All words: Andy Johnson — All photos: Joy Asico
About three-quarters of the way through his performance at the Verizon Center, Drake ordered his band and DJ to cut the music. Everyone in the arena was in high spirits, dazzled by the impressive light show and enjoying an exhilarating start to the Memorial Day weekend. October’s Very Own had something important on his mind. Drake looked out to the adoring crowd, seconds after winding through a seductive version of “Over My Dead Body” off the multi-platinum Take Care, to publicly confront an issue that was bugging him. I thought he going to respond to “Exodus 23:1”, the highly public diss track from Clipse’s Pusha T, now an affiliate of Kanye West’s GOOD Music. With the spotlight shining on him, Drake said, “Some people said I make too much music for women.” There was a mild cheer from the crowd. Drake paused and continued, “I say… damn right I make music for women!”
I’m pretty sure my inner cochlea was damaged from the screaming.
It is true that Drake has been criticized as being soft by other rappers. A popular hip-hop blogger placed Drake as #3, #2 and #1 in his list of the “Top 10 softest niggas in the game!” Most rappers hail from modest if not destitute childhoods. Drake was born to a black father and Jewish Canadian mother, growing up in a wealthy Toronto suburb. Jay-Z spent his teenage years hustling on the streets. Biggie dealt drugs. Drake acted on a Canadian teen drama.
The fact that his first name is Aubrey doesn’t help his rep either.
With the exception of the two guys on The Throne, Drake is the most popular rapper in America. He’s signed to Young Money records. Take Care sold over 631,000 copies his first week, a remarkable feat in the Spotify era. Also a critical success, it ranked among the top ten albums of the year for tastemakers like Pitchfork, Stereogum, Consequence of Sound, UK’s FACT as well as mainstream outlets like NPR and our very own Washington Post. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times crowned it record of the year. He’s cosigned by every A-list rapper in the game—Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Andre 3000, Eminem, Kanye West, T.I., and of course his boss Weezy.
And he’s probably had sex with Rihanna.
While the many, many girls (emphasis on girls) near me banshee-shrieked, I felt like I was the only one confused why Drake would spend time to rhetorically respond to haters. I hypothesize that when Drake says he “makes music for women,” he doesn’t see himself as Pusha T’s competition. Street rappers want to “keep it real,” yet fantasize about moving kilos of yayo and laying waste to their enemies with a wave of ultraviolence. Drake doesn’t rap about guns. He doesn’t threaten anyone. The secret is that Drake is not a rapper, he’s a pop star who can rap very well; a Justin Bieber in Sean Carter clothing. As an unabashed fan of well-written and immaculately produced pop music, Drake’s performance was 2-hour triumph.
Drake brought along four upcoming rappers to open up the second leg of his tour. The evening’s early starting time and lack of reliable set times meant I missed Meek Mill, 2 Chainz and Waka Flocka Flame. Believe me, I was looking forward to seeing Waka dismantle the Verizon Center with a thunderous rendition of “Hard In Da Paint.” With an album coming out in two weeks, I’m sure Mr. Flame will be back out on the road soon.
Roc Nation affiliate J. Cole was the last opener of the evening, a cross between Kid Cudi and Drake. Accompanied by backing group more focused on rock than a typical funk-oriented rap band, J. Cole called out the haters on the bombastic “Blow Up.” A vocoder cover of “No Church In The Wild” segued into fan-favorite “Work Out”, which liberally samples Kanye West’s “New Workout Plan” and cribs lyrics from PAULA FUCKING ABDUL.
The hook of “Can I hit in the morning” yielded endless squeals from the crowd. The Ovechkin hashtag-rap namedrop in “Can’t Get Enough” got a huge pop in his building, comically juxtaposed with the roar of thousands of young girls shouting in unison, “I love it when you give me head / I hate it when you give me headaches.” Cole was definitely on his game tonight, getting the crowd ready for the headliner. As entertaining as he is, I doubt Cole will be able to reach the superstar stratosphere. He lacks the necessary… well, weirdness that Kanye, Drake and even Lil Wayne harbor. But considering his charisma, catchy cuts and crowd appeal, it wouldn’t surprise me if Cole was the next larger-than-life rapper.
After a half-hour delay to set up the stage and titanic light rack, Drake, dressed in a black v-neck and jeans, came out to “Lord Knows”, the explosive Take Care track that samples a gospel choir and Rick Ross’ signature grunt. His rap of, “I’m hearing all of the jokes, I know that they trying to push me / I know that showin’ emotion don’t ever mean I’m a pussy,” was definitely tweeted and retweeted by those who care about the Pusha T beef.
Dancing columns of light illuminated “Underground Kings”, where Drake boasts, “I swear, it’s been two years since somebody asked me who I was / I’m the greatest man, I said that before I knew I was.” As rappers are wont to do, he dropped his verses from popular guest spots: DJ Khaled’s hypnotic “I’m On One” and Lil Wayne’s “She Will.”
As expected, Drizzy gave a shout out to OVOXO, piping in Abel Tesfaye’s soulful croon to anchor the harsh beat of “Crew Love.” Having seen The Weeknd perform at the 9:30 Club a few weeks prior, watching Drake segue from “She Will” into his half of “The Zone” was a delight. Still, I can only wonder why Drake was unable to book his fellow Torontonian and acronym addict to open for him. All respect to 2 Chainz, who joined Drake to perform “No Lie”, but I can only fantasize how the opening swell of “High For This” would quake the Verizon Center. Why, I bet one could even see the bass ripple across the crowd.
Drake explained that the Club Paradise tour was about recreating an evening in a nightclub. Considering the drunk girls and overpriced drinks, I’d say his charade wasn’t too removed from reality. For a supposed actor, Drake’s narration was awful. “Who’s going to the club tonight?” His character became more desperate as the night went on. He said, “It’s 1:30 in the morning, you’re tired, and you know last call is coming. What you need is someone who can pump you up.” Obviously, the cure for inebriation is a heavy dose of Waka Flocka, who came out to perform a ridiculous version of the Drake-featured “Round of Applause”, accented by pyrotechnics each time Waka told the audience to “Baby, make that ass clap.” When Drake sang-rapped “I’m in a stadium in DC still tippin mane,” we squealed in delight as Waka shook his dreadlocks around like an enormous blunted kraken.
The Club Paradise tour will reach an estimated 65 dates worldwide. That’s a lot of 2-hour performances by Aubrey Graham. Now that he’s reached the big leagues, it’s hard to maintain a level of intimacy with the audience. The Club Paradise story may be cheesy, but it’s was the least painful of his stage patter. An hour into the set, Drake announced the authorities wanted to cut the show short (At 10:30?), but because he loved us so much (What?), he told the police “Yolo!” (There it is!) and promised the show would go on (#Yolo), because we’re more than consumers (Oh?) or mere fans (Really?) to him. We’re his friends (Afterparty?). He also promised that the next time he’s on tour, he’s going to bring Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne with him, a legitimate possibility if Minaj’s sophomore album bombs or Lil Wayne continues his lyrical regression.
In the middle of the set, Drake freestyled, “If you was doin’ 16s, when I was 16 and your shit still flopped / and you switched teams don’t talk to me my nigga.” No names were mentioned, but this was widely assumed to be his response to Pusha T. Publicly announcing that you make songs to entertain women won’t squelch the haters, but as Drake raps, “Jealousy is just love and hate at the same time.” Who wouldn’t be jealous of Drake right now? Pusha T may be the better rapper, but Drake’s still released a #1 album and had sex with Rihanna, the ultimate trump card.
After pausing the show to tell us that his stage time was of the essence, Drake decided to then spend 20 minutes individually flirting with hoochie mommas in the audience. He gave shout outs to the right side. He gave shout outs to the left side. The middle. The back. He told the audience that he loved Latinas (huge cheer) and let a guy know that because he brought his boo to a Drake concert, he was gonna get laid tonight. He made fun of children for being up on a school night, ignorant that the concert was on a Friday. It was also pretty hilarious to have Drake give shout out to people in the 400s, rolling off “Baby what’s up 433!” (cheering), “Baby what’s up, 434!” (cheering), “Baby what’s up, 435!” (crickets), “Baby what’s up 436!” (crickets). Next time Drake’s stage manager should let him know that sections 435 and above were located behind the stage.
But there’s a reason why Drake gave up acting for rapping. The boy’s got so many hits! Drake’s older material still holds up well. “Over” was a personal highlight but the absence of “Fancy” was an egregious oversight. The biggest cheer of the night (and believe me, there were many in contention) came during the opening of “Marvin’s Room.” As Drake sang, “Fuck that nigga that you love so bad / I know you still think about the times we had,” every woman of legal drinking age near me raised their middle fingers up Stone Cold Steve Austin-style in defiance of shitty, two-timing males everywhere.
“Take Care” was an absolute monster. The driving 4/4 beat consumed us as Drake poured out his heart about his failed romance (with RiRi?). The Jamie XX-induced breakdown of Gil Scott-Heron’s bouncing laugh transformed the basketball arena into a rave, further intensified when Drake removed his tank top for a brief second to wipe his brow, revealing his chiseled abdomen. The decadent “Practice” transformed the Cash Money booty-jam classic “Back That Ass Up” into a sinister sneer at promiscuous women. All I need to tell you about “HYFR” is that Drake rapped amongst fireballs. I love Clipse and I rep the 757, but I’ve never seen Pusha T perform anywhere near a hadouken.
As massive as “Take Care” and “HYFR” were, the crowd was waiting for two special songs. Anyone who drinks alcohol in establishments that play contemporary music must be familiar with the phrase “YOLO,” which I believe is French for “Do something you regret tonight.” Enswarmed by in giant fog machine, Drake relied on the crowd to carry Lil Wayne’s verse. I’m proud to be part of a fraternity that publicly rapped, “I tongue kiss her other tongue / skeet skeet skeet water gun.” The final song of the evening was “Headlines”, the massive hit off Take Care. The crowd was so amped, the night turned into Drake karaoke, the crowd singing “They know, they know, they know” with as much vigor as their little vocal cords could muster.
And then he said goodbye and left. No encore, an odd let down for such a hype performance. Maybe there actually was some time restraint? I can’t say for certain, but I did hear Drake was scheduled to make an late night appearance on a certain nightclub on 14th street. Regardless, good on him for not incorporating the fake encore. Drake may be a bit soft. He most definitely makes music designed for females. But if you like his music, who cares. Life’s too short to not enjoy hate silly pop music. As the man himself says, you only live once. Fuck what anybody say.
- J. Cole
- Waka Flocka Flame
- 2 Chainz
- Meek Mill