Drake, Madison Square Garden review: Rap's biggest star exudes swagger and poise in defiant performance
Fans may be concerned about the impact of Drake's fame, but he performs with the confidence of someone who knows they’re at the top of their game
Is Drake really on the decline? On the one hand, he's never been bigger or more successful, whether you're looking at his astounding record sales, record-breaking number ones or several sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden.
But among his biggest fans, who started with him at the bottom of his discography and are now here, numbers only paint half the picture. "Hotline Bling" and "One Dance" may have taken over the world, but what has the effect of Drake's fame had on his music?
A short-lived but much-hyped beef with Meek Mill is sometimes cited as draining Drake's energy (despite the Toronto rapper unambiguously coming out on top), while there’s also suggestions that there’s a creeping insincerity from one of hip hop’s most honest stars as a result of becoming a household name.
The lukewarm reaction to his fourth full-length album Views has added to this perception and punctured the Drake bubble among many of his fans, who are naturally after more than just two massive singles to satisfy their needs.
However, if the energy and showmanship on display during this tour are evidence of anything, then it’s that Drake will be sticking around.
It should come as no surprise that a former actor feels comfortable on stage but Drake strides around with the confidence of someone who knows they’re at the top of their game. At one stage he even floats around the arena in a gondola held up by ropes, in a move more akin to Justin Bieber or even the Backstreet Boys, to whom he gives a surprising shout-out. The lighting and pyrotechnics also complement the show superbly, particularly during the uptempo songs, where the bass drum is replaced in parts by fireworks.
For the most part, it’s the album tracks from that LP which go down worst at MSG, the latest stop on the Summer Sixteen tour. "9," "U With Me?" and "Feel No Ways" act as a chance for fans to catch their breath after the opening track that the tour derives its name from (yet bizarrely didn't appear on the album).
"Controlla," "Too Good," and "One Dance," the standout singles from Views, form the latter half of the set and stick a lot better—perhaps reflecting the concept of the album, which navigates the seasons and these summery, dancehall—inspired songs bring a soca vibe; it feels particularly welcome on the night, more so than the introspective Drake of winter. The fans who have packed out the arena are constantly labeled as "the best crowd of the tour" and subsequently, "the best crowd of my life," in spite of the restrictive seating plan.
Dvsn (pronounced division) and Roy Woods act as support, allowing Drake to showcase two Canadian acts signed to OVO Sound, the record label he started with his partner and producer Noah "40" Shebib. The former—complete with gospel backing singers—fits on the huge stage a lot more comfortably than the latter, who appears dazed by the space around him. That being said, tracks from Woods’ debut album Waking At Dawn showcase a surprisingly polished sound which belie the fact he’s only 20-years-old.
Billed as a collaborative tour with Future, it doesn’t quite come across in practice. The trap superstar from Atlanta joins the stage halfway through the headline set and performs a couple of tracks from What A Time To Be Alive, the entertaining joint mixtape with Drake from last year. "Big Rings" and "Jumpman" warm the crowd up enough for Future to earn 30 minutes on his own, traversing some of his many mixtapes but mostly performing songs from his last studio album DS2. "March Madness" and crowd favorite "F*ck Up Some Commas" prove he isn’t out of place co-headlining with the biggest rapper in the game at the moment – something which the Future hive was never in doubt of, at least.
After the all-too-brief set by Future, Drake retakes to the stage and closes out with tracks from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, which in retrospect is looking like his magnum opus. It’s fantastic from start to finish, and showcases Aubrey Graham at the height of his powers, although that’s not to say it won’t be bettered. He is an artist who has the ability to surprise you despite his sound and persona being so welcoming that it can become over—familiar. And given the evidence on a tremendous night at Madison Square Garden, reports of Drake’s demise are greatly exaggerated.