Being one of the biggest music stars on the planet and presenting those talents in a live setting are two very different things.
But Drake has more than a touch of Justin Timberlake Syndrome – he’s a good-looking guy with musical talent that straddles genres and possesses the kind of charisma that translates as well on a screen as it does on a stage.
About a month into his “Summer Sixteen” tour with Atlanta rap hero Future, Drake is clearly reveling in his status as an artist who can pack an arena for multiple nights – Thursday’s Philips Arena performance was the first of two sellouts – and he takes his status seriously.
Not so much arrogant-seriously, but seriously to the point of creating a stunning visual spectacle to highlight his and Future’s music as well as curating a market-specific show to further engage his rabid fans.
Here are seven things we learned at Thursday’s concert.
1. Loyalty has its privileges. While pre-reformed Gucci Mane took some pointed swipes at Drake on social media (in 2013), the two apparently hugged it out months ago. When Mane performed a homecoming concert at the Fox Theatre in July, Drake and Future -- on an off night from this tour -- popped by to perform a couple of songs.
At Philips Arena, Drake and Future returned the love and welcomed Mane to the stage to present “Back on Road” (with Drake) as well as “1st Day Out Tha Feds” and “I Think I Love Her.”
Mane, in all of his sunglasses-wearing languid glory, received a rapturous response from the crowd, which packed the venue so fully that some fans were stationed on standing-only platforms at the back of the floor. But his presence raises the obvious question: Who is on deck for Friday’s concert?
2. Drake retains much affection for Atlanta. While he’s a proud Toronto native, the rapper-singer reminded fans that he kickstarted his career here, recalling performances at The Loft at Center Stage and the Fox Theatre.
3. This live production is truly sensational. While on stage, Drake carried the show on his beefy shoulders (a drummer, keyboardist and DJ were tucked in the shadows). Future’s set was also primarily a solo affair, though he was joined by a quartet of dancers on a couple of tracks, which seemed incongruous to his performance persona.
But the massive stage looked like the Death Star hangar, with banks of lights, ramps and a gorgeous curved screen running the length of the stage. The visual gem of the show, though, is the blanket of lighted globes obscuring the arena ceiling. They’re a cool enough effect when stationary, but when Drake burst into “Hotline Bling,” it was almost impossible to watch him reproduce the silly dance moves from the song’s video because of the attention-grabbing globes, which began see-sawing in the air (see video below).
At other moments in the show, rows of stage lights snapped to attention, machine gun-style, to match the crack of the snare drum at the start of “9” and lighted panels rose from the stage floor, giving Drake a new platform to bounce on as he whipped through “HYFR” (with tweaked lyrical references to Georgia State).
4. Drake likes to talk. After bopping through the woozy “Started from the Bottom,” Drake told the audience he wasn’t going to spend time conversing. But he couldn’t help himself – and it was actually a charming part of his persona.
“Make some noise for yourself!” “We just getting to know each other!” “If you in the front now sitting down, that ain’t gonna last for long,” were a few early interactions. Midway through his set, as he traveled above the floor seats in a metal-and-Plexiglas bucket during “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” he peered at fans and called them out: “I see you in the blue shirt.” “I see you, baby girl, in the white pants.”
5. Even before he had an album (“Views”) that spent three months perched atop the Billboard 200 and a collaboration with Future (“What a Time to Be Alive”) that debuted at No. 1 on the charts, Drake has dominated music in recent years.
He provided fans with an ample array of his catalog, shoehorning “We Made It,” “Blessings” and “I’m On One,” into a medley of about a dozen tunes, while also wrapping his nasally croak around “Headlines,” “Trophies,” “Faithful” and covers of DJ Khaled’s “For Free” and Fetty Wap’s “My Way” before ceding the stage to Future (but Drake would return for a multiple song encore).
6. While Drake is undeniably the headliner of this touring package and possibly receives the heartier response in other cities, Atlanta wasn’t going to allow Future to feel anything less than a massive outpouring of affection.
After Drake performed for about 70 minutes, Future emerged from beneath the stage in a white Atlanta Falcons hoodie celebrating Deion Sanders and pounded through tracks including “Bugatti” and the hazy “Move That Dope.”
Fans were so frenzied, many inadvertently slammed into each other in their enthusiasm to scream along with the guttural-voiced MC.
Crouching low and slinking stealthily around the stage, Future, backed by a DJ and hype man, rolled through “Thought it was a Drought” and “Low Life.”
Though he isn’t nearly as naturally loquacious as Drake, the prolific trap king humbly told the crowd, “I couldn’t have done this without my hometown.”
Flames sprayed behind him as he bobbed on stage to “F Up Some Commas” and a crisp “Jersey” and, with Drake, blasted through their collaborations “Big Rings” and “Jumpman.”
7. Drake, who still had much to say in the form of songs including “Controlla” and Rihanna’s “Work,” made sure to tilt the spotlight in Future’s direction for a hometown shoutout.
“This is the hardest-working, most consistent (guy),” Drake said, gesturing at Future. “And he represents Atlanta everywhere he goes.”
Drake and special guest Gucci Mane perform "Back on Road' at Philips Arena.
Check out the cool effects during Drake's "Hotline Bling."