Drake & The De-evolution Of Rap

In an interview I did with guitarist Ry Cooder some years back he described hip-hop as the “leading edge of consumerism”, and given the state of contemporary rap, it’s hard to disagree with him. Drake is celebrated for his success rather than his innate creativity or any meaningful messages he might be imparting through his music. Hence, within a day or two of the star’s latest album’s release his record company sent out a press release headed: “Drake smashes streaming records!”

I guess that’s all that really matters for these cretins: “132 million Spotify streams in one day!” it crowed. Although, to be fair, it then sample-quoted various publications with their mystifying hyperbole.

“He’s never been more skilled as a technician or melodicist”, wrote some dunderhead at Pitchfork, incredulously. “Scorpion is so beautifully rendered – from vocals to samples to features to beats”, opined someone at The Los Angeles Time (I think they meant Times). And on and on it went, ‘reviewers’ plunging into their online thesauruses to come up with ways to avoid having to say that the record was a dog, because these days, reviewers don’t make such proclamations. A negative review would not be good for their career path, and might see them roundly condemned on social media. Not good!

‘On the second half, the dude tries to sing. Oh. My. God.’

But a dog it is: a mega-dog, a butt-crumbed dog with mange, a stinky not-dog made in an age where the worst possible product can be delivered to an undiscerning audience without anyone going: “What is this shit?”

I listened to Scorpion all the way through its mammoth running time and 25 tracks and at times I felt like I was trudging through endless tundra while my toes succumbed to frostbite and my nose fell off with the musical putrefaction invading my senses. In all honesty, it’s hard to find anything positive to write about its endless paeans to self-obsession, monotonous auto-tuning and absence of any compelling boom or bap.

I know that it’s long become a tradition in hip-hop for the rapper to have narcissistic tendencies, but isn’t it time fans started to ask for more? Drake not only raps about himself most of the time but raps songs about rapping songs about himself. It’s like being stuck on the side-lines of the set of the worst reality show where you get to see exactly how vain and conceited the stars really are, and still wanting to give them a blow-job. Do we not have any self-respect left?

Scorpion is a double album (if you go for the physical manifestation) where the first part is mostly hip-hop and the second half is mostly songs, so despite its gargantuan length it’s not as though Drake has come up with some grand concept to figure out. And it’s about as dull as a day on the main street of Huntly. Really.

The really disappointing thing about Scorpion, though, is that there’s no groove payoff. Often, even the most mundane rap album has some nifty beats and enjoyable booty shaking bass action, but that’s strangely absent here. Despite the involvement of 25 producers the beats and bass are strangely uniform; the beats are anaemic time-keeping devices while the bass conforms to hip-hop tropes, in that it’s pure electronic, there’s no texture or genuine heft or funk, just that car window-shaking low-end rumble.

‘It’s like… seeing exactly how vain and conceited the stars really are, and still wanting to give them a blow-job.’

On the first part, Drake is responsible for some of the most lamentably poor rhyming and monotonous rapping I’ve ever heard from a major player. If you’re willing to ignore his on-going self-obsession, then surely the sheer irritation of enduring those awful lines – which on ‘8 Out Of 10’ he’s inspired to repeat twice – to a voice without cadence or rhythmic subtlety or tonal variation surely, surely must be a deal-breaker.

On the second half, the dude tries to sing. Oh. My. God. I kept on thinking ‘it must get better, there must be some secret magic here somewhere’, but the sad truth is that Drake sings two notes throughout, and for those two notes he requires the help of AutoTune, which of course voids his voice of any texture or character it might have had left had he tried to, you know, sing in tune with his actual voice.

There are a few nice things going on, a couple of tracks that dig up samples of robust, lively soul and gospel vocals or backing tracks to add a bit of organic lustre to the pallid, empty canvas. And on ‘Peak’, which starts the second part, on which he laughingly tries to be moody and sexy, someone manages to insert one of the cheekiest, nastiest synth breaks around, except that unfortunately it’s about 10 seconds long.

And there are times when Drake pulls out the stops and writes some words that catch you and make you think: ‘If this guy wasn’t so celebrated and high on the power of it all perhaps he’d be as good as the charts suggest’. One such example is right at the end of the first part. On ‘Is There More’ he says: “Is there more to life than goin’ on trips to Dubai?/Yachts on the 4th of July, G5 soarin’ the skies/Is there more to life than all of these corporate ties/And all of these fortunate times/And all of these asses that never come in proportionate size?”

Not genius, but kind of mournful and political and funny all in a bite-sized lyric, right?

‘And it’s about as dull as a day on the main street of Huntly. Really.’

Heck, I sat through the whole thing and took notes for every fucking track and I felt abused by Scorpion, like it had used up my precious time and exploited my curiosity and it hadn’t left me with anything tangible except irritation and boredom and the feeling that we’ve slipped into the state of de-evolution that the new wave group Devo sang about way back in 1980.

We don’t have to take it, you know. We don’t have to accept the parlous state of commercial hip-hop. We don’t need to prop it up with ingenuous so-called critiques in otherwise fine publications like The Guardian, or pretend that we’re participating in the industry in any meaningful way by presuming greatness, or at least quality and distinction, or at the worse a measure of creativity, in online music portals like Pitchfork.

It’s a joke, and it’s time to make a stand. Someone’s got to point out to the legions that stream, download or buy the swill made by Drake and his contemporaries that what they’re doing is letting everyone down, big-time; letting music down, depriving music of any genuine cultural import, dragging it down to a place it can never, ever recover from. We’re more than consumers. We. Are. Human. Beings. Get. Some. Respect.

 

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