DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The rapper and singer Drake is arguably the biggest star in current hip-hop. Now he's released one of the biggest musical events of the summer. It's a 25-track double album called "Scorpion." It went platinum the day it came out and broke streaming records on both Spotify and Apple Music. Rock critic Ken Tucker says Drake's new work is both downbeat and very much what people want to hear right now.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AFTER DARK")
DRAKE: (Singing) Yeah. After dark - in a whip so low. No one's got to know. After dark - knocking at your door. I don't got to work anymore. After dark - you can put your phone down. You're going to need two hands. After dark - you can't get enough. Girl, you know I set it up for after dark. Late night like Left Eye, I'm creeping.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Drake takes pride in the quality and variety of his own moodiness. He presents himself as being unceasingly under attack, unlucky in love, besieged by rivals and those jealous of his success. He elicits our pity in a manner so dramatic, framed so artfully it can seem like a form of wit. There have always been mopey guys in pop music. Drake is just taking it to the next level. He's the Morrissey of hip-hop. Drake can make taking pictures and posting them on social media sound like a cry for help, or, as he says on the song "Emotionless," scrolling through life and fishing for praise.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EMOTIONLESS")
DRAKE: (Rapping) I know a girl who's one goal was to visit Rome. Then she finally got to Rome, and all she did was post pictures for people at home because all that mattered was impressing everybody she's known. I know another girl that's crying out for help, but her latest caption is, leave me alone. I know a girl happily married till she puts down her phone. I know a girl that saves pictures from places she's flown to post later and make it look like she is still on the go.
(Rapping) Look at the way we live. I wasn't hiding my kid from the world. I was hiding the world from my kid, from empty souls who just wake up and look to debate. Until you staring at your seed, you can never relate. Breaking news in my life, I don't run to the blogs. The only ones I want to tell are the ones I can call.
(Rapping) They always ask, why let the story run if it's false? You know, a wise man once said nothing at all. I'm exhausted and drained. I can't even pretend. All these people taking miles when you give them an inch. All these followers, but who going to follow me to the end? I guess I'll make it to the end, and I'm going to find out then.
TUCKER: "Scorpion" is a big, expansive affair - 25 tracks that total almost an hour and a half. This collection contains a fair number of compositions on which Drake sings as opposed to rapping. He also has a couple of tracks that toggle back and forth between the two. Listen to the way he talks and sings his way through this cool, shimmering bit of romantic melancholy called Summer Games.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER GAMES")
DRAKE: (Rapping) Yeah. You say I led you on, but you followed me. I follow one your friends, you unfollow me. Then you block them so they can't see you liking someone just like me. I expected more from you, honestly. Said you want a simple life, and that's not me. How you go from that to ending up with someone just like? How can you be angry on a night in July, and be warm with me when it's freezing outside. You're confusing me. Don't have me wasting my time.
TUCKER: A few months ago, there was an Internet rumor that Drake had chosen a most unlikely collaborator, a track with Paul Anka, the 1960s pop idol and author of "You're Having My Baby." Turns out Drake has used a sample of a track produced by Anka - previously unreleased music by Michael Jackson from a 1983 recording session. You can hear Drake singing around Jackson's singing on "Don't Matter To Me."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T MATTER TO ME")
DRAKE: (Singing) You, you, you know that's not the way to get over me. I don't know what you're saying. You, you, you know that's not the way to get over me.
MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) All of a sudden you say you don't want me no more. All of a sudden you say that I closed the door. It don't matter to me. It don't matter to me what you say. It don't matter to me. It don't matter to me what you say.
DRAKE: (Singing) I can't recover from our last conversation.
TUCKER: One of the best moments on this album - indeed, one of the year's best musical moments - is the hit single "Nice For What." As its title suggests, it's Drake being aggressive, wondering, why be nice when being tough may work better? The track is richly layered with a jittery tick-tock rhythm influenced by New Orleans bounce music. Drake takes a sample from the Lauryn Hill song "Ex-Factor," rapping over it, the heavy percussion rattling and thundering beneath him. It's a dense piece of music that explodes in different directions at once.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NICE FOR WHAT")
DRAKE: (Rapping) Everybody get your (EXPLETIVE) roll on. I know shorty, and she doesn't want no slow song. Had a man last year. Life goes on. Haven't let that thing loose, girl, in so long. You've been inside - know you like to lay low. I've been peeping what you bringing to the table. Working hard, girl, everything paid for - first, last phone bill, car note, cable. With your phone out, got to hit them angles. With your phone out, snapping like you Fabo. And you showing off, but it's all right. And you showing off, but it's all right - all right. It's a short life. Yeah.
TUCKER: Ultimately, "Scorpion" is too long for the rather limited set of subjects Drake wants to discuss. Some of the music repeats itself the song. "Nonstop," for example, is a simpler variation of the song I just played, "Nice For What." But that doesn't mean "Scorpion" doesn't have staying power. Its best tracks offer some of the finest sounds being made in pop music right now. For a fellow who spends so much time taking his own pulse, Drake has a very good sense of what people want to hear. It's the voice of a man reaching for a happiness that's always just out of his reach.
BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed Drake's new album, "Scorpion." On Monday's show, "The Omega Principle." Paul Greenberg, the award-winning author of "Four Fish," writes in his new book about the science behind fish oil supplements and how the harvesting of the tiny fish who supply that and other industries is having a ripple effect leading to less healthy and bountiful oceans. Hope you can join us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
BIANCULLI: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Joyce Lieberman and Julian Herzfeld. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.