He might be injured. But Drake still wows the hometown crowd

JOSHUA OSTROFF

Special to The Globe and Mail

Last updated on Thursday, Aug. 06, 2009 03:12AM EDT

Lil Wayne, Drake, Young Jeezy, Soulja Boy

Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto

Tuesday night

‘You know I couldn’t let my city down, baby,” crowed Drake, perched on a centre-stage stool, to a rapturous reception otherwise reserved for headliner Lil Wayne. “Toronto You the … best” Then the year’s hottest up-and-comer and his hometown crowd joined together on the chorus to Drake’s summer smash Best I Ever Had.

Still, it wasn’t the pivotal moment it was supposed to be – partly because Drake couldn’t pivot at all. Last Friday, the 22-year-old collapsed onstage in New Jersey. Warned by doctors to stay off an injured knee, he’d decided his momentum was too great to skip mentor Lil Wayne’s tour.

When the pair last rolled through town in January, Wayne claimed 2008’s biggest-selling album, Tha Carter III, while Drake was still best known as Aubrey Graham, child actor from Degrassi: The Next Generation. Since the spring release of his free mix tape So Far Gone, Drake’s collaborated with Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rihanna, signed a multi-million-dollar record deal, released two hit singles and scored an MTV video music awards nod for Best New Artist.

This tour was supposed to be his coming-out party, not a sitting-down one. (Luckily his years playing wheelchair-bound Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi taught him to dance and rap while seated). But the crowd was happy to see him at all, even reduced to cameo performance that also included the moody, mid-tempo Successful (with Wayne singing backup) detailing his mixed feelings about his ambitions. (A sold-out solo gig in Toronto last May showed the young rapper still green onstage, so this mess may actually help maintain his hype).

After Toronto, Drake is off the tour and awaiting surgery. But his initial willingness to risk injury shows how much more gung-ho he is compared to the tour’s lazy openers. Teen rapper Soulja Boy offered only ringtone-friendly repetition and ribcage-rattling bass while Young Jeezy performed a largely indistinguishable set of street raps. Only city pride anthem Put On captured the intensity of his recordings – maybe synth-banger My President would’ve too, except Jeezy inexplicably bailed after the song’s arms-up opening chorus.

That move never would’ve been pulled by Lil Wayne, who has by now honed his rock-star shtick to a fine shine and begins each show by giving props to the audience who made him arguably the biggest rapper alive. Emerging amidst a barrage of pyrotechnics, Wayne, a former child MC, was confident enough in his deep song catalogue to perform his neo-classic A Milli as his second number.

Flashing his diamond-encrusted smile, Weezy went on to deliver a nearly two-hour set of new and old fan favourites (Mr. Carter, Phone Home, Got Money, Lollipop, Pop Bottles, Go DJ) plus his verses on popular posse cuts Swagga Like Us and We Taking Over. Whether backed up by a full band, surrounded by dancers on stripper poles or stalking the stage solo, Wayne and his inimitable helium vocals were rarely less than mesmerizing. Admittedly, his rock interlude left something to be desired – Wayne’s lacklustre attempt to play Walk this Way on guitar followed by his tuneless single Prom Queen doesn’t bode well for his oft-delayed “rock” album Rebirth – and his habitual trotting out of his Young Money protgs mid-set stalled the momentum, at least until Drake’s surprise appearance.

The Canadian rapper limped back for the concert-closing Young Money hit Every Girl in the World, forcing everyone else to take a seat down beside him. It was further evidence of Drake’s rising star power, and Wayne’s already ascendant self-confidence and generosity. Between the two of them, everyone else on the bill was easily eclipsed.

The Young Money tour stops in Montreal tonight, in Vancouver Aug. 17 and in Edmonton Aug 18.

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