At 10 p.m. sharp Wednesday, hip hop superstar Drake emerged from underneath the stage at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin for the kickoff of his Summer Sixteen tour. Austin360’s chief Canadian rap correspondents, Deborah Sengupta Stith and Eric Webb, break down an evening with the self-proclaimed 6 God.
D.S.S.: It’s been nearly a year since the last time Drake hit the stage in Austin, and this go-round, playing to the loudest Erwin Center crowd I’ve ever heard, was bigger and better than his headline sets last year at Austin City Limits Music Festival. He kicked off with the tour’s title track before seguing into “Still Here” from 2016 release “Views,” a highly anticipated album that received a very lukewarm critical response. I, for one, wasn’t particularly impressed by “Views,” an album that came off as self-absorbed and whiny, but watching Drake play those songs live, I realized how well the heart-on-sleeve style of rap works for Drake. Beseeching, wounded Drake plays so well to a crowd.
E.W.: First off, I’d like to echo what you said about this gig being bigger and better than Drizzy’s Zilker Park party in 2015. If those informal-feeling shows were conversations, this evening was a well-rehearsed presidential speech. Now, to get back to the world’s most successful sad boy: I agree with you in a “yes, but” kind of way. I wasn’t over the moon about “Views,” either, singles notwithstanding. And while I think the crackling live momentum gave Drake’s most introspective tunes a much needed kick in the OVO-brand sweatpants, I still feel like that mode of his is not personal enough. Think of it this way: The best artists with lyrical frowns, regardless of genre, are highly specific in their melancholy. The blues masters can name you people, places, things and that done them wrong.
Drake’s wallowing in unhappiness about being insanely prosperous is monotonous to the point of being generic. That said, I had a great time running with him and his woes, and I know I was not alone. Which makes me think about a question we asked when Drake played ACL: Is Drake the new Kanye? Is that even a comparison worth trying to make anymore?
D.S.S.: I would actually argue that Drake is too personal in his songs. He’s so mired in his own, let’s be honest, relatively trivial troubles, that he can’t get out of his own head and that’s where the monotony comes from. But in some ways Drake has eclipsed Kanye. While Kanye has veered into abstract musical ideas and reality show bombastics, Drake has become the every man of rap. That crowd was 300 percent on his side, in part, because Drake is able to connect in a way that resonates. We’ve all felt hurt and dejected and under-appreciated, and he manages to personify those emotions.
Also, Drake’s goofy in a way that’s very relatable. Watching him bust all those dance moves that don’t quite land somehow makes him more sympathetic. Inadvertently you find yourself thinking, “Yeah, why does she have to fight with him at Cheesecake?”
E.W.: The Cheesecake Factory jokes are never going to get old. It’s probably not worth comparing Drizzy and Yeezy at this point, except to contrast two of the biggest rappers alive for making cultural hay. Drake is the ghost of Kanye’s past in some ways — the soft rapper with a knack for popular appeal. Kanye just started hanging out with Anna Wintour and working on his senior-year art school thesis 24/7, whereas Drake said, “Yes, I will take that massive commercial success that I so richly deserve, thanks much.” On “Started From the Bottom,” he lobbed a pro-level cheeseball grin at the audience as he spit “F*** a fake friend,” letting the whole arena into his crew. But for every “Jumpman,” there’s a medley of Rihanna pop collaborations and a conquering “Hotline Bling.” And on that crowd-pleaser, we were first introduced to the Drizz-ard of Oz’s magic floating neon orbs. Let’s talk about that razzle dazzle.
D.S.S.: Best use of vertical space I’ve ever seen at a concert. Truly spectacular. Over a hundred of those balls shifting colors while they floated up and down, at some points hovering just five feet or so over the crowd transformed one of the least aesthetically appealing music venues in the city into a fantastical dreamscape. Contrast that with the explosive pyrotechnics that defined other parts of the set and you get a visual metaphor for Drake’s artistic range. Yes, he’ll autotune croon you into a swoon, but he’ll also take it “0 to 100” and go hard. Hard, for Drake, that is.
E.W.: Who knew that spheres could do so many things? First they were undulating pink bubblegum, then they were blue ocean waves and then they were a golden prom stage. And if you didn’t think that Drake flying over the crowd in a plexiglass basket while he percolated everyone’s hormones with “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was a contender for Live Music Moment of the Year, then you’re a fake friend. Also, I have a hard time believing that setting off actual fireworks in a closed concrete drum doesn’t break several ordinances, but the man sure can end a show. I’d say there was a lot of energy, but I don’t want the 6 God to strike me dead where I stand. Any low points to the evening? Mine was the entire middle section featuring opener Future, who I don’t pretend to enjoy, but to whom I’m willing to give the benefit of a doubt. It was fine, but it was an ACL replay.
D.S.S.: The pre-orb section of the show, heavy with tracks from “Views,” started to drag a bit and the recorded-Rihanna “Work” didn’t really do it for me like I hoped it would. Same with the Big Sean-less “Blessed.” I was a little surprised by his decision to take the show out on the moody tracks “Energy” and “Legend.” But that’s his vibe these days and the crowd went wild so his people are with him.
E.W.: And aside from a dazzling spectacle, what were our favorite moments from Aubrey? For me, it was some of the old and some of the new. I am a staunch champion of dweeby early Drake, and “Headlines” was a salve to my soul. I was not the only person screaming “That’s just something they know.” Deborah’s ringing ears can probably vouch for that. Those early songs, with the earnest moxie still charming everyone, were a sweet counter-ballast to the much more complex vibes of tropical-wave Drake, like on the one-two punch of “Views” singles “One Dance” and “Controlla.” Those songs really gave a shining platform for the dad dancing of my dreams. They aren’t Garage Band hip hop earworms. They’re something else altogether, and Drake has a knack for landing that complicated yearning like a Learjet. He just needs one more dance, and before you know it, he’ll Jodeci “Cry For You.”
D.S.S.: Turns out Eric and I are still woes, because I was thoroughly swept up in Drake floating over us while every young woman in the venue (and there were so many) teared up and sang along to “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” “One Dance” was everything I hoped it would be and “0 to 100” will always be my jam especially if you make it extra explosive with stunning pyrotechnics. He was also effusive about his love for Texas calling our home state “one of the most important places in the world to me.” Maybe he says that to all the states, but he reps for us consistently enough we believed it and the love flowed both ways.