When Drake first unveiled OVO Fest — for Toronto's rap fans, a Christmas morning on a hot summer night — he packed the stage with surprise guests. Consider that in 2010, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Bun B, J. Cole, Fabolous, and Kardinal Offishall were just appetizer cameos before our burgeoning international hip-hop force shocked the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre by bringing out Jay Z and Eminem. Jaw, meet floor.
The bar was set. For the next five Caribana weekends, Drizzy would try to high-jump his own lofty mark. Stevie Wonder, Nas, Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Kanye West were running through the six with their shows. Reunions of Puffy and Ma$e, G Unit and TLC were arranged. Basketball deities Kevin Durant and LeBron James could be spotted taking in the annual extravaganza. Will Smith was laughing at Meek Mill memes backstage. The gifts were abundant, the cameos creative and, often, out of left field. Imagine opening a giant box of Cracker Jack to see it filled with Kinder eggs.
The anticipation accompanying OVO is unlike any other: Who are we gonna get this time? The mind wanders to the most earth-shaking options. What if Drake made good with Kendrick Lamar? Or brought out Jay and 'Ye for the original "Pop Style," despite a complicated relationship with the king of Roc Nation? These are the musings of the spoiled concertgoer.
Instead, the secret guest list was kept to one — albeit a beauty.
About three-quarters through Drizzy's 145-minute set, Drake addressed the throng. "It's the six," he said. "You deserve to be spoiled. Let's have some fun."
He fled the spotlight and from below the stage emerged Rihanna, dressed in a floor-length orange coat. The response from a sold-out ACC was earsplitting. After strutting through a couple of solo tracks, including the nasty "Bitch Better Have My Money," Drake joined his Real Jerk dining partner for "Work," and the rumoured couple grinded a little bit during "Too Good."
Maybe the surprises were kept to a minimum because Drake's portion of OVO 7 is spread out over two nights, and Monday will bring more goodies. Maybe it's because this festival is wrapped into his well-planned Summer Sixteen tour with Future, and with Views dominating the pop charts, the man has too many hits of his own to perform. Short of resurrecting Prince or MJ, is there a featured artist bigger than the one on the marquee?
So night one of OVO 7 was more about the bearded ringleader in all black everything. Always a nice pay-it-forward touch, Drake gave his Toronto-based OVO Sound artists — the trappy Baka, the charismatic Roy Woods, and Dvsn's divine Daniel Daley — a chance to warm up the full house with mini sets. Backed by three female singers, Daley especially impressed with his covers of Aaliyah's "One in a Million" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Boy can sing.
Amidst exploding balls of fire and the word "REVENGE" blaring on the video backdrop, Drake opened his set with the tour's titular track, which takes aim at some of his many enemies, and "Started from the Bottom."
The set list dragged slightly through some of Views' slower, weaker cuts ("U With Me?" "Feel No Ways"), then picked up steam through "HYFR" and "0 to 100." It's indicative of the sheer number of hits Drake has written that monsters like "Worst Behavior," "All Me" and "I'm on One" get short shrift in a medley. Personally, I'd rather hear fewer songs in full than a series of familiar hooks. (While nitpicking: The fresh, open air of the Amphitheatre was missed. The sound at the ACC tends to echo.)
The lanky Future — decked pristine in top-to-bottom white, to contrast Drake's dark getup — provided a welcome injection of energy at the halfway point of the set, the two friends bouncing off each other during "Grammys," "Jumpman" and "Big Rings." The ATLien brought out a quartet of male dancers and flashed some suggestive images on the screen as he cruised through his own popular selections ("Commas," "Move that Dope" and "Bugatti"). Party music.
Drake snatched the baton to take the crowd home through a potentially fine-triggering midnight hour. Hundreds of glowing balloon-like balls illuminated purple and bobbed from above the floor seats as Drake sung "Hotline Bling." He hopped aboard a floating one-man chariot and cruised over his devotees while crooning "Hold On, We're Going Home." Then ramped up to a climax with "Hype," "Know Yourself," "Energy" and, finally, "Legend."
Through fireworks smoke, Drake thanked his city. All night, Toronto screamed its gratitude right back at him.