If you somehow require proof of Drake's ascendancy to hip hop's highest echelons, OVO Fest is your best barometer. It showcases Drake not just as artist, but as kingmaker and curator. His homecoming concert festival, which celebrated its sixth year this past weekend, doubles as an annual measure of his influence, not just at home but around the world.
At his headlining show Monday night, Drake let his achievements speak for themselves. His songs, some just days old, were screamed along to by thousands at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre. Toronto's greatest envoy showed up for his annual checkup, and he left with a clean bill of health, charged up for another year.
OVO Fest has always been a timeless affair, celebrating Drake's catalogue and the legacies of his guests, who've ranged from Stevie Wonder to Lauryn Hill. But this year, the concert was more concerned with current events – specifically Drake's ongoing feud with Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill, started last month when the latter artist accused Drake of hiring ghostwriters to write his raps.
As soon as the house lights went down, the crowd began enthusiastically chanting obscenities about Meek Mill – and, as if anticipating the mood, an iPhone screen with a drained battery appeared on the Amphitheatre's huge screen. The battery logo quickly flooded to a charged-up green. Drake immediately launched into Charged Up and Back to Back (Freestyle), his two diss tracks released just days earlier in response to the allegations.
As Drake ran the stage in an OVO-coloured Jordan jumpsuit, the screen behind him began filling with Twitter memes by the dozen mocking the Philly rapper – interspersed by heroic-looking pictures of Toronto city councillor Norm Kelly, who famously defended Drake with a tweet insisting Meek Mill was "no longer welcome" in Toronto.
Drake finished the evening with a repeat performance of Back to Back. The crowd's reaction to the new songs, both released literally days earlier, showed just how rabidly Drake's fans consume his new music.
His performance barely dipped into his back catalogue at all. Aside from a few oldies like HYFR and Started from the Bottom – barely an oldie, really, at just two years old – almost all songs were from Drake's new mixtape, If You're Reading This It's Too Late. The crowd went wildest for Know Yourself, the concert's climax, as Drake made his now-famous shout-out to the city: "I was running through the 6 with my woes."
As always, Drake filled the night with surprise guests. "You know it's OVO Fest," he said, "so I can't do all the work." Some guests were obvious – British grime MC Skepta, who had a concert in town later that night, showed up to perform his Drake-cosigned Shut Down. Atlanta rapper Future, whose new album Dirty Sprite 2 just came out to wild acclaim with a guest appearance from Drake, was there, too.
On top of a return performance from Kanye West – who, two years ago, wowed the crowd on the coattails of his abrasive album Yeezus with an eerie, red-drenched set – Drake also brought out Pharrell Williams, who performed a string of his hits, including Drop It Like It's Hot and Daft Punk's Get Lucky. West's performance lasted more than half an hour as he ran through classics like Stronger and Can't Tell Me Nothing and new tracks Wolves and All Day, as a wall of lights descended and tilted around him. He also did a rare collaboration with Drake, performing their remix of Big Sean's Blessed.
Up-and-coming rapper Travis Scott joined him for several songs, too, and Kanye eagerly fell to the roll of humble hypeman, letting the younger man rule the stage and jump into the crowd. "I had to bring another one of my brothers with me tonight," West told the crowd. "For the new generation."
As Williams wound down his performance, there was a jarring moment: the beat from Alright, a song he produced for acclaimed Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, flooded the Amphitheatre, promoting screams of joy in hopes Lamar would come on stage. It was a well-speculated appearance: Lamar had just performed at the Osheaga music festival, and had the day off on tour. Drake and Lamar, two of rap's greatest young minds, have had a cold-war-style beef for several years, and Drake's new beef with Mill has completely overshadowed it – which made a Lamar appearance seem downright plausible. But it didn't happen; the Alright clip was just a fake-out.
Drake was careful to remind the audience that his influence in Toronto stretches beyond just rap, returning to the stage late in the night wearing a brand-new redesigned Raptors jersey. The player? Pickering's Cory Joseph, a new signee who took on a new number when he joined the team: 6, Drake's widely adopted nickname for the city.
The 28-year-old rapper is always careful to frame OVO Fest not just as a concert, but as a chance to give back to the city that raised him. As he finished the night with an excerpt from If You're Reading This track Legend, he made sure to remind the crowd that the show wasn't about him, but them: "Thank for you making me the man I am today."