"Who misses the greatest rapper of all time?" Drake asked a crowded Lantz Arena midway through his 70-minute performance at Eastern Illinois University on Tuesday. But the Canadian-born musician, getting his first solo headlining tour — a 23-city jaunt that runs through May 21st in Austin — off the ground, wasn't talking about heavily eulogized artists like Tupac or Biggie. The 23-year-old MC was talking about his dreadlocked mentor, Lil Wayne, who is currently serving a one-year sentence at Rikers Island on a gun charge. "I talk to Weezy every day," he continued, before ripping off a Hulk-ish "I'm Going In" and leading the crowd in raucous chants of "Free Weezy!"
It's a small bit of irony that Drake's long-awaited return to the stage, which follows August 2009 surgery to repair a torn ACL, coincides with Wayne's much-delayed incarceration. The rapper made no mention of his injury, which he sustained in a fall while performing with Lil Wayne in Camden, New Jersey, last July, though his normally high-energy stage show did seem somewhat muted. Backed by a DJ and a four-piece band, Drake worked through a number of cuts from his breakthrough mixtape, So Far Gone, and previewed a verse from "Fireworks," a dark, synth-heavy diatribe off his forthcoming full-length, Thank Me Later, which the rapper said to expect on June 15th (though, as frequently as the album's been pushed back, it's wholly possible he meant June 2011).
Throughout the evening, Drake balanced two seemingly conflicting personas: the über-cocky ladies' man and the emotionally vulnerable dweeb. One verse he'd exude supreme confidence, the next he'd erode into self-doubt — James Brown giving way to Charlie Brown. Even the set list played up this parallel, Drake following the money-cash-hoes boasts of "Successful" with the weirdly introspective "Fear." "Now security follow me everywhere, so I never actually am alone/I just always feel alone," he rhymed over synths that chimed like a chandelier in a gentle breeze.
But if Drake felt most comfortable embracing his inner-Steve Urkel (the MC called "Fear" his "favorite song," and delivered a stripped-down "Lust For Life" like a beat poet seeking transcendence), the largely female audience preferred when he channeled the far-suaver Stefan Urquelle. On "Best I Ever Had" the singer sounded like a particularly seductive cyborg as he crooned one-liners both PG ("Sweatpants, hair tied, chillin' with no makeup on/That's when you're your prettiest") and X-rated ("My shirt ain't got no stripes, but I can make your pussy whistle"). And when Drake asked, "Who's coming home with me?" during a sensual, heaving "Invented Sex," virtually every lady — and a few zealous gents — reacted with shrieks and spastic fits unseen since the heyday of The Price Is Right.
"Lust For Life"
"Money to Blow"
"Big Tymers/I'm Still Fly"
"I'm Going In"
"Throw It In the Bag"
"A Night Off"
"Best I Ever Had"
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