When listening to Drake, the ear of the female listener is well-advised to hear what’s not there. It’s sort of like listening for the notes they don’t play in jazz, except what you’re listening for are the voices that don’t get to speak, the points of view that go unrepresented. If that feels like a heavy mantle to place on Drake’s shoulders, allow me to point you to his dominance of music culture to the tune of record breaking streams upon the release of this album. The bigger your platform, the bigger your responsibility to make it inclusive. Drake, instead, continues to do him to the exclusion, and at times detriment, of women worldwide.
Drake’s 25-song album, Scorpion, dropped on Friday 29th June. It’s got an A-side of rap tracks and a B-side of more R&B infused tracks. It’s got over 30 producers and co-producers listed, zero of whom are women. The features are all men also, with samples from a few female artists (Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill, Nicki Minaj) but the only sample that gets a featured credit is Michael Jackson who, in fairness, is represented by a previously unreleased vocal.
On “Elevate,” Drake sends a celebratory shout out to Baka Not Nice, his bodyguard and OVO artist who was jailed for six months in 2015 for assaulting a woman (charges of prostitution and human trafficking were dropped). We’re popping bottles because he passed a drug test as required by his parole relating to the charge, rather than hearing Drake talk about going to get his boy and explain why that behaviour is unacceptable.
In “Emotionless,” he takes down women who use Instagram (gasp!), from travel bloggers to...erm, other travel bloggers, to make their life seem better than it is.
On “God’s Plan,” he shouts out the “broskies,” his all-male management, label, crew, staff, etc. Drake really goes out of his way to paint a picture of a brotherhood all over this album, like many previous albums, while every woman gets painted the tired Madonna (his mother)/whore (literally everyone else he’s met, it seems?) trope.
He follows that up with an especially demeaning verse on “I’m Upset,” in which he eschews the ideas of child and spousal support and dismisses a whole cadre of women as gold digging “hoes,” one in particular who has the audacity to take him to court and then, later, ask how he’s doing. Apparently messing with Drake’s money is the greatest offence one can commit against him. Because holding on to money is more important than...supporting one’s child. And yes, he does acknowledge his long-rumoured child, as recently outed in an epic Pusha T dis track. Suspending disbelief, he follows this up by calling himself a “good guy” on the next track, “8 out of 10.” Amber Rose and the Slutwalk get a shout out in “Sandra’s Rose” as well...when Drake calls them hoes also, missing the point (empowering women and denouncing slut-shaming) of that endeavour.
Drake goes on like this, rapping in a monotone through the 12 tracks that make up side A of Scorpion, hitting his toxic male talking points as hard as he hits on boasts about how much he’s worth and how dangerous life in the rap game can be. It’s a dark, exhausting dirge, dripping with paranoia and ego run amuck. I guess this is being hard in 2018. But when we flip the tape to side B, we get a little more of a vibe along with a shout out to the wisdom of Maya Angelou on “Is There More.” However, the rest of the song’s lyrics indicate Drake might be well-advised to read more of Angelou’s work than the occasional inspirational quote posted on a travel influencer’s Instagram. And here, we get our first female voice in Drake’s world, in the form of additional vocals on the end of the song by Nai Palm, who seems to vocalise Drake’s ideal woman. Later, we’ll get a small, context-free voice track from queer artist Big Freedia on “Nice for What,” continuing hip-hop’s problematic trend of letting Freedia be heard but not seen.
The lyrics go from braggadocious to emo on side B, where Drake is in his feelings — there is literally a song called “In My Feelings.” There’s also “Jaded,” “Don’t Matter to Me,” and “Blue Tint.” All Morrissey-esque song titles, telegraphing Drake’s unhappiness with his romantic life. But, in all honesty, what woman wants to be with the guy who dismisses women as hoes and second-class citizens not capable of standing on their own on side A, or the guy who writes songs about how no woman is his ideal woman and partner, sulking all the while, on side B?
With Scorpion, music is a game for men and women are relegated to being hoes or moms. It repeatedly crafts ideas of acceptable behaviour for women based in a patriarchal mode. In a way that’s unavoidable, because Drake can’t sing about heartbreak without centring the conversation on himself; he can’t rap about being the G.O.A.T. without big upping himself. Is there any point in asking a wildly successful artist to rethink the formula that made them so wildly successful? In a word: yes. If Drake began to allow fully formed women’s voices into his songs – not simply on the hooks – he might find himself creatively exploring new territory instead of making the same sad lonely boy record, over and over again.