“Future The Prince, I wanna try a new ting, blad,” Drake addresses his DJ in a Dick Van Dyke-meets-Kidulthood accent. It seems that where the Torontonian rapper recently advised Nicki Minaj to spit a verse on Young Thug’s club banger ‘Danny Glover’, the influence she had in return wasn’t so helpful.
As Drake completely disregards local dialects, he tries to gauge the energy levels in the Manchester Phones 4u Arena with his faux London rudeboy slang. Although it’s the first date of his UK tour, he intends to decipher which city has the liveliest crowd by the end. This particular venue is an important one in Drake’s relationship with the UK. It is in fact the first UK venue he ever performed at, supporting Jay Z’s Blueprint 3 tour back in 2010. He jokes that Jay hardly gave him any space to work with.
An hour earlier, crammed onto the front of the stage, The Weeknd and his live band are warming up the sold-out crowd. Picking out a few highlights from last year’s ‘Kiss Land’ (review) and his cult mixtape trilogy, Abel Tesfaye appears more like a band frontman than a solo artist as the four-man team allow the music to do the talking as they front a giant curtain that conceals whatever elaborate setting Drake has in store.
When the curtain drops, we are exposed to what looks like a giant Polo mint sloped on its side. Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham climbs to the top in an exaggerated stepping movement straight from a ’90s hip-hop video, rapping the brilliant ‘Nothing Was The Same’ (review) album opener, ‘Tuscan Leather’.
As imagery of the Toronto skyline spreads across the wide, curved backdrop, we see the iconic CN Tower and are plunged into some of the bleakest tracks from the new album, including ‘Furthest Thing’, ‘Wu-Tang Forever’ and ‘Own It’. The audience is sucked into the Toronto winter, from the icy waters that awaken the performance to the nightlife that follows. The spirit of Drake’s native city is enforced when fellow T.Dot local, The Weeknd, reemerges to assist with the pair’s collaborative ‘Crew Love’, creating an incredible atmosphere throughout the arena.
After drawing the audience into his own environment, Drake opens up to the wider mainstream hip-hop context, performing some of the notable features that have extended his reach beyond ‘NWTS’.