Concert Review

Drake Brings A Surprise OVO Showcase To SXSW

Fader Fort, The Fader’s annual SXSW event, always brings in a few surprise performers at the end of the week, and the rumors always indicate that the secret special guest will be some A-list star. Some years, that’s exactly how it turns out — like in 2009, when Kanye West emerged from the depressive fog of his 808s & Heartbreaks era to host a joyous G.O.O.D. Music showcase, or in 2013, when Usher weirdly and wonderfully collaborated with the Afghan Whigs. Other times, the big reveal turns out to be a little underwhelming — like last year, when T-Pain and Big Sean turned up Friday night and then Hudson Mohawke’s surprise guest on Saturday turned out to be Travi$ Scott, not Kanye West.

So even though I had word from a reliable source that Drake would be closing out Saturday night’s event with an impromptu OVO Sound showcase, I was hesitant to believe it until I saw it. Even once the lights went down and an array of OVO underlings were taking their turns on the stage, a part of me remained skeptical. But sure enough, Aubrey Graham was in the house, and he nearly brought it down.

A photo posted by Mr. Morgan (@morgan_mr) on

But not before showing off all the mini-Drakes on his label! First up was the debut live appearance by “mysterious” R&B singer-producer dvsn. Backed by three female backup singers decked out in choir robes, he efficiently smoldered his way through a couple compelling tracks and exited before we knew what hit us. Next came Roy Wood$, whose forgettable set was overshadowed by the DJ playing Kanye’s “Fade” afterwards. Majid Jordan then raised the bar by a significant margin; with producer Jordan Ullman in the shadows, vocalist Majid Al Maskati kicked out three clubby R&B tracks including a Drake-less “My Love,” which has managed to transcend its obvious associations to become a banger in its own right.

PARTYNEXTDOOR used the final warmup slot to prove what a force he’s become. The guy still strikes me as a Drake clone, but he’s holding down the R&B side of the equation while Drizzy himself gravitates toward rapping these days. And he’s got songs: songs that had me wondering if I’d better revisit his discography, songs that had obviously become standards for many people in the crowd. By the time he gave a shout-out to “Drizzy motherfuckin’ Drake” and the stage went totally dark, the energy level in the tent was extremely high.

So it’s only appropriate that the 6 God began his six-song set with “Energy,” one of the most propulsive songs on last year’s blockbuster “mixtape” If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. When that one finished up, he stoked the crowd by remarking that Fader only asked him to do one song but he might as well do some more. Out of the inevitable applause came the creeping intro to “Know Yourself,” which had thousands of people shouting the still-kinda-ridiculous refrain “I WAS RUNNING THROUGH THE 6 WITH MY WOES” in short order. I was convinced he would eschew year-old material in favor of his freshest hits, but if anybody felt like “Energy” and “Know Yourself” were played out, it certainly wasn’t evident from the rapturous response they elicited.

We can debate whether Drake’s transformation from a sensitive singer-rapper hybrid into a hardheaded gym rat has been good for his music. And we can argue about if he should be ashamed about getting help with his bars (personally, I don’t mind as long as the end result is a compelling song). But this gig demonstrated one area of his repertoire that has definitely changed for the better: He’s really stepped up his game as a performer. The guy seized command of the stage from the first second and never let it go. Drake may be more of a power lifter, but this set had the feel of a quick cardio workout with all the endorphins and none of the exhaustion.

You’d think a six-song Drake setlist would include his biggest hit to date, the 2015-dominating “Hotline Bling,” but Drake has reached such a point of cultural saturation that all of his songs feel like his biggest hit when the beat drops. Case in point: He kept up the momentum with a pair of hits from the Future collaboration What A Time To Be Alive, “Big Rings” and “Jumpman.” And although Future wasn’t there to join in — another SXSW missed connection for the superstar duo — his trusty producer and people-shooting barometer Metro Boomin made an appearance, inspiring Drake to run back “Jumpman” for a second time.

After burning through one Meek Mill diss track (“Back To Back”), he wrapped up the set with another (“Summer Sixteen”) before affirming that Views From The 6 will be out sometime next month and promising that he’ll be back in Austin, Houston, and Dallas on tour this year. And with that, he disappeared into the night, which was smart: Few artists can hold a SXSW audience at rapt attention for half an hour, and even though Drake could have kept going for hours without running out of hits, instead he left us wanting more. In “I don’t know how many weeks,” that’s what we’ll finally have.

AUBREY DRAKE GRAHAM!! 😩😩🙌🏽🙌🏽 🇨🇦🇨🇦|| #FaderFort #SXSW #OVOSound @champagnepapi #drake

A video posted by Bianca Gracie (@biancag16) on

#DRAKE #FaderFort #SXSW

A video posted by TheRealJasonATX (@therealjasonatx) on