Such was the greeting from the artist more formally known as Drake last night at Rupp Arena. Matching the drive of a 10,000-strong audience, the immensely popular Toronto rap-pop celebrity delivered a tireless 90 minute show fueled by pure physical drive and a curious hybrid of live and manufactured musicality. The end result was a performance that brought chart-topping rap back to Rupp for the first time in nearly a decade (specifically, since a 50 Cent show during the spring of 2003).
Onstage, Drake proved to be an impressive manipulator of musical genres. He reflected the atomic wordplay of versed rap stylists but also the suaveness and vocal control of a soul music traditionalist. Opening with a mash-up medley of Lord Knows and Under Ground Kings – songs that would have benefited more from being performed in their entirety – Drake quickly set into motion a rap-and-rhythm mix guided by the live drive of a six-member band and the ambient pulse of sampled beats and electronics.
At times, the band seemed almost superfluous. Aside from the occasional ear-grabbing percussion turn, the live music was subservient to the beats. And the beats did flow, from their place under Drake’s warp speed wordplay on She Will to his R&B-flavored crooning during Shot For Me.
The rhythmic drive reached its zenith during the title track to Drake’s recent Take Care album, a dizzying blend of sung and spoken verses colored by neo-samba percussion that evolved into something of a hip hop dervish. Drake moved and grooved briskly to the song’s furious pace, collapsing centerstage with modest theatrical flair at its finale.
Sometimes the music ran to more boisterous pop extremes (Make Me Proud). In others, the mechanics were emphasized, as in the discreetly dramatic electronica of Headlines that concluded the performance. But there were also instances where honest, organic audience rapport took over.
During a slow, ambient jam that served as a postscript to Miss Me, Drake addressed the crowd section by section, referring those close the stage specifically by their apparel and those in Rupp’s upper decks more generally by section numbers (“Hey 227, 225. You look so alive.”). He followed with shout-outs to a few celebrity pals, including famed Canadian hip-hop producer Noah “40” Shebib (who was supposedly in the audience) and John Calipari (who likely wasn’t, but will compensate with Rupp shows of his own in coming weeks).
The concert didn’t clear all of the hip hop hurdles, though. While the mix of live and sampled music was often intriguing, there were also instances where it dissolved into heaps of distortion and aural mud. And, still, the use of one particular expletive throughout the evening (which extended to comparatively faceless opening sets by Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar and Harlem hip-hopper A$AP Rocky) was so widespread as to be comical. Surely the music and its marketing has matured to a point where such dimestore profanity isn’t still needed to get a rise of a crowd. Then again, maybe it hasn’t.
But there was no denying the spirit that resulted last night when the audience met Drake’s generous energy head on. While you couldn’t always tell where the live grooves began and the mechanical ones took over, the combustion kicked up by Drake and his fans was honest, inviting and abundant.
(For Matt Goins gallery of photographs from last night’s show, click here.)