Is it possible that Toronto’s very own doth profess too much?
This just in: Drake is fond of his hometown. For the third straight year, the bar mitzvah-ed hip hop star sometimes known as Drizzy offered celebrities and goodwill at Molson Amphitheatre. Previous incarnations of OVO (an acronym for his entertainment company October's Very Own, which is a calendar-based reference to his birth month) included bombshell drop-ins such Jay-Z and Eminem (in 2010) and Lil Wayne, Stevie Wonder and Nas (in 2011).
This year the occasion was energized by appearances by a weed-ready legend (Snoop Dogg/Snoop Lion), an impracticably dressed Dolly Parton of rap (Nicki Minaj) and a burly, bearded, self-styled boss-man (Rick Ross).
A cover story this week in one of the city’s free weeklies suggested that while Drake hearted Toronto, there was some question as to whether or not the feelings were mutual. It has become a tiresome journalistic game, this preoccupation with the former child-actor’s T-dotted reputation.
For whatever reason, Drake is extremely conscious of his civic credibility. For example, early in his guest-stocked set he lifted his sleeveless white top to unveil a fresh “416” tattoo along the side of his torso. Such lengths to grandstand, I mean really. We now know Drake’s favoured area code. I think we have his number too.
With his music, the millionaire rapper has crafted a brooding, sensitive-man image for himself. And while his relentless hometown shout-outs are well-received and no-doubt genuine, they come off as flamboyant public relations – a tap-dancing magician pulling A-list stars out of his hat, as if to say “this is all for you, only you.”
That said, his annual concert gesture should not go unappreciated; Sunday’s show, which ended with a revelation and the song Headlines (“They know, they know, they know”), was a dizzying affair. Opening acts (the keyed-up Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky, the bling-specific Atlanta rhymer 2 Chainz and the rising but weakly warbling Toronto R&B singer The Weeknd) were pale preliminaries to a heady main set that saw Drake sometimes commanding the spotlight while other times sharing it. Undoubtedly, this artist is one of the country's most capable showmen.
Taking the most liberty with host Drake’s generosity was an iconic, charismatic hustler whose career is in decline. “What’s my name,” he asked at one point, referencing his solo debut single from 1993. The query should have been rhetorical. But, then, perhaps the man was confused as to his own identity. The back of his denim jacket was emblazoned with “Snoop Dogg.” And yet, very publicly, the 40-year-old rapper in the white tam had recently announced that he’d switched his name to Snoop Lion. Simultaneously he has embraced the Rastafarian faith and soon will be releasing a reggae album (Reincarnated) that celebrates his rebirth.
And so we know neither his name nor his game.
As for Drake, at one point he told his sold-out audience that wherever in the world we heard his music – in Dubai, in Africa or in Atlanta – the sound we were hearing was Toronto’s. He mentioned being born in St. Michael’s Hospital. He shouted about the “greatest night of my life,” in the “greatest city in the [gosh darn] world.”
And all I could think was “we know, we know, we know.”
His last words, right before disappearing through the stage’s trap door, was that next year OVO Fest would be held at “Skydome.” Those of us who live here, of course, know the building as Rogers Centre.