Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
Live Review: Drake
Hammersmith Apollo, London, January 7
“And I lean over and I whisper this one thing in your ear…” he explains.
And then the bass drops.
“OH NA NA – WHAT’S MY NAME?”
And thusly the Apollo collectively explodes in a flurry of hormones that could quite easily bring down the nearby Hammersmith flyover. Squeamish much? But in the light of ‘What’s My Name?’, the most sexually arousing song for either gender since ‘Je T’Aime (Moi Non Plus)’, this is entirely reasonable behaviour. And prior to its release, if you weren’t a hormonal teenage girl, a hip-hop fan, an internet user, or indeed never ever listen to the radio, it is just about possible that you might not have heard of Drake.
But London has heard of Drake; this is the first of three sold-out nights at Hammersmith. DJ Future The Prince is taking the warm-up routine to new levels of Beatlemania, imploring the Apollo to put its hands in the air as if it just doesn’t care – and the like – if it loves Drizzy. Hammersmith certainly does love him. At Drake’s prompt, Hammersmith also declares love for Nicki, and Weezy, and Tyga, and Gudda Gudda and the rest of them. This is nothing if not a Young Money family affair, but it’s serving only to make the tension rise up, so by the time a wrestler’s net drops down at the back of the stage and Drake himself arrives, clad in combat pants and bulging black T, it’s as if we’re witnessing more the arrival of a prophet than a pop star. London has of course been waiting for this moment for the best part of a year.
But Drake has nothing if not the chops to carry this sort of thing off. Here is the posterboy for Lil’ Wayne’s hip-hop Dollhouse. If Nicki Minaj is hip-hop’s first Samurai Barbie Doll, Drake is its first Lounge Lizard Action Man, and together they’re steering hip-hop firmly back into a pop realm so fierce it’s as if Giggs never happened. Drake’s album ‘Thank Me Later’ casts him as something of an expressive and introspective performer, his languid drawl loping over lower-key beats like a cross between Atmosphere and grief-period Kanye West. But this is the full-on boyband show, with Drake carrying off enough bounce and charisma for five guys on stools all by himself. He’s all at once bounding every corner of the stage. Beats are heavier than before, and when he really lets rip, like on the already-anthems ‘Show Me A Good Time’ and ‘Fancy’, this is when he’s at his strongest; a fluid, smouldering MC and boy wonder marking out hip-hop’s future as belonging to him and the rest of the crew. All this from a Canadian!
And of course it reaches critical mass with ‘What’s My Name?’, and the similarly, hilariously lewd Young Money signature song ‘Bedrock’. Yes, the sleaze works absolutely fine, delivered along with just the right combination of wit, bounce and genuine charm. It’s the rest of the time that he loses his grip, too often descending into some kind of mushy Craig David caricature, the final third of the show basically comprising one long, mushy slow-jam and not much else until the final, epic call-to-arms that is ‘Over’. And Drake has already proved that he’s way, way better than that. He concludes that a British girl would be the best thing in the world to him, but we’ve been on YouTube, and he really does say that to all the girls.
Oh and by the way, Drake, the square root of 69 is not ‘ate’. 69 doesn’t have a square root. Sheesh.
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