Best album nominees for Grammy Awards: Episode two

On Feb. 10, the music industry's biggest names will vie for a prized Grammy Award while Alicia Keys host the events.

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In this installment of the Grammys series, we’re looking at two more of the eight nominees for the coveted Album of the Year award. In particular, these two are the longest albums of the bunch, with Scorpion by Drake and H.E.R.’s self-titled debut album clocking in just under 90 and 72 minutes, respectively. While both albums have triumphs, their longer run times do more harm than good.

Scorpion — Drake

Early on, Drake was mostly known as a sensitive and vulnerable R&B singer off the heels of 2011’s successful Take Care. As time passed, he embraced the more-typical hip-hop identity as a masculine braggadocio figure, such as the collaborative What a Time to be Alive with Future. Most recently, Drake dipped into dance hall with the bloated Views

Now, we have arrived to Scorpion: an attempt to fuse the first two phases of Drake’s musical career with the tiresome excessiveness of the third phase. The album, which came just a month after an explosive diss track from Pusha T against Drake, proved to be an anti-climactic and disappointing ending to this chapter of their longstanding conflict. Drake attempts to assert his dominance all over the album, but it’s hard to be convinced when he lost so badly. However, even without their beef, Scorpion is still an overblown, monotonous and boring album all on its own.

The album is not without its bright spots, of which there are enough to keep the album from being a complete failure. Drake still has some pop-rap success left in him, as shown in “God’s Plan” and the Lauryn Hill-sampling “Nice For What.” He channels the grandiose production of Nothing was the Same in the standout tracks “Emotionless” and “8 out of 10.” The tracks “Nonstop” and “That’s How You Feel” feature low-key samples in the place of choruses, which is a trick Drake implements often on Scorpion, but these two are the best examples of that tactic working well. Many other tracks, such as “That’s How U Feel,” are less successful and sound like a gimmick, as if Drake was too lazy to come up with a good hook and left his producers to their own devices.

The above six tracks, excluding “That’s How U Feel,” are positive checkpoints in a dull 25-track odyssey largely lacking in originality. The best parts of Scorpion are retreads of material Drake has already conquered before, bringing into question the necessity of such a lengthy and excessive album in the first place.

Adding on four or five more songs that are more than just listenable, Scorpion has 11 songs that are worth more than one listen. Everything else fades into obscurity; Drake feels bad over something, Drake reminds you he is the best, Drake spaces out just as much as you do. No single song is truly awful, but instead, incredibly boring and painful from start to finish due to its hour and a half run time. 

Final Grade: C-

H.E.R. — H.E.R.

Unlike so many of today’s celebrities vying for recognizable brands and looks, H.E.R., which stands for “Having Everything Revealed,” strives to remain as anonymous as possible in order to keep the focus on music, as she told the LA Times. Her self-titled album debut is a package that may remind some of The Weeknd’s entrance into cultural relevance. It features the tracks from previously released EPs in addition to new songs. Over 21 songs, H.E.R. weaves in, out and around millennial love, to mostly good effect. 

H.E.R.’s lyricism is embedded in youthful and relatable language and melodies; only 21 years old, she portrays the thoughts and feelings of the up-and-coming generation well because she is writing, recording and releasing her music as one of our own. The first few lines of opening track “Losing,” “My ambition is attractive / My aggression isn’t passive / I promise with you / The butterflies in my stomach are active,” would have blended right in with the Tumblr posts I scrolled through in high school, and, assuming Tumblr has retained any users since their controversial anti-NSFW policy, those very words are probably on graphic photo posts today. 

The album combines H.E.R.’s youthful wordplay with simplistic and topical production. She is listed as a producer on all but four of the album’s 21 tracks, with Darhyl “Hey DJ” Camper Jr. joining for most of the production, in addition to a few others peppered throughout the album’s liner notes. Some tracks contain more layered sounds than others, but the focus is largely based in establishing a groove for H.E.R. to play with that audiences can vibe with. “Let Me In” and “2” stand out for having some of the most complex soundscapes, and it pays off, as they are also two of the most enjoyable songs on the album that will be listened to by fans time and time again.

The flaw in H.E.R.’s craftsmanship is the repeated act of churning out the same end-product. At 72 minutes, the album’s simple goals are certainly accomplished, but also over-killed and by the time “Best Part” comes around — featuring Daniel Caesar as the album’s only vocal guest — the acoustic guitar and snap back-beat is a welcome production change. The disappointing part of the song is that there are still 11 tracks waiting.

There are a handful of exceptional tracks on the back half of the album, including a well-executed cover of Drake’s “Jungle,” but as a whole, H.E.R. inadvertently turns some of her songs into forgettable and generic R&B when it didn’t have to fade so quickly. In two separate volumes, as they were originally published, the songs may have a sharper effect, but their consistent lengths, production styles, lyricism and other traits make H.E.R. equal parts burden and blessing. 

Final Grade: C

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