Now let us make prayer hands: Drake is looking for the meaning of life. The rapper who christened himself “6 God,” coined our era’s WWJD with YOLO, and landed a smash chorus about “a higher power,” openly wonders about the status of his soul on his latest blockbuster, Scorpion. Astrology, “God’s Plan,” and mystical “stones and crystals” get mentioned across the sneakily engrossing double album. But what does he really believe?
Religion typically figures into Drake’s public persona only as ingredients of his identity mishmash: He was born to a Catholic father, raised in his mother’s Judaism, and is conversant in the Islam of his close friends (2018 headline: “Drake says ‘inshallah’ in new song … and Muslim girls are ready to marry him”). Yet spirituality acts as a subtle key ingredient both in his salty-sweet hits and in his overstuffed albums. Of course, a lot of rappers compare themselves to Jesus. But Drake moralizes more than most as he enacts one of the essential dramas of this secular age: an individual straining, and not quite succeeding, to cobble together a personal ethical system.
Dominance, not righteousness, has been the outward goal of Drake’s career thus far. Rap fans obsess over the notion of “the greatest,” and from a commercial standpoint, Drake can lay a claim: “Every title doin’ numbers like I’m Miss Adele,” he brags on Scorpion, an allowable exaggeration. This success undergirds the album’s most hackneyed religious—or really sacrilegious—lines: “I walk in godly form amongst the mortal men,” “Might go down a G.O.D.,” etc. But Scorpion opens with Drake saying “the crown is broken in pieces,” and by the end of “Side A,” he’s drowsily asking, “Is there more?” As in, deep breath, “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?”
It’s not just a question for him. Scorpion plays as a series of parables about the wickedness of modern life and its signal sins of greed, vanity, and pride. (Taken together, it’s also a showcase of Drake’s favorite vice: condescension.) Often, he’ll hold up female superficiality as a sign of inner emptiness: “I know a girl happily married ‘til she puts down her phone,” goes one in a series of Instagram-related fables on “Emotionless,” followed later on “Don’t Matter to Me” by, “Wild things you’re doin’ at night / Trips to wherever feels right / Doin’ it all just to feel things.” When men are in his scope, he’s usually referring to the dangers of conquest. “Realize someone gotta die when no one’ll dead it,” he raps on the opener, with “i”t being the various feuds that he’s chosen not to escalate. Later, on “8 Out of 10,” he expounds, “As luck would have it / I’ve settled into my role as the good guy.”