“416 and that’s all I give a fuck about!” Drake proclaimed as he revealed an enormous torso tattoo of his native area code at the third annual OVO Festival last night. It was a fitting way to share his civicism.
OVO Fest, named after Drake’s October’s Very Own collective, has become something of a Toronto legend, marking the homecoming of the city’s most successful rapper as well as a vehicle for him to usher in famous friends to perform (Jay-Z, Eminem, Lil’ Wayne and Nas have all made guest appearances in the past). Following a long sabbatical – Drake’s recent Club Paradise tour did not make any Canadian stops – anticipation and local pride swelled as fans and family gathered at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre to welcome home their prodigal hip-hop son.
As Aaliyah’s “If Your Girl Only Knew” slowly faded, only hours after Drake dropped “Enough Said,” his posthumous collaboration with the singer, the rapper appeared onstage to a deafening roar. Over two hours he performed a plethora of material from his albums, his So Far Gone mixtape and his extracurricular guest verses.
Dressed in an all-white OVO outfit, the visibly elated rapper was accompanied by a full backing band, including the outstanding Adrian X Eccleston on guitar. Several oversized screens flashed a pulsating montage tracing the rapper’s career trajectory from his humble “Acura days” to the present. Every song proved to be a fan favorite in this venue, from “Over” and “Underground Kings” to “Marvin’s Room” and the unfortunately less-performed “November 18th.” Drake was in rare form as he gleefully bopped around, name-checking his hometown every chance he got. At times he stopped altogether, as the audience enveloped him in cheers. Grandstanding or not, he was clearly relishing the moment.
The Weeknd joined for the sultry “Crew Love,” which turned into an onstage lovefest. “He’s living proof of the Toronto movement,” Drake gushed as he hugged his OVO brother. The Weeknd was also an opening act earlier in the night, along with A$AP Rocky and the ubiquitous 2 Chainz. Out of the three, he was especially impressive. The usually reticent singer showed a marked growth in confidence and charisma from just a few months ago. Like Drake, the hometown effect proved vitalizing and the Weeknd was visibly at ease, even playful during songs like “House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls.”
A cavalcade of guest stars made appearances, from familiar Club Paradise facees including Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill and French Montana to the unexpected arrival of Rick Ross, Snoop Lion and Nicki Minaj. Yet even amid the feel-good set of Snoop Lion (who performed several of his pre-reggae songs), the frenetic and sexy Nicki Minaj or the burst of aggressive goon energy that surrounded Rick Ross, the high-wattage guests paled in comparison to their headliner.
True, no performer could top Stevie Wonder’s cameo appearance last year, but it was also a testament to Drake’s own level of fame at this point. All things considered, Drake sits atop the hip-hop throne right now – in Toronto or otherwise. As the night closed with “Headlines,” he dedicated the show to the memory of Shyanne Charles and Joshua Yasay, two victims of the recent Danzig St. shootings in Toronto. He then announced that he was retiring the stage at Molson so that next year, OVO Fest would take place at the even grander SkyDome, where the music video for “Headlines” was filmed.
And with that, Drake managed to top himself.