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Drake has always worn his heart on his sleeve. The last 12 years have seen Canada’s favorite export build a discography brimming with stories of heartbreak, rejection, and general despair, earning him a reputation as one of the most sensitive souls in rap. But the last few months have seen a change in pace. An increasingly nasty and extremely public beef with Pusha-T sparked a series of scandalous headlines; blackface photos were unearthed, and rumors of a secret son were once again dragged into the public eye.
Last week, the rapper finally addressed these claims on his fifth studio album, Scorpion. To describe the sprawling, 25-track opus as revelatory would be an understatement; Drake has never been a stranger to autobiographical lyrics, but they’re often carefully framed: he either emerges as the philanthropic hero, the lovelorn protagonist or the resilient underdog. In this sense, Scorpion is refreshing – finally, it seems there’s nowhere left to hide.
This newfound honesty obviously stems from a lack of remaining options; Pusha-T pulled no punches in his bid to destroy Drake’s public reputation, comparing the rapper to his own absent father and describing him as a “deadbeat mothafucka” on diss track “The Story of Adidon.” He also seemingly confirms rumors that Sophie Brussaux – an actor whose previous appearances in porn films have since made worldwide news – is the mother of Drake’s child.
As the drama unfolded, Drake stayed relatively silent on social media. Aside from responding to allegations of blackface, his accounts were largely lacking in any sort of personal information – apart from the snippets that made him look good. Earlier this year, he embarked on a one-man mission to educate Miami as part of a video for “God’s Plan,” jumping out to surprise teary-eyed recipients of enormous scholarships and generous donations. His philanthropy was praised – and rightly so – but some were skeptical that the whole thing was nothing more than an elaborate ruse to generate positive publicity.
In retrospect, the video gains new meaning. If rumors are true, his baby son would have been just a few months old as the clip was being shot; reports suggest that Drake has been present throughout his baby’s early childhood, but was locked in a legal battle over financial support, which seemingly led to him paying up. Leaked text messages even allege that he instructed Brussaux to terminate the pregnancy – hardly great for his ‘good guy’ image.
Ironically, Drake has rapped openly about his fraught relationship with his own father. Especially on early cuts like 2010’s “Fireworks” and 2009’s “The Calm,” he paints the lyrical portrait of a manipulative dad eager to reach out and capitalize on his son’s success: “Cause my dad called and got me feeling guilty and ashamed / Like how I had a Rolls and I went and got a Range / And he paying for his cigarettes with dollars and some change.” More recent lyrics allude to their seemingly healed relationship, yet his consistent praise for his resilient single mother seem at odds with his statements on his own parenthood.
This is precisely what makes Scorpion so poignant. The album’s more introspective moments reveal a side to Drake we’ve never seen – the flawed, confused father struggling to come to terms with his newly-given role. On “March 14,” he draws parallels between his own life and that of his father: “It’s breakin’ my spirit / Single father, I hate when I hear it / I used to challege my parents on every album / Now I’m embarrassed to tell ‘em I ended up as a co-parent.” It’s an unusually self-critical admission of guilt from a star whose public presence is so carefully-curated; and yes, Pusha’s diss forced this honesty, but the track still marks a new chapter in the career of an artist we all feel we know so well.
It’s ironic – Drake is renowned for his candor, yet details of his private life have often been shared on his own terms. His Instagram feed is littered with candid snaps of the star and his team, but his presence is more promotional than anything – a fact highlighted by Pusha, who accused him of “hiding” his child. Drake takes aim at this statement specifically on “Emotionless;” after spending a few lines taking shots at women curating their lives on Instagram (a weirdly gender-specific claim considering we can all be guilty of this), he raps: “Look at the way we live / I wasn’t hidin’ my kid from the world / I was hidin’ the world from my kid.”
Online reaction confirms his instincts – already, lengthy profiles of Brussaux have been written, as well as countless tabloid headlines about his son. It’s likely that Drake did the right thing in shielding the privacy of his family, even if this reticence to bare all is uncharacteristic of a musician whose reputation has been built on his apparent honesty.
It’s this exact reputation that makes Scorpion feel like a landmark moment. It only takes a Google search to see that Drake has become more than just a musician; he’s become an avatar of sorts, an endless cycle of relatable, reactionary memes strewn across Twitter feeds worldwide. His story might not be ours, but the popularity of his lyrics in particular seems to indicate that we can all find some kind of commonality with the Toronto native.
His willingness to share his emotions is also genuinely progressive in the context of a world which teaches men to repress themselves. Drake’s vulnerability has set him apart from his contemporaries, but it has also seen him become a punchline in various contexts; collectively we mock his dance moves, his emotional lyrics, and his sensitive side. He’s been described often as the ultimate ‘sad boy’ – a term whose negative connotations were recently called into question by James Blake. Until now, we’ve been largely conditioned to see Drake as a downtrodden, lovelorn underdog – not always, of course, but often.
The more introspective cuts on Scorpion develop this narrative, offering a more nuanced, unfiltered depiction of a 31-year-old man whose path has accidentally swerved. At times he’s angry; elsewhere he’s remorseful, or simply frustrated. But more than anything, Scorpion shows that Drake is at his most relatable when he allows himself to be flawed, vulnerable and, ultimately, human.