Review: Drake gives his all at Tampa Bay Times Forum

A look back at the Wed., Nov. 6 show.

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click to enlarge Drake at Tampa Bay Times Forum Wed., Nov. 6, 2013. - Andrew Silverstein
Andrew Silverstein
Drake at Tampa Bay Times Forum Wed., Nov. 6, 2013.

Drake’s a good leader. It’s a realization that hits home about halfway through his Wednesday night show at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and one worth learning from.

For all the elaborate stage setups and gaudy laser-emitting concert “experiences”, a boring person is still a boring person. Say what you will about his music, but one thing you can't say about Drake is that he's boring. He’s a chamelon, as you quickly learn in a setting like this. To some, he’s the star, bouncing around, smiling, rapping, making big gestures — doing all the shit you kind of expect; to others, he’s the dude interrupting their nacho eating (seriously, in the first row); and to still other's he’s just a dude with that one song they like.

And Drake, you can tell, wants to be all of these people to all of them. Throughout the two-hour performance (part of his "Would You Like a Tour?"), the Toronto-born rapper/R&B crooner culls from cuts off his latest, Nothing Was the Same and second-latest, Take Care with confidence, excitement, and a sense of self that thrives in a setting as massive as the Forum.

Trotting around a big, UFO/donut-hybrid of a stage, Drake opens with the first track off Nothing Was the Same, "Tuscan Leather." The reverse, high-pitch samples swell and the crowd roar is deafening as Drake settles into his home-for-the-moment.

This is his congregation. What he has to say means something to a roomful of thousands, and he rightfully gulps up the adulation. Certified bangers like “Pop That,” “Versace” and “The Motto” are chunks of pure, uncut sonic energy that cropdusts the crowd and puts Drake in beast mode, or as close as a Canadian middle/upper class rapper can get. Future joins him for “Good Kush and Alcohol” and “Same Damn Time,” and the ground feels like it’s about shatter beneath me as the place erupts.

But a solid hip hop show isn’t always about the bass-knockers, and neither is Drake.

The smoother jams put him in serious mode, and dudes in the crowd are in a weird position, where they don’t know whether they want to sing along or not. (A shout-out to the two bros next to me belting it out to “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”) Drake brings out Jhene Aiko (the second guest of the night after Future) to duet on “From Time” and she kills it, her see-through cream dress drawing some more than obvious glances from Drake makes during his breaks.

He likes the ladies because, well, he’s a rapper today, but he shows his appreciation in a way most of his peers wouldn’t dare, at least in public, like when he brings a girl on stage and sings to her before kissing her on the head, nearly bringing out the claws of seemingly every other female in attendance. (Overheard while the girl was on stage: “Im so fucking jealous”, “Look at her, she doesn’t even know the song”, “ugh, that should be me.”)

“I climaxed,” he remarks, making fun of both himself and the notion that he’s a big softie, which he knows and owns.

Before long, the songs peter out, and a massive circular structure lowers from the ceiling over the floor level. He hops on, slowly talking laps around the thing, and rallies the audience, pointing out specific people by shirt colors and other distinguishing features. He playfully riffs on the crowd, partially for the show but also seemingly for his own enjoyment and a sense of giving back to all the fans that came out in the middle of a work week.

Afterward, a few more songs get their due, and with a thankful goodbye, he’s out.

All in all, the performance is precise and professional, but peeking between the lines, it’s easy to see that, on a personal level, Drake takes all of this very seriously. He gives his followers undying reverence and respect — uncommon traits in a genre overcrowded with enough self-inflatedness to make Tony Robbins hurl. And that’s what a good leader, rapper or non-, is supposed do, over and over and over again.

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