The openers had between 15 and 30 minutes each to roll through their hits: 2 Chainz performed “Spend It,” Meek Mill performed “House Party,” and Waka got the crowd amped with “No Hands” and a version of “Hard in Da Paint” with live drum accompaniment that could potentially sway those who think Waka’s music is little more than rowdy noise. J. Cole, who released his solid, thoughtful label debut, “Cole World” last year, performed hits “In the Morning” and “Work Out,” and also served as a perfect bridge between the driving beats and more explicit content of the first three openers and the headliner, whose material, with some notable exceptions, tends toward soupy production and deep feelings.
Drake, who just two years ago gave a low-key club show in D.C. right before the release of his major-label debut, “Thank Me Later,” made use of every big-budget concert tool at his disposal. The former child actor started with the gospel-inspired “Lord Knows” from “Take Care,” his sophomore album, during which he was accompanied by a live band and a choir of animated disembodied heads. Later, while accompanying Waka Flocka on the Lex Luger-produced “Round of Applause” — a piece of music as important to strip clubs as “Whoomp! (There It Is)” is to ballgames — hand claps in the chorus were recreated using the loud cracks of pyrotechnic fireworks.
Drake mentioned YMCMB, OVOXO, YOLO and other acronyms that confused the parental chaperones in the building, showered his fans with praise and thanks, and gave energetic and charismatic performances of tracks from the new album, including “HYFR” and “Make Me Proud.” The talk of his “Fancy”-free set, however, was a quick freestyle that included the line, “If you was doin’ 16s when I was 16, and your [expletive] still flopped and you switched teams don’t talk to me.” Twitter quickly interpreted the lyric as a dig at Virginia rapper Pusha T, who allegedly included a veiled shot at Drake on his track “Exodus 23:1.”
“Rap right now, hip-hop music, is at a great place, a changeover place,” Drake said at one point. The best evidence of that? The fact that the biggest crowd reactions of the night came when he performed “Marvin’s Room,” a quiet, understated piece about a drunk-dial where Drake does more singing than rapping, and “Take Care,” his duet with Rihanna about a couple navigating their way through a baggage-filled romance.
Godfrey is a freelance writer.