Dissecting the 4 Most Improbable Samples on Drake’s ‘Scorpion’

Dissecting the 4 Most Improbable Samples on Drake’s ‘Scorpion’

After a months-long build-up, a timid but highly publicized beef, three multi-platinum singles, and one carefully timed Degrassi reunion, Drake’s eighth full-length project, Scorpion, wafted out into the world like so much Instagrammed cigar smoke last night. Its 25 songs spread out over 90 minutes, so there’s plenty of space for the OVO honcho and basketball enthusiast to work in different styles and moods without flattening his through line. Every song here will find its way onto a different Spotify playlist, but they pull together impressively.

Unlike Kanye West, who now seems to have a team of people scouring Numero Group reissues for samples but nobody in any particular hurry to clear the tracks before they’re released, Drake and his team have pulled from an unlikely range of musicians to create Scorpion‘s exoskeleton. Beyond the newly unearthed Michael Jackson track on “Don’t Matter to Me” and the Mariah Carey remix on “Emotionless,” there are some sounds that need to be picked apart. They are these:

Claude Larson’s “Telex” on “Survival”

Claude Larson was a pseudonym for Klaus Netzle, a German composer and keyboardist born in Munich in 1926. And because this is something akin to library music—a stock track put together by a session musician, despite all of “Telex”‘s nimble eeriness—that’s all the information that’s out there about the man. The song made it onto “Vinyle Archéologie: Crate Digging & Break Excavation,” a Facebook group started by the Michigan-based producer Nati^e$ound. And while I’d love to think that Drake found Larson/Netzle while using an anonymous Facebook profile, “Survival” was co-produced by No I.D. and Noah “40” Shebib, both avid crate-diggers themselves. So there’s every chance they just found this while tripping through anonymous, utopian keyboard sounds from the late-70s. If you want to step up from “Telex”‘s lush glitches, go get lost in the terrifying sci-fi synths of Netzle and Raven Kane’s Silicon Valley over your lunch break. If you want something a little less nightmare-inducing, here‘s a far more placid Larson-helmed 1983 album called Plantlife that I’ve been listening to for the past half-hour.

Magnolia Shorty’s “Smoking Gun” on “In My Feelings”

Drake’s history with New Orleans bounce has been well documented (thanks, Phil), though it doesn’t find its into the mix as often as I expected on Scorpion—it’s pretty much Big Freedia on “Nice for What” and the late Magnolia Shorty on the mellowed-down “In My Feelings.” She was one of the first women to sign to Cash Money—shortly after Ms. Tee—and her debut album Monkey On Tha D$ck is still considered a bounce classic. But she was shot dead in a 2010 drive-by, and her second album was never completed. “Smoking Gun” is relentless and joyful and it couldn’t be further away from the sad-sack vibe that Drake’s courting on “In My Feelings.” Which, in itself, puts Drake in the perfect Drake position—sitting down with a bottle of his own whiskey, thinking about someone else having more fun.

A very funny Facebook video uploaded by Floridian rapper Plies on “8 Out of 10”

We could sit here and talk about the fact that Plies actually didn’t deserve all the shit he took in the first place; we could discuss the merits of his Obama meditation, as Skinny Friedman did at Noisey six years ago; we could all go listen to “Ran Off on da Plug Twice” and admire the 41-year-old Floridian rapper’s unlikely return to relevance. But the only way to truly understand Drake’s decision to sample this is to watch the thing. (And I’d bet my World Cup gambling fund on the fact that it was Drake and not Boi-1da or Jahan Sweet or OB who picked this out.) Marvel at the way Plies commits to the bit, observe the way in which he stares directly into the camera and barely looks away, and then consider bringing back ringtones so you can hear Plies softly whisper “you mad” every time you get a text.

Dorothy Ashby’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” on “Final Fantasy”

Noel Harrison’s version of “The Windmills of Your Mind” is the first song you’ll hear if you rewatch the original, 1968 version of The Thomas Crown Affair, and the song won composer Michel Legrand his first Academy Award that same year. (The cover that Sting recorded for the 1999 remake wasn’t quite as haunting.) But the version sampled here is from Dorothy Ashby’s. Described by Tom Moon as one of the most unjustly under-loved jazz greats of the 1950s,” Ashby struggled for recognition as a harpist in an extremely white, male scene through the middle of the 20th Century. She’s still revered by many, and there’s absolutely no excuse not to go listen to her right now. (She even made a turn towards the Japanese koto in the ’70s and experimented with new, unfamiliar styles on the harp.) If Ashby sounds familiar here, you might’ve heard this sample, chopped up into much smaller pieces, on Common’s Finding Forever cut “Start the Show.

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