The O2, London, March 26th

Shut the hell up, O2 Arena! Drake has something he wants to say. “Seriously y’all, I feel like London is responsible for so much of my career. So this isn’t just a concert, it’s a party. It’s a celebration of me!” Yep, tonight’s the first of two shows (sorry, ‘celebrations of me’) in the capital for the Canadian rapper, whose second album ‘Take Care’ has cemented his status as a leading light of the ‘emo rap’ vanguard.

That strange sobriquet is lent credibility by the surprising abundance of straightened hair in the audience tonight, but also by the presence of the queen of boggle-eyed emoting herself, Florence Welch. So what’s the fuss about Aubrey Drake Graham, exactly? Well, he’s proved himself a dab-hand at giving the jet-set ennui of Kanye a sex-obsessed overhaul — seriously, the guy’s absolutely fanny-mad — while his mostly synth-driven songs exude a tasteful air of gloomy contrition. Even his look is pure morning-after furtive slinkiness; all modest bling-on-black attire and seemingly painted-on day-old stubble.

Bounding onstage to the twinkling, majestic strains of ‘Lord Knows’, Drake segues straight into ‘Underground Kings’ and its revealing couplet about having “[i]money on my mind/my girl on my nerves[/i]”. ‘Headlines’ with its “[i]who the fuck are y’all[/i]” diss to hangers-on is sung back verbatim by the crowd, while ‘Crew Love’, his superlative collab with fellow Torontonian and lonely playa The Weeknd, sounds terrific.

London comes in for some love midway through the performance, with Drizzy saluting the Big Smoke for producing some of the “greatest talent in the world today” including Florence + The Machine (present) and Wiley (whereabouts unknown). Drake’s flow, meanwhile, is as difficult to knock as it is to warm to fully — he lacks the goofy imagination of his Chi-Town cousin — but he does carry the 90-minute runtime tonight with consummate ease. His singing is terrible, though; his off-key warbling about how many times he’s had sex this week in ‘Marvin’s Room’ make for a mightily uncomfortable moment.

No matter, though — the VIP chillout vibes of recent Rihanna hook-up ‘Take Care’ are on hand to rescue matters, and like a preening cat after a fall, Drake is free to carry on as if nothing ever happened. Who knows, maybe it didn’t.

[i]Alex Denney[/i]