Drake launches his North American tour in spectacular, crowd-slaying style.
Out on America’s pop cultural fringe, the measure of a great concert is the pandemonium wrought in its wake. So it is after the Aubrey & The Three Migos Tour – Drake’s co-headlining outing with Atlanta rap trio Migos – opens in Kansas City. No sooner are the lights up than hordes of unruly Missourians spill out to claim the streets as their own. Teens stream into rented limos or stand dazed and tearful under street lamps, alone and overwhelmed. Whoops and hollers attend In My Feelings dance-offs, strangers drawn together by the international phenomenon of Drake’s dance-craze single. Out front, social factions clash amid the throngs. Two picketers denouncing the insufficiently Godfearing stand off against an opponent in a Superman T-shirt, red cape and light-up Stars & Stripes glasses. Drunk dancers populate a nearby saloon balcony, their dirty South hiphop briefly drowned out when an elderly gentleman blazes past in a mobility scooter, blasting gangsta rap from a speaker. It’s Sunday, 11pm, and nobody who knows they’re alive is thinking about tomorrow. The generational rap icon who spawned this scene is not any recognisable kind of rap icon at all, but rather the self-pitying, reluctantly middle-class son of a Christian father and Jewish mother, who once favourably pronounced himself the modern-day Fresh Prince. In recent years, having surpassed Kanye West as a pop-rap supremo, Drake’s records have veered into hubristic and vindictive territory. But he levels the aggro with a supply of anthems founded on his chummy, magnetic persona. Most often, he locates insecurities people didn’t know they
He metes out euphoric bursts so the serotonin hits at just the right moment.
had, then uses weightless melodies to alleviate the loneliness they wouldn’t admit to. His affability contrasts with stars such as Kanye and Beyoncé, who are loved and admired (or hated) more often than liked. It’s thanks to Drake’s casual listenership that he may now be bigger than either. During their recent feud, Pusha-T left him scrambling to answer allegations of undisclosed fatherhood, dishing out an existential threat to this romantically goofy rapper and his unserious, “aw-shucks” image. Drake laid low before releasing a quietly vicious, occasionally remorseful new album, Scorpion, which acknowledges the birth of his son and reasserted his supremacy. Scorpion broke practically every streaming record, as Drake releases do, and pushed his global streaming tally past 50 billion – seven plays for every living person. As his fame and wealth accumulate, the 31- year-old’s albums have started to splinter, like White Album ensemble pieces co-authored by one man’s warring multitudes – paranoid egomaniac, introspective sage, thwarted romantic and millennial mouthpiece. Those divergent personas have pushed him to the brink of an identity crisis, with his charismatic, ostentatious concerts the glue holding the Drake enterprise together.
Before the show begins, it’s already been beset by production delays and, the week before the concert, the mysterious repossession of a crew tourbus. The goings-on attracted much gossip in this unassuming conservative city, where jazz clubs still prosper and every cab driver has an opinion on where to find the best BBQ. If there’s an air of suspicion, fans on the night redouble efforts to show the love. Teens parade around the venue like custodians of a sacred realm, garbed in basketball tops and floral jumpsuits, dungarees and diamond anklets, careful arrangements of denim, lingerie and omitted lingerie. It’s equal parts mall chic and avantgarde catwalk show. The set begins with a fake-out: a translucent curtain encloses the stage and projected onto it is Drake’s holographic body in a floating cage. The moment its uncanniness hits you, the man himself bounds out to the salvo of Scorpion track 8 Out Of 10. For Talk Up, thunderclouds settle on the
curtain as a giant projection of Drake’s head floats, godlike, in its heavens. The intended vision is of a fearless prophet commanding impossible forces. A young woman records the entire opening sequence on her phone, occasionally turning to scream, to nobody in particular: “It’s Drake!” The curtain finally rises, unveiling a stage-floor illuminated with teeming volcanic graphics. “Missouri, how the fuck you feeling tonight?” he roars, unleashing a pyrotechnic rainstorm for a raucous Jumpman. Fan favourite Know Yourself then induces a stadium-wide meltdown, its dreamy, aquatic beat and viscerally insistent melody wrenching your mind and body in opposite directions. The lava stage display dissolves into a rippling whirlpool, making Drake, arms spread in its centre, resemble a heavenly body encircled by planetary rings. The flipside of this dazzling design is that, when detritus lobbed onstage obscures the graphics, he’s forced to discard it, as if Zeus were his own caretaker. The visual excess peaks when a lifesize yellow Ferrari appears unannounced and flies over the crowd. Drake is hyping Kansas for some earlycareer classics; Kansas is curious about what the deal with the flying car is, but before the absurdity settles, we’re into HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right), an anthem so blindly adored that the mysterious air-bound motor is instantly forgotten. Drake welcomes back Migos for a rapid-fire greatest-hits takeover. When he resumes play, act one’s boisterous masculinity yields to supple, melancholy R&B. “We ’bout to have some fun tonight, I promise,” he reassures us in dulcet tones. After the overdriven Migos onslaught, his featherlight charisma refills the room like a hot air balloon. As on record, collaborating with women tempers Drake’s sometimes suffocating self-involvement. For the Nicki Minaj-sampling That’s How You Feel, fans scream along the chorus while finger-wagging in one another’s faces. Snippets of Rihanna duet Work and superhit One Dance finally mobilise audience hips thanks to Drake’s dancers, who don’t hesitate to upstage him. When the Michael Jackson-sampling Don’t Matter To Me and a mawkish Rock With You descend into schmaltz, it’s adorable schmaltz, like the earnest declarations of a loved-up drunk. Much like with a great DJ set, the real craft here is sequencing. He metes out euphoric bursts so the serotonin hits at just the right moment. It’s why he can coast through highlights such as Nice For What, playing yappy hype man to his own backing track: by the time the classics drop, we’re already on the precipice of euphoria. As long as he flashes his Instagram-famous smile, his Hotline Bling dance throwback, the personality cult will keep you hooked and the Drake experience is fulfilled. His goofy ticks are part of his mythology: the idea that his dominance is inevitable, irresistible and comes perfectly naturally. Some of Drake’s biggest critics are his most loyal fans, addicted to him like a living social media platform. They’ll tut at his game-playing lyrics, roll eyes at his corny punchlines, scoff at his musical bandwagon-jumping, then fire up his records anyway. The set closes with God’s Plan, his most craven feel-good hit, a simplistic ode to fate and karma that’s annoyingly hard to be annoyed at. His pop kingdom is an illusion, like any, but nobody conjures it better.
As long as he flashes his Instagramfamous smile, the personality cult will keep you hooked and the Drake experience is fulfilled.
“Drake’s fans are addicted to him like a living social media platform.”
Street hassle: the scene outside the venue where concert-goers encountered God-fearing locals.
Head boy: a giant Drake projection engulfs the stage.