We all know how much Drake loves his hometown of Toronto: He says it every chance he gets. And, of course, the cover of his 2016 album, Views, shows the Photoshopped rap star sitting, legs dangling, atop the CN Tower — the iconic landmark that defines the cityscape.
So when the rapper appeared onstage last night for his 8th annual OVO Fest at the Budweiser Stage (formerly the Molson Amphitheatre), he went all out, not just by trotting out the usual surprise guests — this year featured The Weeknd, Nelly, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Travis Scott, Cardi B, French Montana, Playboi Carti, Tory Lanez, and Baka Not Nice, with his OVO Sound signings PARTYNEXTDOOR, and openers Majid Jordan, dvsn and Roy Woods all previously announced — but by having an amazing replica of the CN Tower observation deck as his stage set design.
He started the two-hour show perched atop, legs dangling, just like the album artwork. He later told the sold-out crowd of 16,000, “I called 19 companies just to build me a CN Tower. Everybody said no — ‘til I called the 20th one.”
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One would think Aubrey — or some of his artists — would’ve used the set more during the concert, but no one ever did. Instead, the architectural focal point emitted lights and explosions and various effects throughout. Maybe he’ll relocate the structure to the backyard of the mega-mansion he’s building in Toronto’s Bridal Path.
Drake also made a point to tell everyone that he pays for OVO Fest every year “out of my own pocket. I don’t make any money tonight. I pay about double what it costs to put this show on and I just want to let you know I’ve been here eight years in a row just for you.”
Some people certainly made money though: Ticket cost was about $150 CAD ($118 USD), but resale sites showed lawn tickets going for over 200 bucks USD and stage-front general admission for as much as $1000. One seller even listed a pair of close seats for $100,000 each. Because of the incredible acts Drake recruits, OVO Fest is always a hot ticket, and has become a destination music festival — coinciding with the 50-year-old “Caribana” street festival, which brings more than a million people to the city (including LeBron James who was in the house), according to Drake.
Security was super tight to get in — some people had their wallets and gum packets opened — but it relaxed considerably inside. Fans openly smoked joints and the aisles were jammed with people. Ushers didn’t even bother trying to get them to return to their seats. But the vibe was just one big, joyous party in anticipation of “who’s coming out next?”
Expectations are always high. In the past, Drake has trotted out Eminem, Jay Z, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, Mase, Lauryn Hill, P. Diddy, Stevie Wonder, Pharrell, Nas and more. Last year, when the show was at the Air Canada Centre (for the first and thusfar only time) as part of his Summer Sixteen tour with Future, he “only” had Rihanna as the major surprise. But he did have his OVO Sound signings like dvsn and RoyWoods. Drake is nothing if not loyal.
As usual, the 30-year-old was also like a kid onstage, as thrilled to see his fellow artists as the fans. When he brought out his “brothers” — he called almost everyone that, save Cardi B — he didn’t hog the spotlight, but he did often dance and groove off to the side, joining them periodically.
“I’m gonna let you know, this is my favorite night of the year,” he said. “Because it’s not about the fact that I get to perform, or any of that; it’s about the fact that we get to celebrate the love that each and every one of you has shown us… When I first came here, I had an idea to start a festival, and a lot of people told me I was crazy. And here we are at the eighth annual OVO Fest, and thank you.”
“No more long talking, right?” he added, bringing out Playboi Carti (“Magnolia” and “wokeuplikethis”), and Rae Sremmurd (“Black Beatles”) joined by French Montana (on “Unforgettable”) — all within the first 30 minutes. Drake kept “this s–t rolling” with “Blem” and “One Dance,” before stopping to bring out fellow Torontonian Tory Lanez for “Controlla.”
“I wanna say something,” Drake said, “Look, I want every young person in this building to just look at what’s happening on this stage and please take this as a example in your life. I want you to understand something — see me and this guy right here, we had problems with each other; we had never even met each other. I met the man — and he’s a great guy. So I want you to make some noise for somebody who’s carrying the city on his back all across the motherf–king world.”
He then brought out someone “the ladies are gonna f–kin’ love,” which turned out to be Cardi B to perform “Bodak Yellow,” which Drake called “the biggest f–kin’ record in the world right now.” He then teased the crowd, as he did many times during the night, with his “Should we keep going or what?” bit, and left the stage, saying, “I’m gonna see if I can find someone.”
He did. Out came Migos (“Bad & Boujee,” “T-shirt”), who Drake called his “day-one brothers,” and by 10 p.m. for “Portland,” Travis Scott, this one his “mother f–king brother” to join them and then do his own mini set, which included “Butterfly Effect” and “Goosebumps.” When Drake asked again if “we should keep going,” he brought out local favorite PARTYNEXTDOOR (“Recognize,” “Come And See Me”), declaring, “I wanna do it for the city again.”
Then one of the cooler, more unexpected additions to the night happened:
“This is just one of my favorite artists, that broke boundaries and really was one of the first people to let me know that it’s okay to do what I do, which is when you rap you can sing, and when you sing you can rap, as long as there’s a hit on the fuckin’ record.” And out came Nelly to perform “E.I.” “Country Grammar (Hot…),” “Ride Wit Me” and “Hot In Herre.”
It was 10:30 by then and, while he could’ve called it a night and closed out the remaining half-hour himself, he had something special — if perhaps a little expected — in store. “I’m not done. Should we keep it going?”
There were huge screams. And out came Mr. Tesfeye. Just back in May, Drake had appeared at both The Weeknd’s shows at the Air Canada Centre. Off tour, it was not that surprising that he would return the favor. Back in 2011, just as his career was launching, he had done OVO Fest on this very stage.
After “Reminder,” “The Hills” and “Starboy,” Drake said, “Make some noise for the King of Queen Street. He’s one of the most legendary cats I’ve ever met, on his way to becoming one of the biggest superstars on the whole f–kin’ planet.” He, of course, called him “my brother” and performed their Take Care collab “Crew Love” with him. But before he exited, Drake told him he thought it was time for an XO-OVO project.
Drake closed out the night by bringing out his OVO Sound pal Baka Not Nice to perform “Live Up To My Name,” and praised Toronto yet again. “We have the best music in the world; we’ve got the best people in the world; we’ve got the most multi-cultural city in the world, and we have the best place on earth,” and “the best motherf–king fans in the world, clearly.”
After “Gyalchester,” he name-checked all his guests (“these people get on planes from wherever they are just to see you”) and told the crowd he’s “going back to making this next album in Toronto just for you. I will see you next year. I go by the name of Drake. It’s the OVO Sound ting for life,” he said, dropping the mic and walking off.