The rapper’s appearance in Atlanta Monday night celebrated that journey while simultaneously proving just how confounding it often is.
Drake made it clear at the show that, apart from his hometown of Toronto, Atlanta is the city most responsible for laying the foundation for his superstardom.
The self-proclaimed “Six God”, a reference to Toronto’s area code, has brought Atlanta artists along with him on previous tours, including the Migos in 2018 and Future in 2016, and recently announced plans to produce a documentary based on the city’s iconic strip club Magic City.
Prior to Drake’s set, music from Atlanta legends like Jeezy, Gucci Mane and Future filled the arena, and the audience was encouraged to partake in a flashlight tribute to demand the freedom of Young Thug, who was indicted on gang and RICO charges by a Fulton County grand jury last year.
Shortly after, Drake, wearing all-white and escorted by bodyguards, approached the stage from the stands and engaged with screaming fans as if he was the heavyweight champion of the world.
“Atlanta, you’ve been good to me for a lot of years, and tonight I came to give you what I call the big payback,” Drake, with the fervor of preacher, said during the opening of his set. “I wanna give it all back to you for all these years you’ve supported me and loved me...This is by far the most important place in rap music.”
He began the show with classics that would make any longtime Drake fan happy (”Look What You’ve Done,” “Marvin’s Room,” “Shot for Me”) while the second act featured the rapper trading his all-white attire for a Nike light-up vest that signaled he was ready to turn the crowd up. He bounced around the stage and matched the crowd’s energy on hits like “Over,” “The Motto,” “HYFR,” “Energy” and “Started from the Bottom.” The audience became even more electric as they rapped along to his more recent songs like “Sicko Mode,” “Jumbotron (Expletive) Poppin,” and “God’s Plan,” which made the concert feel like it was just as much of a celebration of Drake’s fans’ journey as it was his own. This is Drake at his best.
He even paused the set to honor Migos member Takeoff, who was killed in a Houston shooting late last year. He encouraged the audience to hug someone they didn’t know in the crowd and to always check on their loved ones.
“I think I’ve spent a lot of years on stage trying to prove myself to all of you,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of years trying to prove to you that I was good enough, and I’ve realized that these concerts, these shows are not about me proving anything to you. It’s about us getting together in a room — all 20,000 of us — and showing love and being positive and enjoying life.”
The confusing aspects of the concert had nothing to do with Drake’s performance but with everything around it. Most notably, the stage design was hard to decipher.
A younger Drake lookalike, who opened the show by hitting a bong before passing a notebook to the real Drake, makes appearances throughout the concert to reference just how far the rapper has come — from his days of starring in the hit coming-of-age series “Degrassi: The Next Generation” to selling out arenas. It was a cute touch, but it’s hard to tell whether it’s a hologram, a real person, a result of deepfake technology or combination of the last two, which distracts from the overall purpose.
A massive statue of a man holding a paper airplane is centered near the stage, and it isn’t until the end of the concert that Drake reveals that this man is supposed to be the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh. More random sights like a sperm hologram, a floating figure in a wedding dress and kneeling anime figure with big breasts had nothing to do with the songs being performed, making the set even more confounding.
Later in the show, Drake performed on the DJ stage (where he was joined by popular Atlanta-based streamer Kai Cenat, Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young and rapper Central Cee, who opened the show) and serenaded the crowd with his reggae and Afrobeats songs like “Work,” “Controlla,” and “One Dance.” The set provided intimacy, but it wasn’t structured in a way that aligned with the duration of the show.
21 Savage joined the concert toward the end, which made it seem like he was an afterthought instead of a co-headliner. He performed a selection of about 15 songs, including “Peaches & Eggplants,” “Runnin,” and “Bank Account”, before Drake joined him onstage to perform tracks from their joint album “Her Loss.”
Drake ended the night with his 2015 hit “Legend” before singing the song that’s sampled in it — Ginuwine’s classic R&B song “So Anxious”— as if he believed his vocal ability matched that of a legendary R&B crooner.
Drake’s return to Atlanta was at turns joyous, heartwarming, comforting and outright confusing. And, sometimes, Drake is, too. Throughout his career, he has leaned heavily on gimmicks and unnecessary controversies that have often eclipsed his musical talent as his star grows even larger. The best parts of the show came when he drifted away from the stunts and solely focused on the tracks that have soundtracked a generation while honoring a city whose artists have soundtracked an entire genre.
IF YOU GO
Doors open at 7 p.m., show starts at 8 p.m. Sept. 26. $348-$685. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Drive, Atlanta. statefarmarena.com/events