Tuesday, May 26
The banner behind the stage at S.O.B.’s last night’ read, “Who’s Next” but Drake, the Degrassi-famous member of Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money crew, is right now. He’s the finished product with a movie star smirk that seems to suggest he genuinely appreciates the love while still floating above it all. His show last night was more of a coronation than a coming out party–the rapper’s 40-minute set was comprised entirely of mixtape hits, but to the 60-40 female-to-male crowd, they went over like longtime favorites. A 45-minute delay (as well as the presence Lyor Cohen, Kanye West and half of the hip-hop blog illuminati) gave the illusion that we were in for something important and, when the rapper finally appeared, his stage presence had a degree of effortless charm and showmanship that suggested a real star quality at work.
Taking the stage to the strings of “Viva La Vida,” Drake breezed through the I’m-the-shit-style boasts of “Unstoppable” and “Congratulations,” and then turned south, bringing Houston’s Bun-B on stage for “Uptown.” He then slid into what is possibly his best track, the Houston homage, “November 18th.” Drake’s greatest gift is his ability to translate his love of rap’s many styles into his own music–“November 18th” sports not just clever wordplay but detailed imagery, effortless shifts between rapping and signing, and a persona that bounces easily from bad boy to choir boy, from friend to lover. On the recorded version, Drake delivers a spoken travelogue, detailing the way candy painted cars change colors in the 11 p.m. street lights of Houston. It’s the kind of romantic detail that could only come from someone who genuinely loves Houston and its music.
Nowhere was Drake’s good student status more apparent than in the R&B stretch of the show. After singing along to “Feeling On Your Booty” and “Birthday Sex,” Drake, suitably “in character,” became a crooner and seducer. He detailed a perfect night for the perfect New York woman (there were many in attendance, and he had pretty much all of them at “chicken breasts” and “pinot grigio”). But then it was back to bachelorhood and the opening bass line of smash single “Best I Ever Had,” a song that mixes a slyly awkward loop with equal parts pillow and shit talk. The performance led the night’s master of ceremonies, Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, to exclaim, “And he’s fucking Jewish!” What more could you ask for?
In 140 characters or less: Neophyte-rapper-ternt-singer-who-still-raps lets go of childish things, assumes almost-star status.