The Key to the New Drake Album: "Scorpion"
There are four lines on the new Drake record (Scorpion, released last Friday) that function as a kind of cipher to the entire album.
The lines read:
It's a familiar, if almost trite, critique of the vanity of our modern life (of our modern world of appearances) where the subject, despite her professed obsession with the historic city, is not interested in the history of Rome, its landmarks, language, cuisine—in its lived experience—but rather in that of attaining the appearance of being the kind of person who:
A. travels around the world (and possesses the financial means of doing so)
And, more importantly
B. accomplishes her goals (Rome is a "goal," not an experience, according to the lyric)
There is an odd parallel between this woman and Drake, for earlier in that same verse—preceding those four revelatory lines—Drake makes another reference to being in a place only partially, that is, to the failure of inhabiting a reality in a deep, worthy, and meaningful way (the tone is rueful):
It's time when I wish I was where I was /
Back when I used to wish I was here /
But it isn't Rome that Drake's referring to—it's his own life. Like the woman, Drake has made it to his promised land: the land of professional success, unimaginable riches, beautiful women, Lamborghinis, etc.:
But just as Drake criticizes the woman—the apparent object of his pity—Drake's new album may be denounced on the same grounds (by hoisting him with his own petard): Most of the lyrics on the album function in the same way that the putative camera-phone in Rome does; they offer inane snapshots, superficial selfies, vain poses:
The problem with Scorpion is the problem with most rap music today: Rap music—like Rome in the artist's own morality tale—has become a means to an end, a useful expedient to the promised land of sex, fame, and riches. In Drake's case, however, considering that the expedient has already served its purpose (i.e. he's already rich and famous), music takes on the role of perpetuating the myth of American consumerism, a myth that implies that the accumulation of wealth and material goods is a viable route to happiness (the premise to the music video of "God's Plan" suggests this as well, where Drake liberates the unhappy poor by the manna of money). It's not. Just listen: Drake's "Upset," "Emotionless," "Jaded," apathetic ("Don't Matter to Me"); he's become what he didn't want to become—an absent single father; and he's engaged in petty public feuds with other artists engaged in the same empty and ego-driven contest. In this way, Scorpion is less a testament to meaningful lived experience (in the way that much good art is, whether fictional or not) and more an unwitting cautionary tale about the hazards of our current zeitgeist.
After having listened to the album, a friend of mine passed judgment upon the record with the following words: "Scorpion is like listening to a billionaire whine about his own problems (while ignoring important global issues), namedrop celebrities (while ignoring scientists, thinkers, writers), and humble-bragging about his own material success."
I responded by saying that we, the listeners, were like the frog in that old parable:
A scorpion asks a frog to ferry him across the river. The frog refuses on account of the likelihood that the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion argues that that would be stupid given that it would mean the death of both of them. The frog acquiesces. Halfway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog inquires: "What the hell did you do that for!?" The scorpion responds: "I'm a scorpion!"
The Drake-version of the parable breaks down something like this:
Drake (The Scorpion): "Hey, have a listen to my new album."
The listener (The Frog): "Hmmm ... I don't know ... It isn't another one of those records that's less an album and more a piece of consumerist propaganda?"
Drake (The Scorpion): "What, no! My continuing to produce that kind of soul-numbing nonsense would surely mean the spiritual and intellectual death of us both."
The listener (The Frog): "I suppose you're right."
(Listener presses play.)
Drake (The Scorpion), rapping (stinging):
Future took the business and ran it for me /
I let Ollie take the owl, told him brand it for me /
I get 2 million a pop and that’s standard for me /
The Listener (The Frog), disappointed (dying): "Not again! But why!?"
Drake (The Scorpion): "I'm a scorpion!"
*(Of course, Scorpion has it's redeeming qualities: the beats are sometimes quite good; the flows are, at times, almost impeccable; and the lyrics too are witty (also there are songs like Nice For What, God's Plan, and Emotionless that aren't bad)—but, in the end, all of it serves to prop up a rather bankrupt and inane philosophy.)