha. It sounds like he isn’t singing into a microphone, but in a vacuum. I don’t know what this is, but I’m very confused. I would’ve been happier if he just sampled a classic. Gotta keep Drake away from dead legends. I miss my expectations for this one. Not the route I thought he would go. Michael just sounds so… unreal. Like someone brought him back to life and he did this hook as a zombie. Maybe he bought an Ouija board and brought the King Of Pop back over from the other side. Eh, hate to say it, but this one is a skip for me. A hard, no thank you. I’ll always remember my initial excitement, good times.
11. "After Dark" ft. Static Major & Ty Dolla $ign
Much better! This beat has far more life to it! Now this is R&B! The vocals are wild on this one! Drake sounds great on this. Yep! A late favorite. Aubrey saying he drinks and smokes on the job is hilarious. Ty Dolla, Drake, and Static is a great combination. This is the trifecta that I’ve needed the entire album. TY DOLLA IS CATCHING ALL THE BODIES. I’m seeing the Holy Ghost. Forget Kanye, let me get seven of these. Did 40 produce this? [Editor's Note: Yes.] WE NEED A 40 AND TY ALBUM! Ty stole the entire show. Best song on the album, by far. There have been some good songs, but I know a crown jewel when I hear one. I had a flashback to R&B of the old. Ha, Drake has a quiet storm skit. I miss this. I miss radio. Before Beats1.
12. "Final Fantasy"
These keys are NICE. I’ve only played Final Fantasy: Crisis Core on PSP, but I’m pretty sure this song doesn’t sample from the classic video game franchise. If it does then I’ll start playing tomorrow. I like Drake rapping over R&B-esque beats over Drake singing R&B songs. He’s a better rapper than a songwriter, but I’m pretty sure he sees them as the same trade. A vibe, but captivating. There’s a pause. What’s happening? The silence is how I imagine alien invasions will be; a sudden quiet. There’s a skit about a baby looking like Drake. Sounds like Take Care-era Drake. I’m not mad at it. The Guns N' Roses nod. Drake has a thing for rock bands.
13. "March 14"
Last song. Some nice knock! Drake just admitted, for the second time, that the kid is his. Confirmed. Did he record this the day after getting the results. Man, if Pusha didn’t reveal it, this announcement would be so impactful. Dang, and he only met the girl twice. “Single father I hate when I hear it,” oh yeah, this is interesting. He’s talking to his son. Sound very grown up. “This is the first positive DNA we ever celebrated.” Classic Drake record. Already. He's spilling it all out. “October baby for irony sake,” I been thinking this, it’s insane that Drake's seed was born in October. “I’m Upset” and “March 14” should be played back to back. A nice voice. James Fauntleroy? Sounds like James. Love this one. “Changing from a boy to a man.” The piano is a late-night mood.
Scorpion B-SIDE (first listen) closing thoughts:
For starters, the B-SIDE doesn’t have the exhilaration of the A-SIDE. It’s an R&B album that’s true to living within a quiet storm. Drake transitions between slower tempos that are reminiscent of the R&B of his early career, more modern, trap R&B, and a few that enter dimensions Aubrey rarely frequents. It’s an album about women and his relationship with them. I’m uncertain if there’s a single muse, or if Drake was inspired by a handful. The theme is straightforward, but the songwriting makes you question what the overarching theme is that he was trying to convey.
As an artist who entered hip-hop’s consciousness as a rapper and a singer, an R&B album has been expected of Drake since Thank Me Later. The B-SIDE fulfills that side of his artistry. There’s no faux-Caribbean accents, or sunny, Afrobeat pop production. Almost every song leans into the smoky, slow burn music that takes you back to “A Night Off” and “Teen Spirit.” It’s a focused second half, but I’m left feeling underwhelmed. The music didn’t stick. I do understand the separation, the duality would’ve ultimately clashed causing the two sides to suffer. That’s what Drake understood with this release, the way he creates music doesn’t coexist as a whole. To truly build a world for his art, he had to separate the two.
Scorpion, as an entire 25-track body of work, is who Drake has always been. A man-child who is grappling with his love of women, facing adversaries, and admiring all he has accomplished. The A-SIDE isn’t just the rap side, but Drake the rapper. That’s the mask he wears when he wants to express his aggression, to relish in accomplishments, and reflect on the life he lives. The B-SIDE, Drake the singer, is the mask he wears when he's in the company of women. The contemplative celebratory who is too famous for common courtship, but he still hasn’t realized how to adjust. It’s immature but honest. Especially, coming clean about his child. Pusha took the wind from beneath his sail, but Drake didn’t try to hide the results. He’s a father now, and that will make for an interesting transformation.
Scorpion is the album Drake has been flirting with but hasn't crafted since Take Care. It’s a project about balance, the duality of Drake and Aubrey. The rapper and singer, the man and celebrity, the winner and the loser. It has some mild hiccups, a bit of fat, but overall both sides have their shining moments. There’s more heart here than on Views and this isn't the expansive playlist that is More Life. It’s the most honest look at Drake the artist since Nothing Was The Same, the one who is becoming better at piecing together the best sides of himself.