Drake’s Show at the Apollo Was an Underwhelming Victory Lap

After several delays and postponements over the past several weeks—and apparently suffering an injured ankle just days ago—Canadian superstar Drake finally took the stage at Harlem’s Apollo Theater over the weekend for an exclusive two-night event in partnership with SiriusXM and his recently launched channel on the platform, Sound 42.

But it still wasn’t all smooth sailing, as I learned while attending Sunday night’s show. Namely, a fan seated in the mezzanine either jumped or fell over the balcony, halting the concert for roughly 20 minutes while he was evaluated by medics. Staff also had to readjust a light he’d hit on the way down. The murmurings I heard from security and attendees seated in his row was that he got “too excited” and was repeatedly told by staff to back up before he accidentally flipped over the edge, though the details of what actually went down have yet to be confirmed by the concertgoer himself.

The shocking incident occurred during the final act of the show, after Drake brought out 21 Savage, one of the night’s several guests, to perform songs from their 2021 album Her Loss. A few bars into “Rich Flex,” you could see the pair’s energy dwindle as they stared into the crowd, seemingly observing the fall. Soon after, Drake stopped the music and announced that “someone got hurt” before he and 21 left the stage—a smart move post-Astroworld Festival. Luckily, the crowd was surprisingly patient during the wait time, refocusing their attention on New York Yankee Aaron Judge, who was seated in a box. (Yes, I did pretend to be a native New Yorker for two minutes and chant “Let’s go, Yankees!” with the crowd). When Drake finally returned to the stage, he confirmed that everything was OK and reintroduced 21 Savage before carrying on with the show.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for SiriusXM

The rest of night two was decidedly less staggering, not only because many fans know by now what to expect from Drake as a live performer, but also because footage of the surprise musical guests from Saturday’s show had been circulating all day on Twitter. It probably would’ve helped the supposed “intimacy” of the show if guests weren’t allowed to have their phones on them (not that a no-camera policy would’ve stopped details from leaking eventually; just look at Beyoncé’s “secret” concert in Dubai). Still, there was something about seeing guests experience the show through a bunch of lit-up screens (and yes, I’m indicting myself!) that tarnished the sanctity of the event. On the other hand, this whole thing was an advertisement for SiriusXM, so maybe sanctity wasn’t really the point.

Despite most fans being spoiled, the crowd was elated to see legendary Harlem group Dipset once again join Drake onstage: a clear highlight of the evening. (Fortunately, this time, the “God’s Plan” rapper was not trying—and failing—to pull off Cam’ron’s pink mink coat). The first time I felt the mezzanine shake was when Cam’ron emerged from a Harlem deli set in a floor-length black fur coat to perform “Hey Ma.” From there, the quartet, including Jim Jones, Juelz Santana, and Freekey Zekey, performed their hits “Dipset Anthem,” “I Really Mean It,” and “We Fly High (Ballin’),” and their appearance was brilliantly timed, as Drake had started to dip into the more recent (read: not as good) songs in his catalog before bringing them out. Not to mention, staging such a “historic” Harlem show without paying tribute to the hip-hop collective would’ve been utterly disrespectful.

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for SiriusXM

The true “surprise” guest of the evening, however, was Lil Uzi Vert, who hopped onstage during the middle of the show. The 27-year-old rapper, who’s faced several legal battles recently—including the accusation that he punched his ex-girlfriend multiple times in 2021—performed his recent release “Just Wanna Rock” before launching into his 2017 hit “XO Tour Llif3.” Drake took a moment to thank the emo rapper, who he called his “actual real-life brother,” for checking in on him sporadically. Once again, it turns out Drake actually does have friends in the industry.

And then, of course, there was Drake himself. Like most of his albums, his setlist was as bloated as expected. Initially, I was nervous that the show would focus more on his recent output over the past two years, which has been both sonically underwhelming and thematically incel-ish. Instead, he used this prestigious opportunity to take fans on a tour of his career—“a journey of gratitude,” as he called it—by performing tracks from across his eight studio albums. (Surprisingly, he didn’t pull out any of his viral hits from the early mixtape era, including the career-launching So Far Gone). Thankfully, he only performed about two minutes of each song, rather than keeping guests out until 2 a.m. before a workday by running through each one in full.

The show opened with “Over My Dead Body” from Drake’s sophomore studio album, Take Care—arguably his most brand-defining work. He then jumped around between songs from his third album, Nothing Was the Same, his debut album, Thank Me Later, and his 2017 mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. He performed the first act in a fogged-out bedroom, a replica of his mother’s basement where he practiced rhymes, that then turned into a record label office. (His mother, Sandi Graham, also provided an occasional voiceover throughout the night.)

From the opening number, it was clear that Drake, prone to jumping around on stage, was being held back by his busted ankle, as he mostly sat and stood in one place. Eventually he was able to loosen up a bit, occasionally jumping on his good foot, but for the most part, his stage presence seemed entirely out of character.

Nevertheless, his vocals were refreshingly pristine—much stronger than when I saw him perform a decade ago on the Club Paradise Tour. He’s certainly become a more confident crooner, mastering his once-shaky runs on “Hold On We’re Going On” and “Marvins Room,” and improvising as well as—or better than—any R&B singer on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Still, the most exhilarating parts of the show were less melodic; the crowd seemed more excited by high-energy, anthemic hits like “Over,” “Started From the Bottom,” and “Know Yourself” than anything else in his catalog.

From the opening number, it was clear that Drake was being held back by his busted ankle. … For the most part, his stage presence seemed entirely out of character.

But while it was nearly impossible not to get excited during most of the career-spanning setlist, nothing about the night, particularly its underwhelming production, felt as special as what was advertised by Drake and SiriusXM. To be clear, the roughly 1,500 audience members—presumably because most of them had won a sweepstakes to be there—were in high spirits the entire time. But Drake has shown much more excitement at arena shows in the Midwest than his first-ever performance at the Apollo, one of hip-hop’s true meccas. Curiously, he kept telling us that we were a much better crowd than Saturday’s; who knows if that was actually true or just some sort of reverse psychology to get us more amped.

Overall, the show was as solid as Drake’s oeuvre. I had a much more religious experience hearing him freshly perform songs off of Take Care to a crowd of 20,000 people in 2012. The production then was equally as bare-boned as on Sunday, but there was a level of genuine excitement and nerves on display that just didn’t feel present at the Apollo, no matter how many times he expressed his supposed shock and gratitude to the audience.

I guess you just can’t recreate those early moments in one’s career. But you can take a step back for a moment and try to reignite that passion, rather than stating that you might release another album this year out of sheer boredom. Unfortunately, Drake will probably be doing no such thing, as he unemotionally told the crowd that we can see him on the road this summer. At the very least, his ankle should be healed by then.

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