Published Aug 06, 2012If there was any lingering doubt about whether Canada's most successful rap talent truly represents his hometown and country on the world stage, Drake sought to put those grumblings to rest once and for all with the latest edition of his annual OVO Fest. Returning once again to Toronto's Molson Canadian Amphitheatre stage for festival's third year, Drizzy turned what was by far the most ambitious showcase to date into both a personal profession of love for the city that raised him and a genuine showing of love to his biggest fans, culling together an incredible lineup of today's hottest rap trend setters as evidence of his appreciation.
Setting aside a history of solid surprise acts that has now become an expectation amongst concertgoers, the bill's three opening acts proved more than enough to sell out the spacious venue, as fans were greeted first by A$AP Rocky, then 2 Chainz and finally by local favourite the Weeknd under a setting summer sun that made for quite a beautiful scene.
Of the three, leadoff man Rocky perhaps had the toughest task, taking the monstrous stage without the benefit of lighting and attempting to rock a room still getting situated. The cocky Harlemite did his best to set things up for the coming onslaught, dropping bombs from his game-shaking LiveLoveA$AP mixtape, along with fresh new banger "Goldie," to the crowd's delight, with a few jabs at current rival SpaceGhostPurrp sprinkled in through confessedly persistent muffled vocals for good measure.
Lacklustre sound aside, Rocky's early energy boost made for a nicely spiced lead-in to Atlanta native 2 Chainz, who took those energy levels and raised them fivefold with a finely tuned performance that had everyone up from the start. Playing rhythm dropouts and post-cut banter to full effect, the seasoned rapper had the whole venue rocking in unison to monster tracks "Riot," "Duffle Bag Boy" and "Spend It" before relinquishing the mic to hometown hero the Weeknd for a set that both relished in and suffered for its entirely contrasting style.
Though the humble future-R&B crooner's smooth falsetto, gracious personality and flashy MJ-esque dance embellishments won universal praise from the now packed house (and particularly from the females on hand), Abel Tesfaye's decidedly pulled-back pace and slower, softer grooves did leave large openings for pronounced audience banter. It definitely left the impression that his sound was perhaps far better suited to a more intimate setting, though the deafening cheers that followed each touching vocal turn or soaring guitar solo did prove that even those most distracted were still paying attention.
For their various talents and varied degrees of exuberant fan acceptance, all three would soon be vastly outshone, however, by the night's main attraction, with Drake being elevated up through a riser at centre stage to the ethereal choir cries of vicious showpiece "Lord Knows." A short stream of notable tracks followed before the rejoiceful rapper kicked of his Toronto dedications by flashing a freshly inked "416" tattoo along his torso, then introducing the Weeknd as his first of many guests.
The impressive light show, intricately designed TV monitors and stretched-out live band all spoke of a man seeking the highest production values possible for his home city celebration, as did the amount of energy Drake dedicated in the delivery of his tight set. Filling every spare moment pushing Toronto to the fore, the energized performer ran through hit after satisfying hit (most introduced by natural though craftily scripted monologues), bouncing around on stage in a mixture of childish glee and champ-like swagger.
The guests -- first the three openers on tracks both they and Drake shared, and then a series of progressively larger icons that would include Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, Snoop and three representatives of the Maybach Music family led by Rick Ross -- were probably the most appropriate collection of collaborators one could imagine given the audience. Each took their turns throwing fans into a tizzy with songs whose lyrics were recited by all, the most surprising being big Snoop Dogg, who took things way back with his rendition of "Nuthin but a 'G' Thang."
Fellow Young Money co-conspirator Nicki Minaj was the final surprise, offering up a notably less inspired guest spot of her own before leaving Drake to finish things off with show stopper "Headlines," a track that led to the announcement that (fittingly enough) next year's festival would be taking over Toronto's Rogers Centre, the iconic stadium featured in the song's video.
By night's end, it was hard to find one sour thing to say about the event, as Drake managed what few in hip-hop pull off, that being a massive, well-scheduled and entirely fulfilling rap spectacle with so many of today's top-billed artists -- and one that has fans rocking with smiles and fists up for nearly four straight hours. All remaining critics may finally want to take a look in the mirror after this one, as Drake -- for whatever flaws you may feel he has -- is definitely backing up the hype with some serious substance.