Today, acclaimed rapper and singer Drake released Scorpion, a 25-track musical exploration of all the emotional tics typically ascribed to people with his astrological sign. This indulgent colossus came complete with an unpleasant surprise hidden deep in its tracklist. For a non-expert on astrology possessing only modestly reliable intel about Drake’s birth chart, it’s hard to know if outright thievery is something fans should have expected from the biggest rapper in the world on his most unkempt (read: tedious) album. However, I will quickly cite an excerpt from the “Scorpio” page on Skyscript, a web page associated with the Astrological Association of Great Britain: “Considered a dark, defensive sign with subterranean drives and a powerful reservoir of emotional energy, Scorpio has often been used as a significator for liars, backstabbers, traitors, thieves, lechers, and all sorts of dubious users and abusers!” (my emphasis). Should I be surprised, then, that Drake stooped to pilfer the title of the inspired pre-9/11 rock single by the only ‘Smiths I still recognize–Aerosmith–for use on his new album? Perhaps not, but the blow still smarts.
Drake’s “Jaded,” a collaboration with the normally brilliant Ty Dolla $ign, is a slithering, soporific trap ballad which finds Drake, as on so many Drake songs, meandering toward possible self-awareness, but ultimately pulling back toward his comfort zone of despondence, pathological narcissism, and “defensiveness” (see Skyscript). He discusses missing a former lover while constantly insulting them. Lines like “that’s why I’m not with nobody/’Cause I don’t wanna hurt nobody” explain why Drake felt that he needed to reuse Aerosmith’s title. The titular line, coming at the beginning of the chorus (just like in Aerosmith’s indelible anthem), is an attempt to make use feel sorry for, or at least sympathize with, Drake as the jilted lover: “Yes I’m hurting, yes I’m jaded/Most of these things I don’t wanna say.” Still, folks, he’s saying them. He mixes kneejerk compliments with barbs like the passive-aggressive, slippery fish that he is: “In all the pictures that I seen lately/Lord knows you still look amazin’/That’s besides the point I’m makin’/You’re way too opinionated.”
Listen to this tune a few times and try to hum it back to me; you might experience some difficulty. Ultimately, the Drake “Jaded” is a wasted opportunity–a bit of navel-gazing wallpaper on an album that has far too much of it, with its runtime equivalent to Rashomon and only slightly less than a direct flight from NYC to Toronto. Was this pittiance worth ripping off someone else’s hard work, Aubrey? Shame on you, Ty.
Aerosmith’s “Jaded” projects surefire confidence from its opening bars–Joe Perry’s tortured, vaguely Eastern guitar lick–that is completely lacking in Drake’s keening dirge. Popular meme parlance at the time of this writing is a useful tool here: This song, which peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 and probably did even better on VH1 video countdowns of the time, instantly embodies that specific brand of je ne sais quoi commonly shorthanded as BDE. Steven Tyler’s lyrical concept here is not far off from Drake: It’s about the feelings of resentment and desire that linger in the wake of a dissolved dysfunctional relationship. But the lyrical narrative is more encrypted–poetic and economical. So many of the contradictions Drake packs into his limp verses are distilled into just a couple of Tyler lines: “But it’s so overrated/Love and hated/Wouldn’t trade it.”
The song’s central twist–that Tyler’s narrator is in fact the “one who jaded” the song’s female protagonist–is positioned cathartically in the music. The band drops out to underscore the weight of his admission, packing a musical punch that no part of Drake’s song gets within miles of delivering. Even Tyler’s choice to stutter the eponymous word is more inspired than any of Drake’s choices in his (frankly pathetic) tribute song.
Judging by some modest research, it appears Drake has never acknowledged Aerosmith fandom publicly. But then again, he wasn’t transparent about using ghostwriters on some of his hit songs either. Sometimes, it takes a whistleblower to point out these types of modest hypocrisies. In this case, I’m not going to call myself one, however; the proof is there for all to see. That is to say: Drake stole the name of one of the great radio cock-rock singles of last decade and wrote a crappy song around it–a very Scorpio move, to be sure. The proof is below.