HOUSTON — Drake's ties to Houston run deep. It was the city made famous by Rap-a-Lot Records, the Geto Boys, UGK, DJ Screw and a litany of chopped-and-screwed odes to purple syrup that sired, cultivated and ultimately catapulted the Toronto native into the stratosphere of chart-topping, award-winning artists, so it was only fitting that the MC born Aubrey Graham would pour more of his heart and soul into Thursday night's Toyota Center performance, an earmarked leg on his mammoth Club Paradise Tour.
Before Drizzy took the stage for his nearly two-hour set, he was preceded by a coterie of hip-hop radio fixtures: French Montana, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Waka Flocka Flame and J. Cole. Each artist was allotted an average of 30 minutes to run through their budding catalog of hits as the crowd — an amalgamation of ages, races and backgrounds — filed into the expansive arena to see the YMCMB MC.
Dressed in a simple black T-shirt and jeans — sans garish bejeweled pendant, necklace or watch — and backed by a five-piece band, the Canadian spitter took the stage just before 10 p.m., bursting with nostalgia and reverence for H-Town.
"I love Toronto, but this (Houston) is my favorite place in the mother----in' world!" he declared.
Drake jumpstarted the throng with last year's undisputed summer anthem, "I'm on One," before igniting the crowd with the Weeknd-assisted "Crew Love" from his critically and commercially successful sophomore opus, Take Care.
In between sips of mystery drank from a grande-sized Styrofoam cup, Drake bounced across the stage like a whirling dervish, looking as if he were unchained from the restrictions and restraints of the criticism he's faced since solidifying his brand of moody, self-reflective braggadocio in the hardened, self-policing pantheon of hip-hop.
Songs like "She Will" and "Up All Night" flowed from the multiplatinum MC's happy place like an unrelenting wave crashing on a sandy beach. Drake was having so much fun onstage he felt compelled to share it with his co-stars.
"Every n---a you wanna hear is right f---ing here!" Drake said before bringing out 2 Chainz for the newly released banger "No Lie." The record has yet to gain the kind of traction it deserves, but one thing is clear: You haven't heard "No Lie" until you've heard it in a live arena setting.
Next up was Waka Flocka, whose high-energy flow on "Round of Applause" was punctuated by pyrotechnics on the "Baby make that ass clap" refrain.
Drizzy briefly put his parade of guest stars on hold to offer up his current crossover hit "Take Care" before Meek Mill stepped into the cypher for "House Party" and "I'm a Boss." The biggest surprise — literally and figuratively — of the night emerged from stage right to thunderous applause: Rick Ross. The Teflon Don and French Montana joined Drake and Meek Mill for the first-ever all-hands-on-deck live performance of "Stay Schemin" from Rozay's groundbreaking mixtape Rich Forever.
Drake's growth as a live performer was evident as he took time to single out fans for various compliments, comments and jokes, making 15,000 fans feel as though they were in a small, intimate venue meant for 1,500. Drizzy crooned and pandered to the shrieking females in the audience as a prelude to "Make Me Proud," but the exuberant pirouettes and middle-fingered Mazel tovs were back with "HYFR" and "The Motto."
The only blemish on the evening came when a young fan managed to hop onstage ala Lil Mama before being promptly removed by herculean security guards. "Shout out to that f--- ass n---a that ran onstage," Drake said. "He probably getting his ass beat right now."
To close out his set, Drizzy thanked the fans for their unyielding support and offered up the defiantly brazen "Headlines," lest there were any haters left in the building — or in the industry, for that matter — "overdosed on confidence" enough to think they can keep Drake from being Drizzy. Because, as he so eloquently put it on this night, Drake doesn't care about what the naysayers have to say: He only cares about making music for his fans.
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