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DRAKE DELIVERS A
MODERN-DAY THRILLER

Let’s talk about Thriller. Yes, Michael Jackson. Not to draw a comparison about that collection of songs, since it’s a subjective topic best left in the era it originated from. But let’s use what happened with Thriller as emotional context with the attending audience for what we’re about to see Drake do with the young people of today. Because he’s absolutely proved with the release of the double-album masterwork Scorpion that his captivating reign over the music-buying public worldwide is very much the same as MJ’s.

The raw numbers back up all breathless blogger hype. As we speak, an unprecedented stream of listening is melting Google servers. As of this writing, Spotify already logged a record-breaking 132m+ day-one number, nearly double the previous 89.9m record from Post Malone—and Apple Music confirmed a mind-boggling 170m streams on 6/29.

To truly appreciate how this artist so uniquely conjures such intense devotion—and has sustained it through multiple album cycles—you have to look at the emo relationship he has with his audience. The conversation between Drake and his core tribe has been going on through the course of eight previous albums (plus the mixtapes), as he transmuted their generational life experiences into one Soundtrack of the Summer after another, creating a bond so pervasive in the lives of the people who consume it that he’s literally redefining the possibilities and boundaries of streaming in real time. Think about that, because it’s a very similar dynamic to what Michael Jackson did himself on a platform that was equally cutting-edge in its time to reach mass audiences: MTV.

If you were alive then, you know all about that ubiquitous electricity and mania Michael generated in the ’80s, when a colossal wave of culture-shaping momentum swept over the world as the Thriller album and its groundbreaking visuals accelerated through public consciousness. And remember, back then, Michael was smashing through long-standing racial barriers as well, as he moonwalked past black-music radio formats and the white rock and English-new-wave music-video domination of the time to reach everyone.

Drake has reshaped the landscape in his own way in the modern era by being able to swerve with effortless command between skillfully rapping loaded bars then downshifting to a breathy, sexy R&B chorus to seduce or jam. That’s this man’s moonwalking. It’s an authentic secret sauce pioneered by him, and completely unique to him, along with executive producer Noah “40” Shebib, and their brilliant squad of collaborators, who’ve collectively crafted these distinct mood-board sonics that resonate far above trend every time.

But legend has a way of twisting fates. We all know how the conversation got severely rearranged: being lyrically body-slammed in a manner so unforgivingly ferocious that the elder statesmen of the culture felt a need to step in and squash the noise before careers got destroyed. The abrupt ending to a contentious rap battle created a vacuum that was immediately filled by something even Michael Jackson had never had to navigate—the endless echo chamber of social media, a platform the 6God has used to full advantage many times previously, particularly during various rap scuffles.

The situation had escalated to such an altitude that music’s most successful figure, then in the rollup to a gigantic album release, fell back into a sort of penitent silence.

“You know a wise man once said nothing at all,” Drake would later rap on the new album.

The drama of a swirling vortex of opinions about what Drake should say, how he should say it and if he would say it at all continued unrelenting for weeks. This was a natural byproduct of the relationship the artist himself fostered: Everyone was invested in the outcome and on the edge of their seat awaiting it.

Don’t true champions deliver when the odds seem stacked highest against them? With Scorpion, Drake has nailed a major win.

Whether Scorpion meant total failure or being lifted over the biggest public-perception adversity in Drake’s career, the stakes were high. The humiliation of Drizzy’s first official “L” hung in the balance for guys, while women, still basking in the glow-up from his rallying cry in the perennial #1 “Nice for What,” were recovering from the shock of “WHAT THE FUCK! This man is a dad?” Their future husband went left, hearts on pause, totally bereft.

Don’t true champions deliver when the odds seem stacked highest against them? With Scorpion, Drake has nailed a major win. Excelling under extreme amounts of opposing momentum to score—and we’re still tallying that—by connecting with real emotions (“March 14th”) and grace (“Sandra’s Rose”), a new flow (“Nonstop”) and a lot of lyrical finger-wagging in the face (“Emotionless,” “8 Out of 10”). Plus, two sides for a whole story, doubling up to double-down on the doubters.

As the world waited for that album to push through the internet Thursday night, the surrounding energy online was flush with hashtag buzz—that rare electricity again, not unlike 1983, when music lovers worldwide waited in feverish anticipation on that December day for the world premiere of Jackson’s “Thriller” video. Drake’s moment felt much the same; the only difference was the fans were hovering in front of laptops instead of their TVs.

But whether or not the traditional music industry gives Drake the accolades he’s earned beyond counting the streams and spins, or the worldwide media acknowledges that he’s undeniably the biggest pop star in the world, or, hip-hop haters admit he’s the cultural force beyond compare, all that is seemingly insignificant to this artist, entrepreneur and, now, father.

Drake went and got Michael Jackson himself to subtly tell you that.

“It don’t matter to me,” the King of Pop’s iconic, ethereal voice sings on Scorpion, “It don’t matter to me what you say.”

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