Published Jul 29, 2015The elephant in the amphitheatre was never addressed. Not directly, anyway.
Nicki Minaj and boyfriend Meek Mill rolled into Toronto Tuesday (July 28) at the most awkward of times, mere days after Mill had accused hometown slugger Drake of using a ghostwriter. Drake had responded with a keeping-my-cool diss track, "Charged Up." And now two of his frequent collaborators (and presumed friends, with money) were storming the same space that will host OVO Fest this coming weekend. (Note: Drizzy has welcomed both Nicki and Meek onto the OVO stage as special guests in past editions.)
A warm-up set by Rae Sremmurd, the young pair of dreaded speedball twins who've quickly linked a string of club hits, lasted longer than scheduled, into what was supposed to be Meek's performance block. Swae Lee and Slim Jimmy, brothers from the same mother, bounced around chanting the addictive hooks to "No Type" and "No Flex Zone," backed only by a DJ and a banner. What their stage show lacked in direction and ingenuity it tried to make up for in verve, volume and "FREE GUCCI" tees. The trap anthems are slick, but the duo's command onstage has yet to catch up to their rapid rise to fame.
As Nicki's selector, DJ Boof, warmed up a packed, sweaty crowd with mass-appeal sure shots, it became apparent that Meek — perhaps for fear of boos — would not assume his usual warm-up set.
Ten minutes to 10 p.m., the headliner strolled out in all black, her famous curves masked thinly by fishnet, the lyrical barbs of The Pinkprint leadoff "All Things Go" firing from underneath a black veil and projected from a black headset mic.
Nicki's command of the stage was regal, calculated and highly sexual. Like an exotic dancer forever performing to her first song, no clothes were shed, but the tease level got cranked to 11 fast. She changed from a slinky black getup to a gold sparkling outfit, her bra, short-shorts, thigh-high boots and cape making her look like the best comic superhero. She is Foxy Brown and Lil' Kim in the Android Era. With better raps, of course.
"You don't get a do over!" she encouraged the young females hanging on her every word and gyration. "Chase your dreams! Stay in school! Don't ever let anyone steal your joy!"
A string of bangers off her latest and best LP — "The Crying Game," "Feeling Myself," "Only" — grabbed attention immediately, but a medley of her cameo appearances ("Up All Night," "Bedrock," "Make Me Proud") felt a little rushed. Minaj's verse on Kanye West's "Monster" is a tour de force, but on this night, she tired of it midway and didn't even complete the 16 bars.
A drummer, a keyboard player, Boof and spurts of backup dancers supported the choreographed pop show, but the thing was all Nicki and her huge personality.
This fact was driven home when Meek finally did appear, smartly sandwiched mid-set for an abbreviated performance during a costume change. The Philly MC made a vague reference to haters, but wisely avoided talking about the feud. Drake's new foe ran through about four tunes (notably absent: the Drake-assisted "Amen," a radio smash in T.O.) and the energy dipped. He left to a mix of cheers and jeers, but mostly indifference.
Minaj shifted focus back to her songwriting with "Beez in the Trap," "Anaconda," Super Bass," "Ass" and… my goodness, she has a ton of hits.
A lighter moment occurs when she dragged a skinny white dude from Thunder Bay, ON onto the stage and proceeded to grind with him.
Both Rae Sremmurd ("Throw Sum Mo") and lovebird Meek ("Buy a Heart") returned towards the show's climax for collaborations and, in Meek's case, a mild makeout. But the finale was left, as it should be, to Nicki, who sent her Barbies off with "Starships."