In just five short years, Drake a.k.a. Drizzy -- the Toronto native born Aubrey Drake Graham, whose first taste of fame was as an actor in Degrassi: The Next Generation -- has become the first Canadian hip hop artist to break internationally, selling more than 5 million albums. No other Canadian could pull off a night like this, headlining an amphitheatre and have some of the biggest names in rap appear for a few songs a piece without billing. That is clout. That is respect.
Canadian hip hop is just 25 years old -- launched by Maestro Fresh-Wes who still holds the record for the best-selling Canadian hip hop album in the country, although Drake is closing in, according to SoundScan Canada -- but OVO Fest also coincided with 40th anniversary of hip hop in the U.S. this week. Although no one even mentioned this onstage or perhaps did not realize it, 40 years ago, on Aug. 11, 1973, DJ Kool Herc held the first house concert in the Bronx, NY, at 1520 Sedgwick Ave., now officially recognized as "the birthplace of hip hop." And so this assortment of names Drake pulled together for the 4th incarnation of OVO Fest was as much a celebration of the little-genre-that-could-and-many-thought-was-a-fad-and-grew-to-take-over-pop-music. Booyah.
The evening began with opening slots by James Blake and Wale which many missed because they were standing in line for an hour getting their tickets reissued because OVO's previous night's concert was cancelled a week ago when headliner Frank Ocean pulled out with a vocal chord injury. It would've been the first time OVO had expanded to two nights.
By 8:45 p.m., introduced by the sounds of rain, thunder and a helicopter propeller -- on the stage bathed in blue lights Drake emerged for "Headlines," wearing all white, a baseball shirt showing a small Canadian flag on a sleeve. Toronto rising star Weeknd then came out for "Crew Love," proving that there isn't any animosity between the two since he signed with Republic despite Drake's leg up.
"I don't know if you can tell on my face, but I got some shit for you tonight," Drake then said before performing "5 A.M In Toronto." Then the guests started flowin', Big Sean for "Clique" and "Mercy," French Montana for "Ain't Worried About Nothin'" and "Pop That."
Between his musical bouts and others, Drake waxed on about his love for Toronto, the 416. "I remember when we were overlooked…" he said. "Tonight we're gonna live these dreams together."
Drake then gave us "Poetic Justice" and some slow seductive jams with "The Motion" and "Girls Love Beyoncé" on which his guitarist played an electric solo behind his head and the charming rapper asked ladies in the front "What's your name?" "Kimberley," "Jayla…" "I feel pretty good," he said after that, laughing. "I should've put a few more mirrors in here so I can stare at myself."
The show got its first "WHAT!!!" when after singing a bit of "I Get Lonely Too," Drake said, "Toronto, I'd like you to make some noise for the legendary TLC." (Word had escaped earlier in the day of their appearance, along with Mase and West's but the majority in the audience had no clue).
Chilli and T-Boz, who looked fit and fabulous and have an album due in Oct. (their first without Left-Eye who died in 2002), then had the stage to themselves for "Waterfalls" and "No Scrubs," along with a dance troupe. Drake could be seen off to the side dancing himself. "I'm getting heartbroken them just walking off the stage," he said, prompting Chili to run back and jump into his arms, legs tucked around his waist.
"Do you want me to bring out one of your favorites?" Drake then asked, as J. Cole came out to perform "Nobody's Perfect" and "Forbidden Fruit" and the soulful Miguel was added to "Power Trip." Miguel then got his own spotlight for "Adorn." "This guy right here, we're coming back to play this little place called the Air Canada Centre," Drake said, of the October date at the Toronto hockey arena. His new album will be out by then.
Drake then played medley of songs for those who have followed "Drizzy since day-1" he prefaced -- "Successful," "Uptown," "Best I Ever Had" and "Over." Soon after, he revealed "It's kind of ironic that we do OVO here." He reminisced how his Uncle Steve brought him to his first concert at Molson Amphitheatre and that he still has the XL t-shirt because they had sold out of ones in his size. "I don't know who remembers that concert," he teased without revealing the name.
Then, "Toronto, I do this shit for you and nobody else." And the fanfare began. The lights were blinding, the music majestic, then Diddy emerged to big explosions. He coolly walked down the stairs and yelled "Toronto. This is where one of my first places I ever did my first concert," adding "This is something that has never happened. Get your cameras out." And Mase -- once signed to Diddy's Bad Boy Records -- joined him for "Feel So Good." "You all feel that history?" he said afterwards.
He then went it alone for "Mo Money Mo Problems," "All About the Benjamins" and "I Need A Girl." Again Drake came out just to dance both on the front and centre and off to the side, just loving the moment -- as did the crowd. They were going nuts.
But but but…that ain't all. A$AP Rocky came back out for "Fuckin' Problems" and "Wild For the Night." Then Drake talked about Toronto again and got the crowd to make some noise, left side, right side, etcetera. He walked off; the crowd was simply frenzied as Kanye West appeared, launching into "New Slaves." "There's been a lot of rappers in the game that wasn't able to do something like this for this city," West said, before "Can't Tell Me Nothing." "Me and Hov [Jay Z] would've never made Watch the Throne if this nigga hadn't put pressure on us. So I just wanna pay my respects."
When Drake returned, he said West "is one of my first mentors, my role model. Make some noise for the God that is Kanye West," who exited.
"Do you think we're done," Drake asked?
Oh, we know better now.
Then Lil Wayne appeared — telling everyone that they wouldn't let him in at the airport until he said he had to come to OVO — "and they let me in," he laughed, joining his one-time protégé on "HYFR," "The Motto" and "Bitches Love Me." There was no encore, just closers "Versace," "No New Friends" and "Started From The Bottom."
"You have just experienced the 4th annual OVO. I love this city more than anything in the motherf***kin' world. Sept. 17. I'll see you on my birthday," Drake said of his Oct. 24 hometown concert at ACC and Sept. 17 drop date for new album, "Nothing Was The Same."