Published Aug 06, 2013Anyone who accuses Drake of not caring about Toronto has never been to OVO Fest. The fourth edition of Drizzy's annual love letter to his city went above and beyond what he's done so far, including having nabbed Jay-Z, Stevie Wonder, Nicki Minaj and Eminem for past iterations.
The night started in disarray, as the cancellation of the festival's first day (due to Frank Ocean's vocal cord issues) meant swathes of fans descended upon will call to get their tickets sorted. The result was a 45 minute-plus wait just to get into the show, meaning even fans who showed up early missed most of James Blake's set.
It's a shame, but the large, echoing Amphitheatre was hardly the place to hear his intimate, bass-heavy compositions; even gorgeous tunes like "Wilhelm Scream" and "Retrograde" were muffled by the space and the shuffle and conversation of fans finally pouring into the venue. 15 minutes later, Wale kicked off with "Lotus Flower Bomb," but it was his verses from other songs, Meek Mill's "Lay Up" and Tyga's "Rack City" remix, that elicited the best reactions from the crowd.
The main event began with a darkened, blue-lit stage and the sound of thunder and rain, only to be replaced by the opening strains of "Headlines" and Drake's voice repeating: "They know, they know, they know." Then he appeared, dressed all in white, to deliver his first short set of the night; the others would be interspersed between mini-sets from a line-up of peers that would make any hip-hop fan's jaw drop.
After "Headlines," the Weeknd (a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye) entered the stage to the crushing opening beats of "Crew Love," prompting a crowd frenzy and quashing rumours that he and Drake were beefing. "That OVO and that XO STILL everything you believe in," called the latter before they ended the song with a brotherly embrace. He finished the trio with "5AM in Toronto," a one-off brag track that name-drops Frank Sinatra, the Forbes list and his own owl sweaters.
Drake brought out a pair of guests to perform chart-toppers of their own — Big Sean, who repped his "Clique" and "Mercy" verses, and French Montana, who waxed energetic on "Ain't Worried About Nothin'" and "Pop That" — before he launched into "Poetic Justice," but alas, there was no Kendrick Lamar this year to take the stage.
Heartfelt takes by Drizzy on "The Motion," "All Me" and "Girls Love Beyoncé" were welcome surprises, and demonstrated that the TO emcee was keen to show off his latest tracks, even those uncertain to make his forthcoming Nothing Was The Same. Drake's crooning on "Beyoncé" evinced the quality of his singing voice, while a behind-the-head solo by his guitarist added live presence to the song. Adding to it all was the surprisingly top-notch sound in the open-air venue, whose atmosphere was downright electric.
His next cadre of performers included a Wale reprise in which he mostly failed to start a crowd singalong, but it continued in spectacular fashion. After singing a sobering verse from "I Get Lonely Too," Drake introduced TLC (yes, TLC) to sing the hook. They followed up with "Waterfalls" — Left Eye's "favourite song," according to Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins — and "Scrubs," both of which elicited screams of appreciation from the crowd.
But the night had hardly begun. Drake reappeared, smirking, to ask the audience, almost rhetorically: "Want me to bring out one of your favorites or what?" J. Cole strode onstage to perform "Nobody's Perfect" and "Forbidden Fruit" to an appreciative crowd before being joined by the virtuosic Miguel, whose powerful voice made "Power Trip" a highlight. Cole left Miguel to play "Adorn" before Drake returned to the stage to play a medley of "Successful," "Uptown," "Best I Ever Had" and "Over" that highlighted his rise to fame.
Riding the emotional high, Drake waxed poetic about the first concert he ever saw, with his uncle, at the Molson Amphitheatre. After pointing out exactly where he was sitting and mentioning the XL t-shirt he bought that only fits now, he announced that he wanted to share that show with the crowd; after much fanfare, Diddy walked onstage amidst a stage-devouring fire ball, smoke and flashing lights. He brought out MA$E for "Feel So Good" and then went solo for Biggie's "Mo Money Mo Problems," "All About the Benjamins" and "I Need A Girl." He was followed by A$AP Rocky, who returned to the OVO stage to the opening strains of "Fuckin' Problems" and stayed for "Wild For the Night."
Then, Drake baited the crowd by rhyming, a cappella, Kanye West's second verse from "Diamonds," changing the lyrics to "What's up with you and 'Ye, man? Are y'all okay, man?" With that, Kanye West himself appeared onstage to stun the crowd with "New Slaves"; he stopped the song short, for emphasis, after spazzing his way through "the best rap verse of all time." "All of the Lights" was a predictable hit, but Kanye stopped after one line of "Can't Tell Me Nothing" to sing Drake's praises. After speaking to the fact that any city would be lucky to have a rapper like Drake, he made the claim that "Me and Hov would've never made Watch the Throne if this nigga hadn't put pressure on us. So I just wanna pay my respects." Then, he completed the song.
Drake returned for "HYFR," "The Motto" and "Bitches Love Me" — all of which benefitted from final guest Lil Wayne's presence — and then told his city one last time what it means to him. "I know I keep saying it," he said, "but every time you hear my voice, you're hearing a piece of this city.
He followed up with crowd-pleasers "Versace" and "No New Friends" before closing with a passionate rendition of his "new national anthem," "Started From the Bottom." Earlier in the night, Drake recalled how Toronto was typically skipped over when it came to hip-hop tours, and noted, importantly, that "Tonight is a celebration of our city." So when the song ended and Drake stood still, solemnly, at centre stage, to bask in the affection and applause bestowed upon him by the crowd, he could hardly be blamed for taking the moment for himself. After a night like this, who could say he doesn't deserve it?