Drake reminded the capacity crowd at the Smoothie King Center on Friday that the early backing of New Orleans’ own Lil Wayne is the “only reason” he is able to fill such large rooms. The rest of his confident, commanding and creatively staged performance was a reminder that he has clearly surpassed his former mentor.
That should be obvious to anyone who attended both Wayne’s sloppy, uninspired Lil Weezyana Fest at Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square on Aug. 27 and Drake’s intensely focused presentation on Friday.
A direct comparison is not entirely fair. Drake’s local appearance was part of his Summer Sixteen Tour, an elaborate, well-oiled and lucrative outing that justified the time, money and ambition required to design, build and execute such a show. Lil Weeyzana Fest, by contrast, was a one-off homecoming celebration meant to be loose.
But still. While the ever-colorful Wayne bounced around grinning, smoking and declaring himself the “greatest rapper alive” — even as his commercial and creative powers seem to be on the wane — Drake methodically went about the business of justifying his status as one of rap’s reigning titans.
While not as ambitious as Kanye West — whose ambition knows no bounds, but perhaps should — Drake’s production was far more striking than most major rap, and even rock, shows.
He was serious but also charismatic and gracious. He seems to have outgrown the sexually explicit and misogynistic stage banter of his early years; back then, the Canadian-born former teen TV star may have been trying to prove his hip-hop street cred.
With four successive No. 1 albums to his credit, a host of hit singles, sold-out arenas and, apparently, Rihanna on his arm, he no longer needs to justify his existence. His success and his show speak for themselves.
Wearing all black, he first materialized on a sleek stage lit only by white light. The monochromatic look extended to the video wall behind him, which spelled out “REVENGE” in large, flaming, block script, all black and white, during the grim opening number, "Summer Sixteen." Combined with his forceful, deliberate cadence and the beat laid down by a live drummer in the shadows, it was strong both visually and sonically.
Throughout the show, which drew heavily on his current “Views” album, flame, smoke and sparks erupted. Video platforms rose up from the stage, and the star took a brief (and pointless) flight high above the arena floor on a small platform.
Most impressively, hundreds of glowing, basketball-size orbs dropped like yo-yos from the rafters and configured themselves into various geometric shapes while changing colors. Just as quickly, thanks to clever automation, they returned to their straight, ordered rows up near the ceiling. It was an especially innovative visual effect.
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