Drake and the All Canadian North Stars Pulled Out All the Stops to Honour Hip-Hop and R&B History

With Kardinal Offishall, Maestro Fresh Wes, Jully Black, k-os, Keshia Chanté, surprise guest Nelly Furtado and many more
Drake and the All Canadian North Stars Pulled Out All the Stops to Honour Hip-Hop and R&B History
Photo via @champagnepapi on Instagram
OVO Fest seems like an insidious inside joke between Drake and the City of Toronto to see how many days each year they can convince Torontonians to blow their life savings.

And though this year's events aren't technically OVO Fest — Drake's calling it the October World Weekend: Road to OVO Fest Tour to buy time for him to bring the event across the globe for its 10th instalment next year — they're still worth draining your bank account for in order to see star-studded lineups in once-in-a-lifetime configurations.

Before the fest's usual two-night stint at Budweiser Stage for Chris Brown's first-ever headlining show in Toronto tonight and the Young Money Label reunion with hip-hop heavyweights Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj on August 1, things kicked off last night (July 28) with the All Canadian North Stars showcase at Drake's concert venue, History — a name especially fitting for a night dedicated to the veteran acts that paved the way for later generations of Canadian artists to become household names worldwide. The star-studded lineup, announced only two days before the event, included Toronto legends k-os, Keshia Chanté, Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black and Shawn Desman, but OVO Fest diehards knew that Drake and special guests were certain to appear — and they, of course, did.

The mood in the venue as the 10 p.m. start time approached was blissfully nostalgic, the room engulfed in gratitude for being able to witness their city's hip-hop and R&B greats under one roof, though it was by no means perfect — the show's start was delayed by 45 minutes, many lucky ticketholders were turned away at the entrance for having bags larger than 6.5 inches, and the pace of the event ran more like a strung-out Verzuz battle than a seamless concert. Nonetheless, Torontonians of all ages were present to witness their bit of history, in throwback jerseys and matching Echo and Dickies sweatsuits. This crowd seemed a lot older, even for a Drake show,  which made sense given he was where surrounded not just by peers but OGs.

Sporting a long-sleeved crewneck dedicated to the late Punjabi rapper Sidhu Moose Wala, Drake opened the show with a heartfelt soliloquy, honouring staples in the city like Urbanology Magazine, MuchMusic's Electric Circus, and All Things Fresh, the music collective and blog he began his career with. "This is bigger to me than any American act, any show I could ever see. This is not no regular shit. I'm here tonight, just a kid who grew up wide-eyed. I'm a fan, I'm one of you tonight and I'm grateful to be from the greatest city in the world," he proclaimed. 

The OVO mastermind emphasized that the show was strictly for the grown folks that grew up on acts like Maestro Fresh Wes, the first hip-hop artist inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame and the night's first performer, and witnessed the rise of Jully Black, Canada's Queen of R&B, who elevated the crowd from bashment to church with her uplifting rendition of Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds." Other early performers paid tribute to the scene's '90s roots: Detroit rappers Frank n Dank showed their appreciation for Toronto's longtime love of the duo; Infinite performed his 1998 hit "Take A Look"; Choclair blazed the stage with "Let's Ride"; and In Essence (led, of course, by Dru) effortlessly harmonized while performing choreographed routines in all-white, proving the boy band haven't missed a beat over the years. 

Following acts moved on into the early 2000s: Glenn Lewis crooned "Don't You Forget It," one of the greatest R&B songs to come out of the Great White North, while Shawn Desman showed the crowd "how we rock it in the T-Dot" with "Get Ready." And once k-os hit the stage, the crowd sang "Sunday Morning" with glee — although, perhaps to avoid being cliché, the legend didn't perform "Crabbuckit."

With countless acts present to commemorate Canada's musical glory days, artists began to perform more than their allocated three songs — at nearly 1 a.m., there was an undeniable air of restlessness in the crowd. Drake announced that there were still a few more acts to go before introducing Keshia Chanté, his first-ever girlfriend. She and a few others unfortunately received a warm but lacklustre response, perhaps due to the pace of the evening, but the hits kept coming. Drake saved the biggest surprises for the end: Jelleestone ran through performing "Money (Part 1)" while throwing faux $100 bills with his face on them, and Nelly Furtado ever-so-gently graced the stage while fans cheered and sang "I'm Like a Bird" at the top of their lungs. Then, Kardinal Offishall helped wrap things up with a surprising level of energy one wouldn't expect most of the audience to have at that point in the night — but also ever — jamming to "Ol' Time Killin'."

To end the night, Drake called on Offishall, Rascalz, Checkmate, Thrust and Choclair to perform what  he calls Canada's real national anthem, groundbreaking 1998 single "Northern Touch." The Canadian rap and R&B artists that have since received the baton have gone on to chart worldwide, developing arguably the most successful Canadian artists. During OVO's All Canadian North Stars showcase, the artists themselves got to take a bow.