Unlike other stops on Drake's absurdly named Would You Like A Tour? tour, hip-hop's unhappy prince had held court here in Toronto just two months earlier with his own OVO Fest, one of the most spectacularly star-studded spectacles the city has ever seen.
It was a high bar of his own raising, but one that nonetheless needed to at least be met when he returned for a hometown arena show on his birthday. Somehow, he did so without a benefit of celebrity special guests or even most of his hits.
It helped that the sold-out Air Canada Centre crowd was about as firmly in his corner as a crowd could possibly be -- even before he began an endless series of city pride statements with "My name is Aubrey Drake Graham. I was born on October, 1986 and I was born and raised in the greatest city in the fucking world." (That, however, paled next to his name-checking of highway 401 exits like Hurontario or shoutouts to suburbs like Pickering and Brampton.)
Mostly it was because after just three albums and a mixtape, the former Degrassi star has become a veritable hip-hop icon.
In fact, my favourite part of the concert came during the final song -- Drake awesomely eschewed an encore to pace his set to its logical conclusion without a pointless applause-begging break -- when he performed "Started From the Bottom," with a stage-spanning screen showing clips from his past.
Those clips included his now-infamous Bar Mitzvah dance moves familiar from the HYFR video as well as a scene of Drake's Degrassi character Jimmy (pre-wheelchair) rapping with Spinner (Shane Kippel). It was awesome because it's such a Toronto show, but also because a half-Jewish Canadian child star is the bottom as far as hip-hop goes.
The most impressive part of show was that rather than relying on his retinue of hits, Drake relegated most of those to a mid-performance DJ set and instead performed pretty much the entire new record Nothing was the Same.
Yes, there were a few relative oldies -- Drake can't play Toronto and not play Take Care's "Crew Love," though the absence of The Weeknd was palpable, and I believe he's contractually obligated to play "The Motto" so everyone can yell YOLO! -- but for the most part he had enough confidence in both his new album and his audience not to rely on older material.
And the crowd came through, rapping back nearly every world rather than the usual relative silence that greets new, non-single songs. Though, as one might expect, the album's two insta-classic hits, "Started" and "Hold On, We're Going Home" got the most resounding responses.
Ultimately, Drake makes melancholy headphone music with often painfully personal lyrics, so it's kind of weird to hear that sound blown up to arena size -- especially when he's rapping about his fraught relationship with his father or his mother's worry about being alone when she's 70 -- but it's that dichotomy of mainstream intimacy that makes him such a fascinating figure.
That dichotomy was best embodied by Drake's giant, and expensive-looking, circular catwalk which allowed him to grind the concert to a halt so he could personally make eye contact with specific people in the crowd. For about 20 minutes, though it felt longer, Drake called out audiences members, mentioning their clothing or actions and saying "I see you" as he made eye contact.
It was both corny and sincere, and though the cynic in me thought it was like a royal acknowledging his lowly subjects, I also realized that it made the people he called out incredibly happy -- that must have included a high-school teacher he spotted and whom he declared one of the "greatest in the world." It was such a personal little moment writ large because it was shared with so many thousands of fans.
"It's my birthday," he said near the end, "but I wanna show y'all some love because y'all deserve it." It's about him, it's always about him, but it's about us, too, and that's precisely how Drake ascended from the bottom to be here.
Drake looking like he’s in desperate need of a tailor at the 2005 Teen Choice Awards.
Drake with his "Degrassi" buds, Shane Kippel and Adamo Ruggiero. We can’t really fault the kid here. He looks like a typical teenager wearing a baggy checkered shirt and jeans.
Drake looking Canadian in a parka and cozy black hoodie.
Hmm, not half bad. Drake wears a black military-esque jacket at the Spring Awakening and “Degrassi” panel discussion with Rosie O'Donnell.
The beginning of the sweater obsession. Drake looks casual in a black cardigan and jeans at MTV studios.
Either he started purchasing clothes that fit him properly or he just grew nicely into his body. Lose the Louis Vuitton change purse though Drake. No one likes a bragger.
We’re really digging this sweater-Henley combination at the BET Awards. The heart melts our hearts Drake.
Slow clap for this impeccably tailored grey suit. Drake attends the GQ Man of the Year awards.
2009 seems to be the year of suave Drake, posing at the Grammy nominations concert in a velvet blazer with a silk pocket square.
Bold but not the most flattering of coats.
Drake attends the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards in a pretty low-key outfit - leather jacket, dark grey tee-shirt and jeans. You can’t really go wrong with the classics.
Drake performs at the VH1 Hip Hop Honors wearing a shirt demanding the release of his mentor. We dig the denim jacket and khakis combination.
Holy green metallic blazer. This is definitely Drake’s colour at Lil Wayne’s welcome home party.
Drake embracing a classic no fuss suit at the Juno Awards.
Black on black and then yellow? Not the best footwear choice. Drake brings up images of Big Bird’s feet at the BET Awards.
Drake looks low maintenance, wearing a military jacket and black denim at the launch of Google Music at Mr. Brainwash Studios.
Drake adds a casual element by forging the tie at a press conference in South Africa.
Drake literally looks 13 in this outfit as he performs as part of Wild 94.9's Wild Jam at HP Pavilion. We don’t approve of this get up.
Drake is all smiles in a warm bomber jacket at New Years Eve 2012 with Carson Daly.
Drake on stage at the 54th Annual Grammy’s in a classic tux.
Proud Canadian Drake attends First Down Friday at Sensu wearing a sweater that can’t be denied.
Drake at the 2012 Budweiser Made In America Festival wearing an appropriately Bud blue bomber. We’re not sure we like the ensemble though.
Drake wears a form fitting Versace shirt at the 2012 MTV Video Awards.
Drake’s new 2013 look. Kidding! Drake films a scene for "Anchorman: The Legend Continues."
Drake looking like his usual dapper self at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in a blue grey tuxedo blazer with black lapels. We love the detail on the side of his pants.
Drake’s best look yet at the Raptor’s press conference.
Drake as Jimmy Brooks and Shenae Grimes as Darcy Edwards.
Drake looking fly at the Raptors press conference in Toronto. We dig the no socks look.
Drake arrives at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards looking dapper in a bow tie and two-toned tuxedo blazer.
Drake pops in red pants and chambray shirt at the Cash Money Records 4th annual pre-GRAMMY Awards party.
Shenae Grimes looks rocker chic with a metallic blazer and studded black and gold heels at the 2013 “Teen Vogue” Young Hollywood Awards.
Shenae Grimes rocks leather pants and a shimmery silver jacket to the 2013 Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party held at Fig & Olive Melrose Place.
Comfy in Converse, actress Shenae Grimes attends the Skechers 'Summer Soiree' at SkyBar at the Mondrian Los Angeles.
Actress Nina Dobrev attends Cosmopolitan's Summer Bash in a cheery yellow mini dress by Julien MacDonald.
Nina Dobrev wears a form fitting blue Versace dress to The CW Network's New York 2013 Upfront Presentation.
Nina Dobrev looks like a punk princess in this custom Monique Lhuillier gown.
Actress Lauren Collins attends the Second TIFF Dipnight After Party looking casual but chic in a leather jacket.
“LA Complex” actress Cassie Steele looks equal parts rocker and boho chic in this outfit at the “Nylon” October IT issue celebration.
Cassie Steele attends the Chinese Laundry Fashion Denim launch party in a floral mini skirt and black crop top.
Cassie Steele makes a statement wearing bright red leather pants and a black Rolling Stone t-shirt to “Much Music” headquarters in 2012.
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