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Photos by Nic Pouliot.
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DRAKE, 50 CENT AND G-UNIT, USHER, LAURYN HILL and many more as part of OVO FEST at the Molson Amphitheatre, Monday, August 4. Rating: NNNN
"If the owner of the Molson Amphitheatre is here: you should sell this shit. I would probably buy it cause I already own it," said Drake, just before he mounted a t-bar and floated over the crowd to his emo 2011 hit, Marvin's Room.
It sure felt like Drake's backyard on Monday, the second night of the rapper's fifth-annual OVO Fest concert that, like 2013, saw an unbelievably overwhelmed security entrance, a VIP-filled crowd (NBA MVP Kevin Durant watching from the stands like a regular guy, except 6'9") and legions of well-turned-out fans speculating on which athletes were in the building and which musicians would be onstage.
Coming out with minimal fanfare just after 8:30 pm, Lauryn Hill was so unexpected as a warmup, that many in the crowd (including me) didn't realize it was actually her singing her Score and Miseducation of Lauryn Hill hits at first. But by the time she got into Ready Or Not - full band and backup singers fleshing out her passionate performance - tweets were flying and iPhones were in video mode. After joining the former Fugee onstage for Draft Day, the man of the hour, Drake, started the show in earnest with We Made It and The Language, before breaking to thank his shrieking faithful and bring his mom onstage for a hug.
There's always been a hitch with OVO Fest and its reliance on the emcee's increasingly impressive surprise guests. Eventually, Drizzy wasn't going to be able to outdo himself. After last year's sensational lineup which included the legends (Kanye West, Lil Wayne), the nostalgia-baiters (Diddy and Mase, TLC), and the red-hot relevant (A$AP Rocky, Big Sean), many thought this would be that year. They were right. Though rumours of Nicki Minaj and Justin Timberlake swirled until showtime, the best Drake could muster were Usher, 50 Cent and Hill - a trio of artists who, while hugely popular, peaked at the turn of the millennium or shortly after.
Drake spoiled us rotten, and we've become brats about it. The bar was just too high. It didn't help that he performed tunes on Monday that had Lil Wayne or Nicki Minaj or Big Sean features. And instead of that artist magically appearing, Drake either rapped their verse or had the PA stand in. (Drake: never do Crew Love without the Weeknd!)
So, there was a persistent - if unfair - feeling of OVO not living up to its hype. But gripes aside, the hometown hero has honed his performance skills since 2010, and that, along with a well-crafted setlist of his own material - the meat of the 50-ish song concert - still made the whole thing very enjoyable.
Off the top, the emcee told us he was going to do songs he'd never been brave enough to do before - that he was going deep into his back catalogue and B-sides. His breakout 2009 mixtape So Far Gone got major love, as Drizzy revelled in Unstoppable and Sooner Than Later, and showed off some seriously improved singing chops on Bria's Interlude.
And though Drake's guests might not have been as jaw-dropping as in years passed, they were carefully chosen and meaningful. To cap off the So Far Gone portion of the evening, Trey Songz joined him for their prophetic duet Successful, before Trey did his current single Na Na.
The rest of the show rolled out fairly chronologically, with Drake tapping into favourites (singles and not) from his studio albums Thank Me Later and Take Care, interspersing them with appearances from his famous friends: J. Cole, who's great and all, but who we just saw at OVO 4 on the heels of a hit album duetting with Miguel who was HUGE at the time; Toronto R&B crooner/Drake protégé PARTYNEXTDOOR, who did a five-song miniset that, while effective, was a couple songs too long and slowed the show's momentum; DJ Khaled, who turned up with All I Do Is Win, I'm On One and No New Friends (although, we really didn't need to hear him yelling "DJ KHALED" over and over like we were in a club - we know who you are, DJ Khaled); Tinashe and OB showing up briefly for 2 On; and YG - the of-the-moment Compton rapper who opened for Outkast last night - shining in a retro Raps jersey for Who Do You Love?
The most memorable guest by miles was Usher, who made everyone's life by serving up his titular hit Confessions - just as fucking incredible in 2014 as it was ten years ago (!!!) at the ACC when he was actually touring that album. While he didn't bring a lucky lady onstage to serenade with roses, or take his shirt off, someone should have reminded Usher that he was a guest at this show, and to tone down the between-song banter. He sure was feeling himself up there. But props to the Atlanta R&B star: he performed his new stuff cause he knew he had to, but like us, he was having way more fun for his older tunes like You Don't Have To Call.
Drake maintained that momentum with recent songs like Wu-Tang Forever, Started From The Bottom and an inspired Hold On We're Going Home performance (with Majid Jordan), that somehow made us feel like the song was brand new even though we've heard it 12,345 times in the exactly one year since it's been released.
That should have been the climax - it was the biggest song of 2013 after all - but over the years, Drake's last guest has become the most anticipated moment of the night. Unfortunately, his big reveal this time was a bit disappointing. After introducing the mystery person as someone who changed music, Drake welcomed 50 Cent and his South Jamaica, Queens rap group G-Unit onstage. Cool, but a little weak for 10:50 pm. The six-song stint ended emphatically with In Da Club, even though 50 had trouble keeping up to his own song, letting the crowd rap the best parts.
Luckily, the host saved his own best material for last, closing out with Trophies, Worst Behaviour (finally) and 0-100.
And so, while there will be whining that 50 Cent and G-Unit is not Kanye West, or Jay Z, or Even 2 Chainz, it's the little things that still made OVO Fest V great. Like the beautifully understated but compelling gigundo screen projections behind the star, effectively matching each song's mood; like the time he had his courtside lint-rolling escapade projected for all to see; like when he made the whole building scream for Durant to join the Toronto Raptors; and like his aforementioned foray into the crowd, where he did his "I see you" routine - thankfully for not as long as during his Nothing Was The Same Tour - pointing out fans in the audience and basically rocking their world. Drake was being Drake, often corny as shit, and owning it every step of the way. "It's like me and One Direction who would do some shit like this," he said about his flying bit.
Turns out on his fifth anniversary, Drake was his biggest guest-star, the most improved and most valuable player at OVO. Sadly, there was no encore, but there will be a next year.