Drake took New York City on a “journey” through his career at the iconic Apollo Theater on Saturday night, with support from 21 Savage and Harlem legends the Diplomats.
The Toronto rapper ripped through his biggest songs and deep cuts (does Drake really have deep cuts? ), shifting the stage from his boyhood bedroom to a record company office to a New York City bodega.
Drake opened the event by wearing a “Degrassi” jersey and sitting on a recreation of his boyhood bed, where he told the audience that he “composed a lot of these songs.”
This performance was “about thankfulness,” he stated, playing in front of his closest family and friends, including his mother and OVO co-founder Noah “40” Shebib, who has produced all of Drake’s albums.
The opening act of the event was considerably downtempo, with Drake performing less radio-friendly ballads “Over My Dead Body” and “Trust Issues,” as well as fan-favorite feeler “Marvin’s Room.” Drake didn’t spend any time, exiting most songs after only one verse and a chorus.
Early on, the rapper found himself continually pushing the audience to pump up the volume. “We’re getting there tonight, I guarantee you,” he informed an audience that, at least at the back of the room, was remarkably quiet. “Don’t be bashful with me.”
But when the stage changed from his mother’s basement to a boardroom, where Drake rapped to a man in a suit representing the labels that passed on to him early in his career, he hit the Apollo with a much-needed triple shot of espresso: “Best I Ever Had,” “Headlines,” and “HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right).”
In fact, there were entire sections of the performance dedicated to No. 1 songs, ranging from “God’s Plan” to “One Dance” to “In My Feelings.” It’s easy to forget how many songs Drake has until you watch a crowd chant practically every word to a 40-song set that didn’t include “Nice for What,” “Hotline Bling,” “Toosie Slide,” or “Popstar.”
The program had an aura of exclusivity, with guests ranging from Kevin Durant to Ice Spice. The whole stretch of 125th St., from Frederick Douglass Blvd. to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., was cordoned off, with crowds of bystanders snapping photos of the Apollo sign and attempting last-minute passes.
Many of the dozens of cell phones raised in the air at all times during the event were not filming footage but rather FaceTimeing with folks who couldn’t get a ticket. Those who were lucky enough to be inside the Apollo were given a free commemorative T-shirt and complimentary beverages.
Following a second interlude, the set was transformed into a Harlem Street corner, with none other than the Diplomats appearing onstage via a bodega door. Drake, dressed in Cam’ron’s famed pink mink, performed “I Really Mean It,” “Dipset Anthem,” and “We Fly High (Ballin)” alongside Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, and Freekey Zekey.
Before leaving the stage, Drake congratulated the iconic New York rap group, who then presented him with a unique OVO x Dipset bracelet. “These men right here from Harlem made us dress different, talk different, walk different, rap different all the way to Canada,” he added.
Then, moving from the past to the present, Drake pulled up 21 Savage for a barrage of songs from their 2022 joint effort “Her Loss.” Standing in front of a massive neon Apollo sign, the two swapped verses on “Rich Flex,” “Privileged Rappers,” “Knife Talk,” and “Jimmy Cooks.”
In between songs, Drake suggested a joint tour this summer, stating, “We’re going to be out on the road this summer.” He also promised supporters that he is not leaving anytime soon, hinting at a solo album in 2023.
“I appreciate all of those folks that stand behind me,” Drake said near the end of the show. I know it’s fun to be like ‘screw Drake,’ but I really appreciate everyone’s continued support.”
“I’ve thought about a lot of things in life, but at this point in time, none of those things are keeping me from producing music for you, so I’ll be here for you for a little bit at least,” he continued. And I want to evoke more feelings for you this year. Who knows, I could grow bored and build another!”
Drake cut the music after concluding the concert with “Legend” and thanked the audience once again. “I don’t know how the fuck we got here, but we did.”
Drake was really humbled by the gravity of this professional milestone, despite his braggadocious rap image. Capping off a 90-minute celebration of his rise from mixtape peddler to one of the world’s most successful hitmakers, he informed the crowd, “My name’s Drake, I’m from Toronto,” as if he were back in that boardroom presenting himself for the first time.
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