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Drake’s Young Money Reunion, a Triumphant Homecoming

A few songs into his set at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage on Saturday night, Drake paused the show to momentarily reflect on his first hometown show in three years. “It’s been a long time since we’ve been here and been able to do this together,” the rapper told the sold-out crowd. “First and foremost, I just want to say tonight I got to stand in a crowd and watch two of the greatest musicians of all time. I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful to be a part of that team.”

The two musicians in question were Lil Wayne, who gave a young Aubrey Graham his musical start when he signed him to his label Young Money Entertainment in 2009, and Nicki Minaj, another Wayne protégé with a long history with the Canadian rapper. Originally scheduled for the previous Monday as part of the rapper’s OVO World Weekend festivities—which kicked off with historic Canadian hip-hop and R&B-celebrating event featuring Kardinal Offishall, k-os, Jully Black, Keshia Chanté, surprise guest Nelly Furtado, and more—the concert was canceled last minute after Drake tested positive for COVID-19. On Thursday, he announced on Instagram that he had received a negative test, and the rescheduled show would happen Saturday with Wayne and Minaj “flying back in to make it happen for you all.”  

The eleventh-hour makeup date didn’t deter the audience, many of whom showed up early to the Lake Ontario-side venue in the sweltering late afternoon heat to queue up for limited-edition merch, including $188 embroidered owl hoodies and Young Money New York Yankees-referencing logo t-shirts. From his 2009 mixtape So Far Gone to last year’s Certified Lover Boy, and at least a few of the rapper’s tongue-in-cheek “Huge Fan Of Your Old Stuff” shirts, all eras of Drake were represented on the backs of fans. At least one Toronto Raptors player was in attendance to see the team’s “Global Ambassador” play.

After a heavily delayed start, during which a DJ spun hits by Burna Boy (who also happened to be performing in Toronto that night), Amaarae, Baby Keem, and others to an increasingly restless crowd, a video message flashed across the screen saying “UNFORTUNATELY, LIL WAYNE HAD ISSUES AT THE BORDER.” Before people could finish groaning, a second message “LUCKILY, DRAKE RUNS THE BORDER” popped up, and the New Orleans rapper bounded on stage grinning ear-to-ear. Sporting a long sleeveless jean jacket (which he quickly took off), black t-shirt, and gold OVO chain, and brandishing a blunt, he wasted no time tearing through a vigorous half-hour set spanning his 20-year career, including “Pop Bottles,” No Ceilings mixtape cut “Swag Surf,” “Mrs. Officer,” and “6 Foot 7 Foot.” Ever the consummate showman, Wayne also took a moment to remind everybody of his role in Graham’s beginnings. “I want you to know that standing before you is the person who’s responsible for the best thing ever to come out of Canada,” he said to huge cheers, before ending with a spirited “A Milli” singalong. 

Wearing a checkered green and white jacket, matching Louis Vuitton bag, and thigh-high boots, Nicki Minaj’s set was also heavy on fan favorites, including “Did It On’em,” “Beez In The Trap,” “Super Bass,” and “Feeling Myself” (a video Beyoncé standing in for the real Beyoncé). She giddily introed “Only”—her endlessly-quotable The Pinkprint collab with Drake and Lil Wayne (“These hoes couldn’t test me, even if their name was Pop Quiz”)—by saying “You know I had to do this one tonight,” and brought out Jamaican dancehall artist Skillibeng to perform her 2021 “Crocodile Teeth” remix while shouting out Toronto’s Caribbean communities.  

Compared to previous editions of OVO Fest—including the 2017 one which famously featured a 1,815-foot CN Tower replica for him to recreate the Views cover—Drake’s stage setup was scaled back to just a large video screen flashing lyrics and messages like “FREE YSL” and “RIP KEED.” Walking through the crowd to the stage soundtracked by Arkansas singer-songwriter Yebba’s haunting “Yebba’s Heartbreak” off Certified Lover Boy, he opened with the 1-2 punch of “Jimmy Cooks” and “What’s Next,” before bringing out recent Toronto OVO signee Smiley (who was celebrating his birthday) to do their collaboration “Over The Top.” Eschewing a nostalgia-leaning solo set in favor of recent material, and collabs with Future (“I’M ON ONE,” “WAIT FOR U”) and Gunna (“P power”), the rapper also debuted a handful of songs from his recently-released Honestly, Nevermind. “Calling My Name” found its way into a medley with Take Care centerpiece “Marvins Room,” Drake jokingly referring to criticisms of his seventh album as being “Zara music.” The Virgil Abloh-quoting, Baltimore club-indebted “Sticky” received one of the biggest responses of the evening and segued perfectly into “Way 2 Sexy” and “Knife Talk,” the audience filling in for an absent 21 Savage on the latter. 

Not yet done with the special guests, the crowd was treated to a Big Tymer$ mini-set by Southern hip-hop legends Birdman and Mannie Fresh, before Drake (ditching his vest for a black tee and shorts), Wayne, and Minaj returned for the night’s final act. Despite not having performed together in many years, the easygoing chemistry between the three was evident, with Drake gleefully conducting the crowd during the others’ verses.  “Do you still have COVID?” Minaj playfully teased him at one point when he went in for a hug, while a beaming Wayne two-stepped beside them. Opening with 2008 Young Money posse cut “Bed Rock”— complete with twerking Flintstones animations—Drake took turns duetting with Minaj on “Up All Night” and “Moment 4 Life,” and Wayne on Take Care anthems “The Motto” and “HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right).” 

Towards the end, Drake made sure to give Wayne his flowers and recounted a memory early in his career when he went on Wayne’s tour bus and the rapper gave him $30,000. “I was able to bring [that] home to my mother and that changed the next six months for us. I’ll never forget it,” he said. “You are truly the most selfless man on planet earth.” After echoing his sentiments, Minaj turned the attention back to Drake, saying, “When you’re at the top and you always remember your motherfucking family that shows character.” After all the sincere statements, they closed on a light-hearted note with the goofy “EveryGirl In The World,” with Wayne being given the last word to promise his album Tha Carter IV was “coming soon.” While some fans might have bemoaned the lack of encore (perhaps so Drake could hang out with Avril Lavigne and Fefe Dobson at Lady Gaga’s Toronto Chromatica Ball stop), the fact that the concert was even able to happen given the many setbacks was no small thing. Previously Drake hinted at bringing OVO Fest on the road in 2023 for its tenth anniversary, and although the rapper was tight-lipped on further details as to what that might look like (or where), Saturday’s concert proved that the festival belongs first and foremost to Toronto.

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