Drake ended his fourth annual OVO Fest strutting across a hometown Toronto stage, balanced between 16,000 fans and exploding fireworks, while rapping "Started From the Bottom," which he dubbed our "new national anthem."
It was a hardly humble claim, but it was hardly a humble night. Drake did, in fact, start from the bottom -- hip-hop has no lower rung than the one reserved for a half-white, Jewish-Canadian middle-class child star -- and holy hell is he ever here.
And at OVO Fest, everyone else was too -- quite literally. While theoretically Drake sells OVO on the strength of only his name, the subtext is his power. The first year, Drake surprised the crowd with Jay-Z and Eminem, the two biggest names in hip-hop whose mere appearances provided a cred-establishing co-sign.
This year, his cred already established, Drake delivered the rap show equivalent of making it rain.
Standing front and centre at the sold-out Molson Amphitheatre, CN Tower standing tall in the distance, Drake recalled how Toronto was often overlooked by rap tours when he was growing up. Then, inviting us to "live this together," he slowly brought out one of the greatest line-ups in hip-hop history.
Kanye West. Lil Wayne. Diddy and Ma$e. J Cole. A$AP Rocky. Big Sean. Wale. French Montana. Miguel and The Weeknd, who came out on Drake's second song to sing "Crew Love" and quash those beef rumours. Oh, and then there was TLC's first reunion appearance performing "Fan Mail," "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls," the latter with LIl' Mama stepping in for the late Left Eye.
It was, to say the least, rather mind-blowing. The Kanye rumour was well-trafficked by the time the show started, but it didn't make his three-song set any less impressive as he proved, again, that he's as great as he thinks he is with triumphant renditions of "New Slaves," "All of the Lights" and "Can't Tell Me Nothing."
'Ye also made news by informing the crowd that it was Drake who pressured him and Jay-Z into making the Watch The Throne album. Drake, meanwhile, said "I wouldn't be rapping if it wasn't for this guy" (no surprise to anyone who's heard 808s & Heartbreaks) and praised Kanye for being an early supporter.
Drake is not as good a rapper as Kanye, collaborator/mentor Lil Wayne or 2013 breakout J. Cole. He's not as good a singer as Miguel or The Weeknd. He's not even as charismatic as Diddy or A$AP Rocky. But Drake's performances throughout the night -- ranging from pre-fame "Successful" and YOLO-enshrining "Motto" to the sweetly sung "Girls Love Beyonce" and the viciously spat "Over" and "No New Friends" -- proved he has more than enough great songs to make that moot.
Still, that's not where Drake's genius lies. It's in his positioning.
By singing and rapping, he already stands astride the worlds of hip-hop and R&B like nobody before, but his annual festival also allows him to connect old and new schools, mainstream and underground, superstars and upstarts.
Bringing out, and paying tribute to, legends positions Drake as someone who will one day join them. But while dancing onstage, drink in hand, beside his heroes -- getting a leaping hug from TLC's Chili or recreating his first concert experience at the same venue with Diddy and Ma$e -- he's also making it clear he's now the one shining the spotlight on them.
Kanye sends a similarly strong message about Drake's pull simply by flying to Toronto to play three songs while Wayne seems more like a peer nowadays than his boss.
And by tying himself to the best up-and-comers -- last year he brought A$AP and 2 Chainz, this year he booked J. Cole, Miguel and would've had Frank Ocean, too, if he hadn't torn a vocal chord -- Drake helps them ascend, puts them in his debt and benefits as their benefactor when they blow up.
Drake's new single from his upcoming new album "Nothing Was The Same" is called "All Me" and features Big Sean and 2 Chainz. Some have said that makes the title kinda silly, but it actually fits perfect with his M.O. Drake's never tried to do this alone -- from sticking with his OVO house producer 40 to signing to Lil' Wayne's Young Money to joining forces with folks like The Weekend and touring with only the hottest opening acts.
Drake doesn't even care if he gets outshined because he knows you don't have to be the brightest star to become a sun -- you just have to get the rest of the stars to revolve around you.