Riding up the CN tower, ferrying to Toronto island, strolling through the Distillery District, lounging in the Beaches, dinner and drinks on King West. These are all highly necessary tourist activities that I would consider “must-dos” on any Torontonian’s lists.
Seeing Drake with 16,000 of your closest Toronto friends and fellow rap lovers in the very city that raised our own hip-hop megastar? Well, that tops just about any of them.
OVO Fest, standing for “October’s Very Own” (a shout-out to the rapper’s birthday month), is now always something of a spectacle in the city, long before the date even nears. As the one concert that brings Drizzy back to his stomping grounds to wow his Canadian peers each year, OVO manages to cast a buzzing hype over the 416; an excitement that comes not only from Toronto’s obsession with the hometown legend, but also the precedent-setting surprise guest line-up of the world’s most spectacular urban acts who are apparently just chomping at the bit to accompany the young gun back to the Big Smoke. Every year it’s different – Jay-Z, Eminem and Stevie Wonder are a few of the golden guests who’ve touched down at Pearson with him – and every year it gets a little more shocking.
As the third installment of OVO approached – following an astonishing year for the nine-time Grammy nominated rapper after the release of his sophomore album Take Care – I was ready to slap the next person who asked me if I was attending. No, I was not. I had the pleasure of seeing Florence and the Machine, The Walkmen, M83, Austra and Justice this week – all right here in Toronto – and just didn’t feel it was likely that I would be tacking on another concert to my hyper-musical week. With rumours swirling about which big names would be joining Drizzy at Molson Ampitheatre, as well as knowledge that A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd were concrete members of the Sunday night line-up, I was secretly crying inside for days. Sure, I had an incredible concert week – but I am a gigantic rap fan, and seeing the hip-hop face of Toronto (and Canada) bring the show home once a year is the stuff of history books.
On Sunday afternoon, as my fear-of-missing-out symptoms were at a sickening level and I was pathetically reading the OVO rumour mill via Twitter – I happened to eyeball a reasonably priced lawn ticket (where my friend was going to be) before immediately contacting the person for the stub. In the wise words of the Young Money crew as well as those spattered in glitter on the many homemade t-shirts I cringed at on the concert grounds…YOLO, right? YOLO.
After securing a prime spot on the lawn, watching the masses flood in and grooving to The Weeknd’s impressive slow jams, a nervous hush fell over the crowd as we waited for the underground king to step out in front of the shadowing skyline. Anyone who didn’t have a fresh beer or empty bladder immediately regretted their life choices, because we all knew the drill – there wouldn’t be a dull moment in the next two hours, nor one that you would be comfortable missing. And with that, aboard an elevated platform beneath the flashing lights - the head-to-toe white clad knight appeared.
Looking beefy and proud, the rap ambassador hammered his fist towards the ground to the huge opening beat of “Lord Knows,” amidst a deafening roar from his hometown fans. With every rhyme spit, as well as any interjecting commentary, he ignited a match beneath the thousands of people, sending them leaping into the air and screaming for their lives. “Every year, I feel like this is my mother-f**king birthday,” he hollered with conviction. That one really did the trick.
With a wide smile, Drizzy shouted out to his birthplace (St.Michael’s Hospital) and the musical success of so many of “Toronto’s finest,” bringing camera-shy The Weeknd back on stage for “Crew Love” before pulling up his sleeveless top to reveal a fine-looking ribcage and the new home to huge “416” ink. Needless to say, you could cut the Toronto pride with a knife – especially when he made Canuck-boosting statements like, “If you go to Dubai and you hear my sh**, that’s Toronto. If you go to Africa and you hear my sh**, that’s Toronto.” International crew love.
As if the women in the audience needed more cause to faint, at one point the rapper paused to address the haters before playing a few lady-praising tracks. “People say I make too much music for women. You’re f**king right I make too much music for women. I don’t make music for b**ches, I don’t make music for little girls – I make music for women,” he shouted over top a shrill eruption. From there, he went on to play every single one of his pumped-up tracks – ranging from “The Motto” and “Forever” to a gorgeous pyro-caked “Take Care” and “HYFR” (dedicated to his label head Lil’ Wayne, who couldn’t make it).
Of course, there came a point when the surprise guest anticipation was unbearable. How on earth was he going to top himself? Naturally, you bring out Rick Ross and then the Doggfather. As the extra lanky Snoop Dogg Lion sauntered out (he played for a Toronto crowd of 700 a few short days before), drugs and drink in hand and jams like “Beautiful” and “Drop it Like It’s Hot” in tow, the crowd hopped left and right – touching a mediocre volume that would be topped within minutes when a blonde-wigged, busty Nicki Minaj strolled onto stage to see her “hubby, Drizzy.” With the duet “Make Me Proud” as well as her own “Beez in the Trap” effortlessly delivered, Minaj wrapped herself around Drake at center stage while he admitted she was “the most beautiful thing in the world” and took the stage back for himself. At the end of the night, although Snoopy Dogg-Lion-whatever and Nicki are impressive MCs, it was obvious that this year Drake wouldn’t be exhibiting any hip-hop royalty bigger than the 25 year-old superstar himself – and refreshingly, he certainly doesn’t need to anymore. He’s more than enough.
Dedicating the show to the victims of Scarborough’s recent shooting and dropping news that next year’s OVO will take place at the 50,000 capacity Roger’s Centre – Drake showed as much humanly possible love to his city, visibly demonstrating that the colossal rap event is as momentous to him as it is to all of us. “Toronto, we need to take a moment as a city,” he uttered with a bowed head. And what a moment that was.
Warning: Explicit Language
*inanutshell doesn’t own any rights to the above video