Drake Is the Red Hot Chili Peppers of Rap
Tried-and-true showmanship defined the hometown stops for the Toronto rap king’s Scorpion Tour.
Photo By Tejas Panchal
It’s a common fantasy trope to have a formerly godlike character suddenly find themselves humbled by losing their immortality or other special powers. This usually results in an existential crisis for said character and—depending on how tragic the work—leads to their downfall. Drake has made damn sure that his story is no tragedy, that he will fade away rather than burn out (if he ever leaves music at all). The promo cycle for Scorpion proves that he is impervious to obstacles that would sink a less airtight career, paternity revelations and lackluster reviews all gathering attention but fizzling uselessly against the OVO machine. Yet for all the cultural moments he can still create via dance memes, it’s evident that Toronto’s favourite son isn’t exactly the omnipotent force he used to be. That might be alright, as the first of three shows at the city’s Scotiabank Arena showed that the late-game might be the best-fitting phase of Drizzy’s career.
From the jump, the immaculate sheen that characterizes most OVO productions was missing. Tuesday’s concert had now become the opening night since Monday’s date had been postponed twice. This has fucked a lot of people over, including two Saskatchewan teens who are now out over $5000 CAD. Possibly as a result of the troubles, co-headliners Migos were bereft of Offset, the group’s arguable MVP. While their set was solid and filled with hits, I’d compare the slightly underwhelming effect to if the Beatles lost Paul for some reason and had to continue with only John and George as the main vocalists (yes, I am still making Migos vs. Beatles jokes in 2018). But the trio are at the height of their powers right now, so no one really seemed to miss Offset too much other than during his solo smash “Ric Flair Drip.” Migos are too big to totally fail at this point, and that goes more than double for the Boy.
Drake is what happens when someone reaches the height of self-awareness. For years, he’s ceased to be a human musician with a definable genre and become a weird Portuguese man o’ war formed of tiny cultural polyps. He’s also successfully embodied the modern Toronto better than any other performer, exporting it to the world as a paradise of Caribbean slang and nighttime sensuality. No matter the arguments that his socioeconomic class and American mannerisms establish him as an outsider, the impact Drake has had on this city’s confidence and image cannot be understated. That love was present in the former Air Canada Centre’s radically reimagined interior for the Scorpion Tour, a technical marvel of a stage that at various points resembled a a basketball court in the Tron universe, a moving constellation, or the vaporous final dungeon of a Square Enix RPG. Drake repeatedly said that it felt good to be home compared to his American dates, though his most GTA move was probably shouting out Pickering during an inadvertently awkward interlude that saw former Raptors point guard Cory Joseph miss three shots from half-court. Look, it truly was a pull-out-the-stops Vegas residency-type show rather than a simple concert.
Scorpion understandably received the lion’s share of the setlist, yet while cheers greeted many of the album tracks, the songs themselves paled in reaction next to canonical picks like “Jumpman” and “Started from the Bottom.” This is a new feel for a Drake show, as it’s more typical for every single track on an album of his to be regarded as a potential smash even before being promoted. Scorpion is the first Drake album to not be surrounded by a frenzy, a far cry from the 'Drizzymania' that characterized 2013 to 2015. Right now, Drake is at the same stage as many a legacy artist before him, playing tracks from the latest album out of obligation while the audience really just wants to hear the hits and bask in their idol’s presence. He is every past-their-prime classic rock group and casino singer, except that he’s still at the forefront of popular culture. He’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers of rap.
Drake hasn't resorted to sticking a sock on his dick or anything. It’s more that he’s plateaued in popularity to the point where he doesn’t need to work to sustain momentum or his legend. Consider that Scorpion is his Stadium Arcadium: a bloated album containing a few strong singles among filler and experiments (“8 Out of 10” this is not, more like three out of 25). Both albums would be embarrassing missteps for anyone else, yet both artists struck commercial gold. RHCP scored three titanic rock radio hits from Stadium Arcadium while Drake broke streaming records with Scorpion, not to mention getting another dance meme covered by cable news networks. Though no one could hum you the band’s more recent singles, RHCP could drop something tomorrow and the non-media-involved public would lose their shit. Ditto for Drizzy. The hometown show understandably demonstrated the curious space he’s in now.
Somehow Aubrey wears this new role better than the other rappers who have suddenly found themselves part of the old guard. He’s a consummate showman, treating the crowd to a dizzying “best-of” medley and breaking his set up into acts based on mood. Though a sleepy R&B mini-set had people slouched back in their seats, a trio of Tay Keith productions brought the show to a climax, taken to delirious limits by Travis Scott bounding onstage during “Sicko Mode.” The younger rapper seemed to relish taking center stage for the subsequent rendition of his single “Goosebumps,” and Drake graciously allowed him to do so, recognizing that 2018 is Scott’s time, not his. Besides that and a tiny Migos set in the middle, none of the infamous FOMO-inducing guest spots of OVO Fest occurred; this was Drake’s show. Yet his stage presence wasn’t messianic, just that of a guy who’s finally done this for long enough that it’s second nature. With nothing left to prove but persistent cultural clout, he’s coasting, and it’s tough not to feel as relaxed as he probably does.
The most emotional moment of the night wasn’t a heartfelt “Emotionless” or the Michael Jackson “Rock with You” cover. Instead it was a tiny retrospective video of the OVO crew played right before the final song, set to the instrumental of Take Care intro “Over My Dead Body.”Whether it was the footage of young Drake or the eternally chill-inducing voicings of 40’s piano, the clip felt more affectionate than sticking “Toronto” into verses or having the chorus of “Know Yourself” screamed by 17,000 residents of “the 6ix” itself. It was genuinely endearing, which is the best word for where Drake is at now. Like the Chilis, the tides of time have resulted in his latest music being merely okay, which means he no longer has to be slotted into the role of either a god or a demon. Inevitably, Aubrey Graham has at last been brought down to our level. That only makes his accomplishments all the more tangible.
Phil only likes Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik in his coffee that he still forgets on table counters. Follow him on Twitter.