King on Road: How Drake Mastered the Art of Touring with His Summer Sixteen Trek

Drake performs in 2016
Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

Drake performs during the Summer Sixteen Tour at United Center on July 26, 2016 in Chicago.

Summer sixteen belongs to Drake. While “One Dance” holds the spot for song of the summer, the Toronto rapper is king of the hip-hop tour circuit. The 47-date Summer Sixteen tour kicked off in July at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin and recently touched ground in New York City for four sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden. The hot ticket of the season has shown Drake as a solo force, hip-hop’s biggest team player and his own one-man publicity machine.

Drake’s solo prowess is bolstered by his arsenal of hits. “I got all the hits, boy,” an audio loop plays throughout the show. He’s ubiquitous on the Billboard charts with the No. 1 chart-topper “One Dance" and his DJ Khaled collaboration "For Free" while other cuts from his fourth studio effort Views like "Controlla" and his Rihanna collaboration "Too Good" permeate radio stations like Hot 97, Power 105.1 and Z100. At his live show, FM-friendly hits garner the most crowd response, especially among the teenage and Gen-Z majority in attendance, but Drake doesn’t dismiss his day-one loyalists, especially those have followed him since he was "Wheelchair Jimmy" on Degrassi: The Next Generation.

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Drake goes through a condensed medley of early fare, like 2011’s “The Motto” and “Headlines” or 2013’s “Started from the Bottom" to appeal to longtime fans. He's mindful of the gender demographic of his audience as well; he targets men and women by balancing rapping with singing. "It's still a Drake show, so I have to go back to my women,” he proclaimed during his unofficial Madison Square Garden residency. 

The self-proclaimed "6 God" also manages to rack up headlines with each tour stop, leveraging the stage as a publicity platform for himself. The rapper rarely gives interviews (he’s openly lambasted the media in the past) and the Summer Sixteen trek serves as a way to control the narrative surrounding him, including controversy with Joe Budden and Hot 97’s Funkmaster Flex. On the first night of his New York City stretch, Drake fired shots at Hot in a freestyle ("You see, they tellin’ lies on Hot 97, that’s how it goes/I told ’em fire Funk Flex and then I’ll come and do your show," he repped), prompting a trending topic on Twitter. Flex responded on live radio but by then, Drake was already on to the next one. 

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The OVO Sounds chief isn’t shy about tapping his Rolodex for added star power, either. After sharing a tour in the past with Lil Wayne, his Summer Sixteen plus-one is the strategic choice: Future. His frequent duet partner Rihanna took the stage for the Toronto leg while ascendant producer Metro Boomin showed up in Atlanta. Non-music elite like Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James made a cameo in Cleveland as a cadre of hometown veterans like Fat Joe, Remy Ma, Cam’ron, Juelz Santana and newly minted Knick Derrick Rose popped up in New York City. Rising rap newcomer A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie also took the stage as an opener alongside DVSN and Roy Woods, signees to Drake’s OVO Sounds imprint. One of the more surprising cameos, Eminem -- who was rumored to be dropping a diss track against Drake -- performed the 2009 posse cut "Forever" with him in Detroit. In a genre that lauds who you know, Drake is clearly flaunting the co-signs—and influencethat he’s amassed in every city.

Aesthetically, Summer Sixteen is one of Drake’s most ambitious productions. He deviates from his usual sparse set-up and incorporates floating colored orbs, screen projections and background dancers during the show. The rapper takes one of his live mainstays, in which he calls out members of the audience, and elevates itliterally. The rapper levitates above the crowd on a moving platform to fly around the venue and speak to his fans. “I see you baby girl in the OVO shirt,” he says, or, “What are you drinking in those cups?” It’s a gimmick that’s primed for social media and offers fans—in all seatsthe opportunity to capture, tweet and share an intimate moment with the headliner.

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Early box office performance is encouraging for the Summer Sixteen stint as well (Live Nation, who powers the tour, has not responded to Billboard's request for comment). Drake and Future are currently the top grossers this season, outpacing the Dixie Chicks, Keith Urban and Eric Church in daily ticket sales, according to BoxScore. For instance, the WATTBA duo pulled in $1.41 million gross for their August 14th date while the Dixie Chicks came in second with $1.36 million. Summer Sixteen follows Drake’s exponential sales rise over the years. In 2012, his Club Paradise trek pulled in $42 million, per Forbes while the rapper took in $50 million last year in touring. Summer Sixteen is on pace to pull in as much—if not more—with approximately $1 million gross per show, according to Forbes estimates. 

Drake is vocal that customer satisfaction is paramount on this tour—and he’s willing to pull out all the stops for it. “You paid all this money for these tickets,” he said during the second night at Madison Square Garden. "I'm not leaving the stage until you're satisfied.”