The only thing that is guaranteed about Drake’s approach to every OVO Fest is the objective to instill uncertainty in attendees, which is usually due to his reputation for bringing out big name peers and iconic musicians, but also attributed to Drake’s continuously growing catalogue that could impact the overall setlist. It was even clearer at this year’s event by including opening acts as “special guests” without ever qualifying who those people would be. The growing secrecy further tampered and muddled fans’ hopes for day two of the festivities at the Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto, who ended up receiving an odd and slightly disappointing collection of surprises but Drake compensated them with a very strong performance.
Drake expressed that the fifth incarnation of OVO Fest was about taking the audience on a journey through varying chapters of a career as unprecedented as his has been since releasing his first mixtape, Room For Improvement, back in 2006. Although he conveniently skipped over the Degrassi period, there were plenty of throwbacks to satisfy some of Drake’s older fans. He skillfully navigated the familiar waters of his breakout mixtape, So Far Gone and debut album,Thank Me Later, neither of which he highlighted so heavily since the very first OVO Fest. Renditions of “Unstoppable”, “Karaoke”, “Show Me A Good Time” and “Successful”, supported by long-time collaborator Trey Songz, were not only performed with a great deal of vigor and vocal control, but served as a reminder that despite criticisms of his “emo-rap” and R&B-laden sound, the rapper’s creative choices were strong from the beginning.
It’s just one of the many elements that make up Drake’s artistic profile, but the most prominent, only to be heightened at OVO Fest, is his unwavering love for Toronto. His genuine admiration is undeniable, especially when it was literally hovering above portions of the audience, as Drake clung to a pole suspended in mid-air to perform “Marvin’s Room”, jokingly comparing himself to One Direction in the process. While his push to brand the city as “The 6” and promises to return from his upcoming tour with Lil’ Wayne to record the best album he can border odd and endearing, his attempts to display local talent at OVO Fest was a welcomed addition to the performance. Many fans expressed disappointment that The Weeknd did not make an appearance, but in his place was PartyNextDoor and Jordan Ullman of MajidJordan, both Toronto-based singers signed to Drake’s OVOSound imprint. Although PartyNextDoor’s showcase was a tad too long and Ullman appeared nervous while supporting Drake on his 2013 hit, “Hold On, We’re Going Home”, the two singers are exceptionally talented, and gave a great indication as to where Drake is headed as a cultural ambassador in the months to come.
The guests at this year’s OVO Fest exposed Drake as a complicated crossing point between artistry, success, and in some scenarios, completely missed opportunities. Bringing the likes of Jhené Aiko as an opening act and DJ Khaled demonstrated his role as a tastemaker and collaborator, especially when he ran through “I’m On One” and “No New Friends” alongside DJ Khaled. With J.Cole as his witness, Drake addressed his controversy with Kendrick Lamar by naming him a fellow king and praising his efforts as a peer in hip-hop today. The audience as a whole identifies with Drake best when he is associated with such acts or with his solo material.
But OVO Fest is Drake’s annual opportunity to curate something unique to Toronto, and this is the first year that he faltered in his efforts. It’s not because fans considered the artists he brought out, including Lauryn Hill, Usher and the recently reunited G-Unit, untalented, unrecognizable, or unimpressive They were certainly different from offerings found inprevious years. Collectively, however, they just aren’t appreciated by younger audience members the same way that rappers, like Drake, probably grew up listening to during their adolescent years. When following up on last year’s all-star roster, which included Big Sean, A$AP Rocky, Lil’ Wayne, TLC and Kanye West, Drake should have considered bringing one more artist who is relevant to today’s generation to truly make this year’s festival as monumental as its overarching reputation. This flaw also made day one of the festival; headlined by hip-hop duo Outkast who were noticeably absent from Drake’s performance, fall flat.
Despite this, the show was still fun. Many fans remain deterred by Lauryn Hill’s recent history of late and uneven performances to make an effort to attend one of her shows, but her presence and quick fifteen-minute opening set, which included “Ready Or Not” and “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”, was a satisfying taste of the R&B legend. Between Usher’s slick dance moves, throwbacks to “U Don’t Have To Call” and “Confessions”, and G-Unit’s aggressive attacks on tracks like “What Up Gangsta”, “I Get Money”, and the unrelenting “In Da Club”, fans remained engaged and excited by the opportunity to see some great performers who have already made a life-long impression in the music industry, regardless of what their outputs are like in the years to come.
Drake, however, is in no hurry to slow down. A rundown of his career over the course of the setlist, which included performances of “Crew Love”, “Started From The Bottom”, and “All Me” demonstrated that he has a great portfolio behind him, but performances against the infamous lint rolling clip backdrop, cheers for Kevin Durant to join the Raptors, and to the enthusiasm of all, his closing set proved that he is not only truly in the most ambitious and prime time of his career right now, but completely self-aware of what he can make of it in every direction possible. He ran through “Worst Behaviour”, “Believe Me”, “Trophies” and “0 to 100”, the latter of the two which are much more hard-hitting and energetic in a live setting, closing the night on a final reminder that once again, he is far from over.