Drake’s Scorpion may be the most anticipated album of the year — though not for the reasons he would want. The rap megastar had his strong start to 2018 marred by his biggest loss yet with “The Story Of Adidon,” a messy diss from Pusha T that divulged an alleged hidden child and may have ruined a shoe launch he had with Adidas. His “investor” J. Prince said he wouldn’t allow Drake to get into the “pig pen mentality” by responding to Pusha with an allegedly “career-ending diss.” On a recent episode of MTV’s TRL, Prince also said Drake is “happy” about the beef ending. But is he really?
Drake hasn’t said much publicly about the beef, besides calling the hysteria around the diss a “circus” while clarifying his controversial blackface photo. Now, his fans and detractors alike are waiting on Scorpion to see exactly where his head is at. Drake has always been lauded for his calculated nature and his few public endeavors since the beef make it unclear what he may have up his sleeve. The album’s suspenseful trailer showed him sitting alone, not uttering a word as the menacing theme from the movie Annihilation bellowed. He knows the rap world is waiting on what he has to say, and it’s clear he wants to make it count.
His “I’m Upset” video was a Degrassi reunion, a move that worked to dissipate his fans’ shaky feelings and replace them with nostalgia over a childhood favorite show. Perhaps he reset some fans’ minds back to 2008, when he was just the guy from Degrassi who released really good, relatable music. But a lot has changed since ‘08. Drake is arguably the biggest thing in music, as the marketing rollout for Scorpion has shown. The average rapper merely subtweets his enemies, but Drake decided to put his ambiguous musings on billboards in some of the most populated areas in North America.
Messages like “don’t hit me when you hear this” and “fashion week was more your thing than mine” appear to be ominous Kanye references, but they could just as easily be lines from a lovelorn single about Rihanna. That duality between introspective spitting and melody-driven hitmaking is Drake’s calling card. He perfectly showed it on his Scary Hours split, when he appeased two divergent fanbases with the lyrical “Diplomatic Immunity” and melodic “God’s Plan.”
He’s not a one-trick pony, and while Pusha’s diss — and Drake’s resulting silence — may quell any patois-mimicking “I have tough friends” lyrics from Drake, he has myriad ways to pivot in order to get out from under the “Adidon” memes and perception amongst critics that his status as an MC is once again on trial. He’ll need them all, because his back is against the wall more than ever before.
He recently posted a picture on his Instagram story of famed hockey goon Tie Domi, bloody and in the heat of battle, with the caption “June 28th at midnight.” The moment references his brilliant invocation of Toronto Blue Jays player Joe Carter as artwork for the “Back To Back” diss to Meek Mill. Is he ready to keep fighting, or is it a metaphor that he’s going to stay cool and be goal-minded?
The inclination is to trust that Drake and his team will deliver under pressure based on how they handled Meek Mill’s ghostwriting accusations with “Back To Back” and a turn to carefree, West Indian-inspired smashes with “One Dance” and “Controlla” on Views. However, this time is different. Meek Mill fumbled the ammo he had on Drake, giving the self-proclaimed 6 God an easy path to victory in their clash. The raucous response to “Adidon” may influence Drake to crumble under the weight of paranoid lyrics like “this f*ckin’ industry is cutthroat I’m not the same, man,” which he dropped on “Look Alive” earlier this year.
Drake went to Wyoming to help Kanye craft one of Ye’s few standout moments, contributing the hook — and an unused first verse — for “Yikes,“ and in return Kanye scored Pusha T’s “Infrared,” the diss that kicked off the latest round of tit-for-tat with him and the coke rap ingenue. So much for the love wave that Kanye’s been trumpeting.
That’s the kind of betrayal that leads an artist to undermine their creative potential by beating a dead horse. When Jay-Z infamously put a picture of Prodigy wearing a Michael Jackson-inspired fit on the Hot 97 summer jam screen, critics note that for too long after, Prodigy was dead set on dissing Jay-Z on record, which stifled his and Mobb Deep’s catalog. After Jay-Z caught “Ether” from Nas, he dropped the Blueprint 2, a double-album that feigned an attempt to ambitiously move past the classic diss — but saw Jay desperately pushing the issue. On the song’s title track he dissed Nas because, for all reasons, he didn’t do as much charity as Jay. It was a sign that the famously confident MC was still feeling the etherous sting and grasping at straws to sway the public. He rhymed on 2006’s “We Fly High” remix that, “I got stronger after ‘Ether,’” but it may have taken a while.
Ja Rule, reflecting on his infamous beef with 50 Cent, said that, “I went into a dark place and everything was dark for me. Everything I wanted to do was just angry. It wasn’t fun anymore.” That’s the sentiment that DJ Akademiks alleges Drake told him he was feeling. Ja Rule had also lamented that he should’ve just focused on making hits in the wake of the Shady-Aftermath-G-Unit onslaught against him and Irv Gotti.
That’s just what Drake’s (one time?) boss Wayne did to 50 Cent, who badly wanted to goad the Young Money rhymer into beef, per his pre-album modus operandi. Wayne simply kept making hits. That’s the same thing Rick Ross did with 50, after the Queens rapper dropped diss tracks toward Ross, took one of his children’s mother shopping, and released a porno starring his other child’s mother.
Ross threw barbs back but stayed away from the “pig pen” mentality on Deeper Than Rap, a critically lauded album that first exhibited Ross’ knack for lush, opulent sonics. The controversy with 50 faded and Ross continued to ascend. If anyone’s in a position to go that hit-making route, it’s Drake, a versatile artist who has hits with nearly every popular mainstream soundscape. He may be planning to do that in grand form, as his “side a side b” billboard hints at a double album.
Pusha may have inadvertently roused higher anticipation for Scorpion, but the project also has a lower margin for error. Pusha succeeded where Joe Budden and Meek Mill didn’t by turning social media against Drake. The dad jokes and memes of him in blackface are likely going to fly regardless, but if his album doesn’t impress, they could be the predominant takeaway and become an even bigger conundrum for the Toronto artist. Some fans have already expressed discontent with Drake’s at-times comical West Indian mimicry, and the length of his More Life playlist. If the project is indeed going to be a double-album (after a month of short albums), he risks inducing fatigue and stirring up even more criticism.
It was probably smart for Drake to mimic LeBron James’ “zero dark thirty-23’ mode and largely stay off of social media in the wake of the “Adidon” diss. Executing on Scorpion is as crucial to his music career as another championship is to LeBron. Philosopher Lao Tzu said that “silence is a source of great strength.” Without an equally scathing reply track, time and distance are the only things that can strengthen Drake’s reputation this month. The damage inflicted by “Adidon” already seems like old news after the GOOD music month and another Jay-Z and Beyonce album (with potnetial Drake disses on “Boss”), but fans will be reminded of Drake’s embarrassment as June 29 creeps closer.
Will they end up forgetting again because of a great album? Will this be closer to his Blueprint or Blueprint 2? His “I’m Upset” Degrassi nostalgia was a slick way to shift the narrative, but the pensive, threatening billboards he put up hint that Drake may not have dropped the issue — which is his best bet. Pusha says he has more in the tank and there are all kinds of rumors about Drake that Pusha could verify if compelled. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that. After the recent violent death of XXXtentacion — which didn’t appear to be rap-related but was nonetheless tragic — maybe we don’t need another trip to the pig pen this summer.
Scorpion is out 6/29 via Young Money Entertainment/Cash Money Records.