When writing show reviews, I always struggle with the journalistic imperative to report "what happened?" because usually nothing really happened other than some brooding subculture people played some notes and maybe moved around in a vaguely distinct way. The kind of stuff that is so commonplace that it's not worth talking about. So it's kind of a change of pace when I go to some big-budget arena show like the one Drake and Lil Wayne played at Ak-Chin Pavilion last night, because usually something markedly interesting enough happens for me to report on.
For instance, Drake flew around on a mic stand singing shout-outs to people.
That's what happened. It's not the only thing that happened. It's also something that literally everyone with an Internet connection knew was going to happen because people have been Instagraming this rehearsed moment of a highly rehearsed tour for the previous 28 or so stops. But people were into it. I was into it. It was really Drake. Maybe the Drakest moment of a performance that wasn't completely Drake in character, opting for mostly the "Started from the Bottom" narrative and leaving out most of the concessions of emotional vulnerability and creative risk-taking that chip at that veneer of hardness and make Drake such an idiosyncratic artist for the rap game.
This specific tour, Drake vs. Lil Wayne, wasn't about that. This tour was about the relationship between Drake and his mentor Lil Wayne, depicted as a jocularly adversarial one amidst the motif of Street Fighter II (with official Capcom sponsorship that makes me hopeful for Capcom vs. Young Money in the future). The gist was that Weezy and Drizzy were to fight it out, to prove once and for all who the better rapper is, but it all seemed very self-congratulatory and highlighted that their best creative moments may be the moments they shared. It also seemed very curatorial and nostalgic in a way I didn't know contemporary hip-hop was capable of, especially for two very prolific rappers who are constantly releasing new material.
The general nature of the set was that one rapper would play a few songs (who goes first was decided via a mobile app in which users would "button-mash" for their preferred rapper), spit out some scripted trash-talk (mostly some Degrassi digs on Wayne's part) and give the other the floor. It obviously wasn't an organic rap battle in any way, but instead a theatrical depiction of one used to elevate the highlights of both musician's careers. This became very apparent when the two started discussing who had the better featured verses and performed a good deal from tracks that they were guests on. That particular segment reminded me that in 2009 or so, that Lil Wayne, and to some extent Drake as well, felt like almost ubiquitous voices on contemporary hip-hop radio.
In 2014, Drake's presence seems to saturate popular culture more, but both rappers are in top shape as performers. Lil Wayne in particular seemed very lucid and full of energy, essentially not at all like someone struggling with a codeine problem. At one point, when the "battle" had basically just turned into a hip-hop bromance, Drake told Wayne that he wouldn't be where he is if it weren't for him. Wayne responded the same, making me imagine in the Drake fan-fiction that exists in my head some kind of intervention on his part. I'm pretty sure they performed "HYFR" together shortly after and love conquered everything.
The battle of Drake vs. Lil Wayne ended up being a draw. I actually don't know if it's scripted as such and don't want to look. I don't really care that much if it's real or fake because the reality to me is that rappers used to kill each other when I was a kid and now they are on stage telling each other how much they mean to one another. I hope there is at least some twinkle of truth in the superimposed narrative of camaraderie between two creative partners that strung together a set of otherwise unrelated songs, pyrotechnics, and light displays for 28 or so tour stops. I hope that the "stick with your real friends, not with your fake friends" rhetoric is sincere. I hope that the answer to "what happened?" is more than some goofy, self-referential spectacle. I hope that hip-hop, while elevating individual achievements, looks out for the "whole team" as well.
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