Scorpion contains some of the most sympathetic and emotionally gripping music in the entire Drake catalog. But it’s sleight of hand—sound and fury to distract us from the gaping nothing at the album’s center. Drake’s hideous recent beef with Pusha-T ended with the latter revealing that Drake has been hiding a child, whom he was supposedly planning to reveal to the world as part of an ad campaign for Adidas products. Drake has never looked worse, and though he no doubt thought he was untouchable after mopping the floor with Meek Mill back in 2015, now he knows how it feels to be on the losing end of one of the most gruesome beefs in rap history.

Drake is synonymous with the diaristic, hyper-specific school of songwriting that dominates pop. We expect this guy to spill whatever’s on his mind, so there was never really any chance of him simply ignoring the revelations that he had a secret son and just going on with making music. If we found out Young Thug was hiding a kid we’d forget about it in a few days and be delighted next time he screams about his jewelry. But Drake is obliged to address the situation, and as there’s no hope of him recording a diss track that could counter “The Story of Adidon,” the best he can do is shoehorn a few references into his latest, already nearly-complete album.

I wasn’t hiding my kid from the world/I was hiding the world from my kid,” Drake raps at a climactic moment in “Emotionless.” It’s a gut-punch of a line, and when it lands it makes total sense. We reflect on how callous the public really is to celebrities; no wonder Drake wanted to keep his kid away from that. But that’s really all he says, and soon we realize he hasn’t given us an explanation but a distraction. The problem, he argues, isn’t Drake hurting his kid; it’s the world—us—hurting Drake. Whatever sympathy we have sours two songs later when we hear “I’m Upset,” where he bitches about having to pay what sounds an awful lot like child support.

This is a record in limbo, a behemoth crippled by a well-timed shot to the leg. We can hear vestiges of the victory lap he would have made were he still untouchable and didn’t have to worry about pesky things like moral accountability. We can also hear a great album that addresses the child situation with the detail fans deserve; “Emotionless” and “March 14,” which most explicitly address the issue, are the best tracks here even if they’re essentially well-crafted melodramas that employ the child as emotional cannon-fodder. Drake usually seems to jog on top of the media cycle, but the headlines don’t sync with the deadlines this time around.

It’s unfortunate that Scorpion comes at such an uncertain time when so much of it screams outsized confidence. It’s clear that, at least at one point, Drake intended Scorpion to symbolize his canonization into the pop pantheon. Impudent references to the greats of R&B, hip hop and soul abound. DJ Premier produces “Sandra’s Rose.” Mariah Carey shrieks deep beneath “Emotionless.” Michael Jackson and Static Major are resurrected, their uprooted voices welcoming Drake as their peer. Side A ends with an interpolation of Aaliyah’s “More than a Woman,” and the record ends with Drake crooning Boyz II Men’s wrenching “Khalil” interlude.

I’m changing from a boy to a man,” Drake sings, recasting Boyz II Men’s pun on their own name as a solitary, personal plea. This comes right after “March 14,” sung to his son, full of regrets and unflattering revelations about himself—he’s only met his child once, he says. The Boyz II Men song casts Drake as a boy way over his head in a dog-eat-dog world he’s tangled too deeply in to ever go back; it’s the heartfelt flipside of his paranoid industry-vet persona. “No one to guide me, I’m all alone,” he sings, shutters drawn in a 3 a.m. hellscape as sad pianos drift like clouds. It’s gutting. We feel for the poor guy. Then our rational brain takes over.

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