It says much about the power of Drake that, to mark the Canadian rapper’s seven nights at London’s O2 Arena, the building has temporarily changed its name from the O2 to the O3, in homage to one of his lyrics.
The lines – “And you know me/Turn the O2 into the O3” – feature in God’s Plan, one of his 12 Top 10 UK hits, and are a typical piece of bluster about the might of his live performances. The change in the sign above the main door suggested the venue had been taken in by the hype and, as the show began on Monday night, it looked like the bragging was justified.
The gig did not start with a song, though. In a display of Drake’s ambitions beyond music, it started with a trailer for the third series of London drama Top Boy. Axed by Channel 4 in 2013, Drake bought the rights to the show in 2017 and the new series will start on Netflix later this year.
A trailer may not sound like an electrifying way to kick off a concert, but Top Boy’s unglamorous depiction of gang crime could not be more topical right now, and the revelation that Dave, the UK’s brightest rap star, will play a starring role, prompted gasps of excitement among the audience.
The fans were still composing themselves when Drake took the stage, accompanied by fireworks and a yellow Ferrari that flew gracefully above the audience’s heads. Combined with the images of lapping waves and swimming pools projected onto the stage-cum-giant screen, the opening minutes had a mesmerising quality about them.
The rapper’s personal contribution, though, felt lacking. While his energy and enormous repertoire never fail to impress (the 32-year-old is the most streamed artist on Spotify and, last year, broke the Beatles’ record for the most Billboard Top 10 hits in a single year), we could have done with more music and less talking.
Drake has taken an active interest in the UK music scene for years, promoting rising British talent. But his constant gushing about how much he loved London became rather repetitive. And when he brought out three fledgling UK rappers it seemed half the arena had never heard of, many fans left to go to the bar.
He later partially redeemed himself by bringing on Giggs and Future, venerated rappers in the UK and America respectively, but then fell flat again with his distinctly anodyne tribute to Nipsey Hussle, the much-respected LA rapper who was fatally shot on Sunday night. The stage lit up with Hussle’s face, and Drake dedicated the night to him: a perfect moment to deliver a galvanising message to a city dealing with its own violence and desperately in need of a pep talk. But instead, Drake spouted platitudes about love and unity.
Such carefully curated neutrality might keep him at the top of the charts, but his fans deserved more.