Introduced by T-Boz and Chilli of TLC, who performed at his OVO Fest earlier this month, Drizzy’s set began on a toned-down note, with him sitting in the audience, sideways, with his gaze to the right, with a serene background dominated by a blue sky with white clouds. The pose was a live reenactment of the cover artwork by Kadir Nelson for his third solo album, Nothing Was the Same, which will arrive on September 24.
Dressed in a black leather tank top and pants accentuated with a simple gold chain, the man who calls himself Champagne Papi sang his “wedding song” with an impassioned falsetto, channeling his muse, Marvin Gaye, as he displayed an impressive range of never-before-seen musicality.
As the infectious beat from “Started From the Bottom” dropped, Drake toggled with ease from crooning to rapping and he made his way up to the stage with his signature braggadocious strut. Once there, Drake bounded from one side of the stage to the next, drawing the audience into his anthemic VMA-nominated hit with a call and response.
The OVO frontman showed up to the VMAs with his entourage in tow, all wearing custom jerseys emblazoned with NWTS‘s release date, but for the performance, it was just the man himself, closely interacting with the crowd in the dugout near the lip of the stage as if he were shunning his social media-trending “no new friends” mantra.
T-minus two days before taking the stage, Drake promised to bring an “explosive” performance to the Barclays Center. And while he didn’t win the coveted KAWS-designed Moonman for Best Direction or Best Hip-Hop Video, he still “blew up the stage” as fiery pyrotechnics blasted into the arena rafters and smoke plumed behind him like a cloudy shadow during the song’s crescendo.
The last time Drake rocked the VMA stage was in 2010, when he served up his guest verse alongside Mary J. Blige and Swizz Beatz. This time, though, the Toronto rapper stood alone, on top, basking in the glory of his emergence as a premier artist among his peers.