The hallways of the Staples Center are lined with young people dressed up for the Drake and Future show. Out front, dancers hold giant Drake and Future heads to promote a local radio station. It is September, and in the tradition of fall in Los Angeles, people are dressed for whatever season they want it to be. Some people are still in summer, wearing short shorts or rompers with sandals. There are dozens of girls wearing a variation on a Kim K outfit: oversize concert tees as dresses, paired with thigh-high suede boots and velvet chokers. The shirts abet the sense that we are at a major arena-rock event — they rep for bands like Metallica, Soundgarden, The Beatles, and The Doors. Other concertgoers have moved into autumn layers, with satin bombers and leather motorcycle jackets. There are streetwear jerseys in the black-and-white color scheme of the L.A. Kings and the formerly L.A., now Oakland, Raiders.
Everywhere, you see people slipping on the ubiquitous REVENGE hooded sweatshirt after purchasing it from the merch table. It’s a transitional weather garment to mark the changing seasons and the end of summer ’16. Drake is the most seasonally obsessed musician since Vivaldi. He made the Views booklet a depiction of his Toronto fantasy lifestyle cycling through the wheel of the year. He now makes his home part-time in Calabasas, California, a place where it never snows but the temperatures can drop low enough on a winter night that you might be able to close your eyes and picture Canada.
I am at the first Los Angeles date of Drake and Future’s Summer Sixteen tour with my mom, my brother, and his wife. My mom doesn’t know much about Drake, but she was game to go. I hate when moms get painted as out of touch with coolness — all the moms I’m friends with are insanely cool, including my own. I tell her about how much Drake loves his mom, Sandi Graham, who is, like my mom, a petite blonde woman. We get there when doors open at 6:30, so we see the opening acts from Drake’s OVO Sound farm team — the dancehall and Nelly-influenced rapper Roy Woods and the ’90s R&B-shaped duo DVSN.
Concertgoers mill around in line for food and drinks. The arena is filling up slowly as it gets dark outside. I ask my mom what she knows about Drake. “He’s from Canada.” Yup. She also knows that he’s half-Jewish and was on the Canadian children’s TV show Degrassi: The Next Generation, because my brother and I used to binge-watch Degrassi in a long-ago, pre-streaming world.
We move on to Future, whom I describe as a super handsome, very talented rapper from Atlanta who has a voice that my brother has pointed out sounds like a muted trumpet. I tell her that Future was formerly with Ciara, but my mom doesn’t know who Ciara is, which I guess means my mom is Team Rihanna by default. “Who is Drake married to?” my mom asks earnestly, and we laugh. “Nobody.” “Who does he date? Everybody?” “Rihanna.” “Ooooh,” says my mom, confirming her for Team Rihanna.
Because Drake is for lovers, I see several couples wearing matching outfits. One pair is wearing his-and-hers white OVO owl logo shirts. Some of the best pre-show action is taking place in the women’s bathroom lobbies, where girls touch up their makeup in the mirrors and take group and solo selfies. The prevailing style is heavy full-face makeup à la Kylie Jenner — highlighter contouring and matte liquid lipstick in either a dark burgundy or a peachy nude. It’s not all love and matching outfits, though. A woman occupying the large stall next to me is pacing and having a loud, intense breakup conversation. “I love you. I want to be with you. But I can’t be with someone who is unable to give me what I want.” Damn.
Back in the seats, the pre-show DJ has come on to warm up the crowd for Drake and Future. He plays songs from SremmLife 2 and Father’s “Look at Wrist,” which my mom particularly likes.
The lights finally go down with the crowd fully filling the arena. Drake comes out to “Summer Sixteen,” and everyone has their phone already whipped out to capture his entrance, which includes pyrotechnics. There’s a band hidden onstage behind him, but the main attraction here is Drake. He is posse-less, commanding the stage with his lumbering strides and endearingly silly dance moves. He is wearing a white jacket with dangling white drawstrings that ever so slightly resembles an Orthodox Jew’s tallit fringe, and the word REVENGE flashes onscreen behind him in flaming text. It’s not too long before he takes off the jacket to reveal his arms in a black tank top, showing off his fairly recent body transformation into a swoll person. The crowd goes nuts for Magic Drake.
I have never seen Drake or Future live before. When I learned that Drake would open the show I was surprised, because I think of him as a headliner, but it turns out he is both his own opener and the headliner. The set is arranged as a Future sandwich where Drake is the bread. Drake does a set, brings Future out to do his set, and then returns afterward for another set. It’s clear why Drake is such a star — he’s a generous hype man, thanking every guest performer and laying it on thick with the audience. He gives specific shout-outs to Los Angeles over and over, calling it his “second hometown” and promising a great show because “you deserve it” before launching into “Feel No Ways” from Views. Drake’s sets are mostly recent material, demonstrating how deep a catalogue of heavy hits he has. The backdrop shifts into something resembling a planetarium show. Whenever Drake goes too far into one of his more emotional ballads, he makes fun of himself immediately afterward. He promises to stop boring us with ballads, and my mom turns to me and says, “Aw, I like the ballads.”
Drake promises a “turn up” a few million times over the course of the night. He runs through “Trophies” and “H.Y.F.R.” as the Staples Center fills up with a copious mix of stage fog and vape smoke. Drake promises us that he predicted Night 1 would be the best night of the L.A. dates, and even though you get the strong sense he will promise the same thing to Nights 2 and 3, it has the desired effect on the crowd. Drake’s theatrical training has made him adept at playing the crowd like a champ. He makes the banter sound spontaneous, even as he repeats old bits like thanking people in the crowd individually for so long that you think he might get to every single one of us.
It’s not a shock that Drake is a good sweet-talker; the effect he has on straight women is really remarkable. Back in the bathroom lobby everyone is talking about it. “Drake is soooooooo fine. He can do no wrong in my book,” one hot girl in thigh-high boots and a lace-up Beatles Let It Be shirt worn as dress says to her friend, who agrees. I find myself nodding in agreement, too. Then I find myself at the merch table buying that REVENGE hoodie and a Future hat riffing on the DOOM logo, wondering if it will ever be cold enough again to necessitate a sweatshirt dress.
Drake does “Childs Play” with a Frozen-esque cracked-ice backdrop. His sets are kind of a boyfriend experience, so it’s no wonder girls break up with their boyfriends in the bathroom at his shows. He says things to the audience like, “I wanna make you feel important and nice,” and again, you get the feeling that he may say this a lot, but somehow that doesn’t make it any less effective. He launches into “Hotline Bling,” which involves one purply-pink lantern descending onstage, followed by a cloud of them dancing over the crowd. My mom remembers “Hotline Bling,” which we all danced to together as the final song of the night at my brother’s wedding last fall. “This light show is amazing,” my mom says, and it is — like being inside of a sequin.
Drake does the now-mandatory flying over the crowd bit. I ask my mom, “Is Drake winning you over?” and she says, “I love him.” I ask what she loves about him and she says, “He’s just a natural showman.” Drake makes the night’s first reference to his adopted home, singing, “go to Calabasas and get in your zone.” He expertly alternates the pace between the slow and fast songs. The lanterns continue to do cool formations and change colors with some of the songs. We know Drake goes to LACMA, because seeing the James Turrell show inspired the “Hotline Bling” video. Could the stemless flock of lanterns be a tribute to Chris Burden’s permanent lamppost installation outside the museum?
YG comes out in a bowler hat and jean jacket with an airbrushed portrait of his baby daughter on the back for what Drake declares “the ultimate turn up.” They do “Why You Always Hatin?” together, and then YG does “Twist My Fingaz” solo while Drake changes clothes backstage. He returns and calls us “a special crowd.” He promises even more turning up and brings out Future, who comes on to “New Level” in a customized L.A. Kings jersey. DJ Esco joins him, and Future’s set is a high-energy romp through hits like “Same Damn Time,” “Fuck Up Some Commas,” and Ace Hood’s “Bugatti.” Ty Dolla $ign comes out for “Blasé.” Then Drake returns and they do “Jumpman” together. Future is so tall and lanky that when he runs around the stage he kind of skips. Drake bids his “brother” Future goodbye again, and Future disappears into a hole in the floor.
Drake does shortened versions of both of his most recent Rihanna duets — her “Work” and his “Too Good” — alone; her parts are played by a backing track. “Controlla” is a fan favorite, and Drake brings four female backup dancers out for “One Dance.” The gunshot sounds in “One Dance” are played by pyrotechnic sparks cannons. Drake announces that the show is running over curfew but that he doesn’t care, he’s willing to pay “$10,000 a minute” to keep entertaining us. Everyone cheers Drake’s generosity, as he continues to thank us for being the best crowd in the world. He does “Back to Back” and “Pop Style,” then brings out Snoop Dogg to do “The Next Episode” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Bringing out Snoop in L.A. is a sure bet, and Snoop is wearing a shirt with a picture of his own younger self on it, which might be an even surer one. Performing with Snoop has to make Drake have second thoughts about that whole retiring young idea.
Drake calls the Staples Center “one of the greatest buildings in the world” — let’s not get carried away here, Drake; it’s pretty corporate and characterless as far as venues go. But when Drake tells you you’re the “best crowd ever,” you go with it, because in the moment it feels like it’s true.
I ask my mom how the Drake and Future show compares to The Last Waltz, the 1976 farewell concert by The Band, which she also went to. “Similarly endless," she says. Drake lets us know again that he’ll pay the fines for going late, and then says the reason this show is so special is because his mom is in the crowd, and it’s the first show on this tour she’s been to. We cheer for Drake’s mom and my mom and all of the moms who love Drake. “That was great,” mine says at the end.