About a week ago, no pun intended, Canadian rapper Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham took to the stage at Auckland’s Vector Arena. His first show in New Zealand, Drake was admittedly apprehensive about what he expected from Kiwis. After storming in to a thunderous rendition of Trophies, Drake put his anxiety to rest and declared Auckland, ‘the livest crowd of my entire career’. What followed was an almost two hour set spanning his entire discography from Thank Me Later to If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
Sparing no track, Drake performed every big name single and every deep album cut. From the relatively obscure, to guest features, to remixes; the dude was out to give the crowd exactly what they wanted. Backed by his phenomenal tour DJ Future The Prince, a drummer, and a keyboardist, the sounds to accompany the vocals were second to none. Foregoing backing tracks except for obvious moments of fatigue, Drake’s ability to croon and rap remained on point for the entirety of the show. Notably, his singing voice in person remarkably matched his vocals on record and his ability to switch his cadence from rapid-fire delivery to the tapered Migos flow was an exercise in performance.
The epic visuals and stage work stood their ground to the music, featuring pyrotechnics, mesmerizing light work, and a towering screen projecting a series of graphics and videos.
A drawn-out lush tempo’d ten minute version of Just Hold On We’re Going Home, which was preceded by the melodrama of Marvins Room, was easily the highlight of the night. Donning his infamous bra-stand, Drake serenaded the crowd in between motivational speeches about following your heart. If Big Ghost was in attendance he’d be shaking his head, but the moment was unashamedly beautiful. There’s nothing more ethereal than seeing a sea of people sharing a single experience, faces slack jawed in captivation.
The ‘bangers’ are obviously standard fare, peppering the set with everything from French Montana’s Pop That to Worst Behavior to HYFR, also taking it back a couple years with Forever and Over. Tity Boi, now more widely known 2 Chainz, showed up for a back and forth of All Me and stayed out for a cover of Big Sean’s seminal breakup anthem I Don’t Fuck With You. The energy was high for the entirety of the set with Drake maintaining the hype and declaring towards the end of the show that the crowd seemed more tired than he was.
The final song of the night came in the form of a kneeling Drake humming the words to Legend with only a spotlight for accompaniment. The entire stadium, expecting the beat to come in, hung on to every word until the lights faded to black. As soon as the stage lit up, he was gone, and after the ten minutes of obligatory encore shouting, you knew it was over.
After the show, back at my apartment, I was talking to a friend who didn’t understand Drake’s appeal. He described him as sappy and his more aggressive songs as ‘reaching’. I told him that he hit the nail on the head but he was taking his music at face-value.
Drake represents a new generation of hip-hop’s everyman, a relatable figure for the time and place we occupy. Controversial to old hip-hop heads but exciting and fresh for the young. In a genre of music that prides notions like hyper-masculinity, for an artist like Drake to hold such an vital place in hip-hop is a definitive sign of the era we live in. His vulnerability, his hopes, his dreams, his relationship troubles, are all indicative of the weird millennial world both he and we came up in. He’s an artist that unapologetically wears his heart on his sleeve, the fact that he’s charted more times than The Beatles means that someone can relate. He may come off as corny or overly sentimental, but there’s no denying the truth of it. If anything cut to the core about his performance was the fact that he was honest, you could feel the passion and you could feel the love. It was genuine.
At a point in the night he took a pause and said something like ‘people will always hate on you, no matter what you do, but just gotta get out there and do it, because once you start, there’s no holding you back.’ If Drake ever runs back through the 1010, I highly recommend you go.