Two and a half months ago, just days before Kanye West would announce the multi-album release he had plotted for June, Drake posted a cryptic photo on Instagram. Posing with his back turned to the camera, he donned a jacket that not-so-subtly hinted at a new album: “SCORPION JUNE TWENTY EIGHTEEN,” it read, “by DRAKE.” Last Friday, Drake released the album, which came in at a bloated 25 tracks.
Much had transpired since the rapper and October’s Very Own label head first teased Scorpion’s existence. Most notably, he’d found himself on the receiving end of a series of diss records from Pusha T, the 20-year rap veteran and G.O.O.D. Music president best known for his razor-sharp delivery of “coke raps.” Pusha closed out his own album, the Kanye-produced May 25 release Daytona, with “Infrared,” a diss track focused primarily on Drake’s alleged history of using ghostwriters for his raps. Drake responded with “Duppy Freestyle,” a breezy and technically proficient missive, then re-upped that energy with “I’m Upset,” a mediocre diss-slash-club-track in the vein of the records he lobbed at Meek Mill during their virality-fueled 2015 beef.
Shortly thereafter, Pusha switched gears entirely by releasing “The Story of Adidon,” which attacked Drake not on the basis of his musical transparency but for the content of his character. Pusha accused Drake of harboring a secret child, being a deadbeat father, and hiding his child’s mother from the world because he was ashamed of her past in the sex industry. The diss was sharp, efficient, and at times uncomfortable. For a man who has built a career on wooing female listeners with his meticulously crafted façade of chivalry, the unearthing of these putative personal indiscretions forced a referendum on the soul of both his music and his persona.
On the heels of this blow to Drake’s carefully calculated public image, Scorpion became not just an album but a vehicle for his redemption (especially after the legendary Houston producer J. Prince stepped in to instruct Drake not to release a response to “The Story of Adidon”). For Drake to earn back his titles—Nice Guy, Woke Bae, Sensitive Artiste—he would need Scorpion to both address the rumored child and announce itself as a nearly unassailable body of work. The stakes were high, and the scorpion was under threat. This was no ordinary album release; this was a PR crisis. As a response, it only partly succeeded. Scorpion is a confused, overly long vanity record not unlike Views. It addresses Pusha’s accusations unsatisfactorily (they’re true, and Drake is ashamed), veers heavily into narcissism, and doubles down on the shallow emotional territory Drake has mined for years now. It is less an attack than a defensive thrash.
To better understand the factors that might have influenced Drake’s choices—both musical and personal—surrounding Scorpion, I decided to look outside the silo of pop culture. I wanted to understand Drake himself in a new way. I wanted to learn the secrets of the scorpion. So naturally, I called up two experts: Chani Nicholas, a writer and astrologer, to help me better understand Scorpios; and Gwen Pearson, a science writer with a Ph.D. in entomology, who is the outreach coordinator at Purdue University’s department of entomology, to help me better understand the creatures after which the astrological sign (and Drake’s album) is named.
To begin my quest into the innermost world of the moody songbird, I asked Nicholas to help me understand Drake’s origin story. Astrologically speaking, a natal chart is the diagram representing the positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, astrological aspects, and sensitive angles at the time of someone’s birth. In sharing Drake’s astrological positioning, Nicholas was quick to point out that his natal chart is a particularly powerful simulacrum. As she recounted, there’s no shortage of inspiration for Drake’s Scorpion tales:
We know that Drake is a Scorpio, but Drake isn’t just an everyday Scorpio. Drake has four planets in Scorpio, so that’s a large percentage. Of the main planets that we take into consideration, 40 percent of [Drake’s] are in one sign. So we know right away that there’s an incredible emphasis in this sign … Scorpio character, as we all know, is incredibly powerful and power-seeking. Scorpio needs to know where the power is and is in and of themselves connected to a very strong and deep reservoir of emotional energy. That is their superpower, we could say … If you think of that emotional energy, it can be very destructive to the self and very destructive if we’re using it manipulatively, if we’re trying to have power over, if we’re trying to always win something. That can be incredibly harmful both to other people but also to ourselves. But emotional energy is the currency of getting a message across. It’s the currency of connection. ...
Scorpio’s end game is to embrace that entirety of life and never shy away from anything. That’s the feeling of Scorpio, and it comes in … incredibly, incredibly resilient. This energy is not something that can be destroyed easily. It’s ruled by the planet Mars, and Mars is the warrior. ... There is a thing about Scorpios where they’re like, “I don’t care how long the battle is, I will win. And I will suffer as much as I have to, I will go underground, I will hide, I will recede into the corner. I will do whatever it takes. I don’t need water, I don’t need food, I don’t need sleep, let’s do this.” It’s that intense, it’s the edginess of life.
I will say that Drake is Canadian, and there is one Canadian scorpion species. You wouldn’t think there are scorpions in Canada, but there are. But I can find no evidence that they were involved in a Degrassi plotline. …
[Scorpions are] completely nocturnal. They’re actually also one of the oldest land animals that we know about, so we have fossils dating back to clear into the Silurian period. So in the early forests when it was mostly mosses, algae, there were probably scorpions scampering around there, and they look almost exactly the same now as they did then, so they really haven’t physically changed much. The other neat thing is that they’re great architects. They burrow extensively … They excavate this amazing series of tunnels, and what they’ll do is they’ll stay underground in that tunnel. They basically build themselves a little climate-controlled chamber where they don’t have to worry about water loss during the heat of the day, and they just chill there all day and come out at night.
When they feel threatened, so if they’re up out of their burrow and they can’t run back in the burrow, that’s when they might sting. If they run into another scorpion, that … much like praying mantids, you have two big predatory animals in a small space. In captivity anyway, it very often will end not so well for one of ’em. …
They actually can tweak their venom for different prey sizes. So they have multiple venom glands and they apparently can choose, or at least some of them can, whether they hit you with the full dose of the venom or a half dose. And they also have one venom that is more effective on mammals and one venom that is more effective on insects and other arthropods. It’s really wild. They make a cocktail and apparently they can regulate what they hit you with. We have both large and small scorpion species. So the Arizona scorpion that you run into the most commonly, the Centruroides species, has some pretty potent venom because it’s really little. The really big species that we have, for the most part their venom isn’t that potent because they’re big enough. They have enough power with their claws that most of the time they don’t really need their venom. So the bigger you are, the less of a threat you probably are in terms of stinging.
Their romantic life is bizarre. So basically when a male and female scorpion do run into each other, and that’s pretty rare because they’re not common animals, they will basically vibrate at each other. It’s not unlike what spiders do, where spiders will stroke out a tune on their web. In this case, they kinda just vibrate at each other, there’s also some pheromones, and then what happens is the male comes face forward to the female, and he grabs her pincers, and then they basically—it looks like they’re having an arm-wrestling match. And so they kinda drag each other back and forth.
I’m sure you can find some hilarious video of this. And so he grabs the female and he will drag her to a spot where he has deposited a sperm packet on the ground, and then he has to drag the female over and get her to sit on the sperm packet so that she pulls it up into her genital opening. It’s nuts. Honestly all of the arachnids, every time I work with them, it’s just like, “What were you doing, evolution? What? How does this work?”