About 18 months ago, Drake's business manager Shawn Gee and ICM booking agent Robert Gibbs mapped out a touring plan that aimed to have the Toronto MC playing arenas by his second album. So far, the blueprint to build the rapper's touring profile -- a commitment rarely seen among hip-hop acts -- is on track.
In support of his full-length Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown debut, "Thank Me Later," Drake launched his 25-date Light Dreams & Nightmares U.S. tour of large theaters and small arenas Sept. 20 with two sold-out shows at the James L. Knight Center in Miami. At press time, about 80% of the trek was sold out, Gibbs says.
In addition to Miami, sellouts include New York's Radio City Music Hall (Sept. 28-29), Atlanta's Fox Theatre (Oct. 6) and the Chicago Theatre (Oct. 13-14). The jaunt also includes two radio show festival dates and an Oct. 30 appearance at Voodoo Experience in New Orleans. It concludes Nov. 6 at the Joint in Las Vegas.
Video: Drake performing in Miami, Sept. 21
The AT&T-sponsored tour's venue capacities range from 3,000 to 8,000 seats, with ticket prices topping out at $60. Drake is performing alongside a four-piece band -- including bassist Adam Blackstone, who doubles as the trek's musical director -- plus a DJ. Young Money rapper Tyga will open most dates.
Citing the popularity of Drake's 2009 mixtape, "So Far Gone," and "Thank Me Later," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 1.1 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan, Gibbs and Gee note the rapper had offers to play larger venues on his current run. But instead, Drake's camp opted to develop the artist's live show on a smaller scale, beginning in April with a headlining college tour.
"The foundation of the plan was to allow Drake to grow as a performer without the pressure of immediately stepping on the big arena stage," says Gee, who also serves as Lil Wayne's tour producer and business manager. "His buzz and profile grew quickly, so we had offers for him to jump in on package arena shows or large one-off shows from the very beginning. But we had to allow him to grow and learn how to perform."
After honing his live chops on the college circuit, which Gee calls a more "forgiving audience," Drake played large clubs and small theaters (between 1,500- and 2,500-capacity) in the United States and Canada during the summer. Even those 15 successful concerts were "serious underplays given where he was at that time from a recording profile," Gee says. "By that time he had [20-plus] college shows under his belt and was perfecting the art of performing."
Gee and Gibbs also hoped to build Drake's live fan base overseas. But the rapper was forced to cancel a handful of European shows in July because of his mother's health issues. Gee says they hope to reschedule those dates in 2011.
Beyond his current U.S. tour, Drake will take a breather and likely go back into the studio to record his next album before returning to the road. But Gee and Gibbs agree the rapper's next step is to definitely play arenas. "It depends on what the opportunity is at that point. But whether it's a co-headline on a large package or a headline, that's where we want him," Gee says. "That's been the vision and we're sticking to it."
Meanwhile, as Lil Wayne's Nov. 5 prison release (and release date for "Tha Carter IV") approaches, the question arises: Might Weezy appear at Drake's last tour stop the following night in Las Vegas? Noting he doesn't immediately know what Wayne's touring plans will be, Gee adds, "Once he gets out and reacclimates himself, he'll tell us what it is he wants to do."