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OVO Fest 2011 Recap [Photos/Review]

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Toronto, ON – To walk into the Molson Amphitheater on July 31st was to walk into a stadium filled with more collective anticipatory human energy than I had felt in quite some time.

The second annual OVO Fest was at capacity with what seemed to be every diehard, sweat-drenched fan of Aubrey “Drake” Graham that was fortunate enough to get a ticket that week or well in advance.

The highly publicized concert began with The Weeknd – another one of Toronto’s rising stars and Drake’s critically acclaimed collaborator. Prior to the concert, I had listened to quite a great deal of Abel Tesfaye’s music since the day that the artist and his production team released “House of Balloons”, but I wasn’t sure what to expect of his abilities to rock a crowd ( — even though he received rave reviews for his set at The Mod Club, a week earlier).

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

However, I was immediately impressed by the parallels between The Weeknd’s live vocals and the vocals from his first mixtape (from where I was standing) and I also thought that his band was amazing, to say the least. As expected, he played much of his material that has been taking over the Internet this summer and the packed OVO Fest crowd loved him for it.

With that being said, I did think that The Weeknd lacked the animation that more experienced live vocalists more often than not exhibit, but I have no doubt that he will improve tremendously over the course of the next two years (with a great deal of mentorship, practice and concentration).

Following The Weeknd’s performance was Rick Ross, who performed without a hype man. What struck me the most about Ricky Rozay’s set was the number of hit records that he has accumulated over the course of the last few years alone. Besides that, his performance was somewhat lackluster, despite the cheers of the more than 16,000 people that sat and stood in front of him.

Soon after Rick Ross’ set, a short intermission ensued, at which point the stage was made ready for the next act.

To make a long story short, the stadium absolutely erupted when Drake stepped on stage.

The last time I had photographed Drake performing was when I was on stage with him at The Sound Academy in 2009, during his first hometown performance, in front of a full house at the beginning of his rapid ascent to fame. The energy at the Molson Amphitheater was comparable to the energy during that “So Far Gone” show, two years ago, except for the fact that Drake has accumulated a myriad of accolades and accomplishments since that time – accolades and accomplishments which number far too many to be mentioned in this article.

What followed Drake’s entrance was an onslaught of hit songs by Canada’s most well known rap and R&B sensation.

As I photographed the Young Money’s white knight, I immediately noticed that his stage presence and his ability to control a crowd had improved tremendously since I stepped on stage with him a couple of years ago, but when he entered R&B mode, it was obvious to me that his (live) vocals still needed a lot of work -– especially considering the fact that I was able to immediately compare and contrast him to his far more vocally-gifted comrade, The Weeknd.

Unannounced guests such as J. Cole, Nas, and The Young Money boss himself -– Lil Wayne all made previously unannounced guest appearances, and they all performed some of their most celebrated records to the deafening cheer of thousands of fans.

However, the most impressive of Drake’s OVO Fest feats was bringing out yet another secret guest – none other than the legendary Stevie Wonder.

From my perspective, Stevie Wonder stole the show, effortlessly showing where the musical live performance bar was set, many decades ago.

Wonder’s performance was mesmerizing, to say the least, but I could tell that the generation gap defined by the sea of youth at the Molson Amphitheater that night made it nearly impossible for the majority of the OVO Fest ticket holders to truly appreciate the icon’s seemingly limitless and an awe-inspiring musical talents.

Despite the concert’s minor shortcomings, the fact remains that Drake is a popular musician unlike any other –- one who possesses a charisma and star power that is unheard of for a 24-year old from Toronto’s affluent Forest Hill neighborhood – a neighborhood that is most certainly not known for its conception of Hip-Hop superstars.

Armed with millions of fans, countless influential human resources, an uncanny ability to write hit records and the foresight to appreciate, collaborate with and help cultivate talent such as Boi-1da, 40 and The Weeknd, well before they became household names in the world of commercial music, the fact remains that no other hip-hop or R&B artist from Canada could have produced a sold out concert with as much star power as OVO Fest in Toronto.

Whether you are a fan of Drizzy Drake Rogers or not, OVO Fest was and will continue to be great for hip-hop music, for Toronto as a city and for the artist’s career.

The show undoubtedly brought about an increase in the artist’s fan base that was greater than what he could have ever imagined during the first annual OVO Fest, and between the upcoming release of his second solo album, entitled “Take Care” and The Weeknd’s second mixtape, entitled “Thursday”, Drake and his October’s Very Own entertainment collective are seemingly unstoppable and here to stay.

Photography and words by Ajani Charles for HipHopCanada

Photography by Ajani Charles

Follow Ajani on Twitter @AjaniPhoto

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

Photos/Review: OVO Fest 2011 with The Weeknd, Drake, Rich Ross, Lil Wayne, Nas, J. Cole & Stevie Wonder - HipHopCanada.com

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@AjaniPhoto

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Ajani Charles is a professional photojournalist, advertising photographer and cinematographer based in Toronto -- the Canadian city famed for its cultural diversity and the creative dynamism of its artistic community. A graduate of the nationally acclaimed Claude Watson Arts Program, Ajani also apprenticed at the Toronto School of Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario and at 235 Films. Though his images bear the distinctive stamp of his unique regard and sensibility, his work evidences an eclectic panoply of influences which includes Markus Klinko and Indrani, Jill Greenberg, Yousuf Karsh, Ansel Adams, Alexander Rodchenko, Richard Avedon, Nabil Elderkin, André Kertesz, David LaChapelle, Steven Spielberg, Hype Williams, Zack Snyder, Martin Scorsese, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz and Jamel Shabazz. Ajani is also the founder and executive director of The Young Visionaries – a Toronto-based photography and cinematography program, providing education to youth from the city’s priority neighborhoods. In addition, Ajani has gained considerable notoriety in the Greater Toronto Area through his first photographic documentary, “Project T Dot” -- a visual chronicle of the city's Hip-Hop culture and community in its entirety through a wide-ranging collection of intimate and dramatic black and white photographs. In production since 2007, “Project T Dot” is currently scheduled for an early 2015 publication date.

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