OVO Fest 2014: Six Degrees of Separation (The Mindbender Supreme Recap) [Review]
Toronto, ON – Look: Drake’s “Draft Day” asks what we are all still wondering: “Five years later, how am I the man still?” And no matter how you feel about it, whether you’re a hater or a lover of the man, it’s a pretty indisputable declaration. And, also it’s time for what I hope will be the last word on the fifth installment of OVO Fest, now that the dust has settled in Toronto. But, just like last year, I suggest you get yourself a nice drink, a good smoke, or just get comfortable, because: once again it’s on…
“I reached the point where don’t shit matter to me, nigga/ I reached heights that Dwight Howard couldn’t leap, nigga…” – Drake, Tuscan Leather
Day One: Sunday, August 3, 2014
Differently still, no matter where your view of the 5th Annual OVO Fest was from, ya dun know there were a lot of “6′s” for one to behold. This basic numeral ostensibly has just become the not-so-secret new symbol of the general future direction of hip-hop culture’s music, fashion, sports and artistry, as much as a TOPSZN shirt, or an OVO owl on a baby tee that says “trust issues” in gold font, or a black hoodie that simply, boldly declares: “KNOW YOURSELF” on it. The audience of the day, from all across the 416/905/647, from Quebec to Halifax to B.C., as well as a decent number of New Yorkers, New Jerseyites and other randomly pilgrimaging Americans, came out in insane numbers to support the biggest modern musical artist in the world today. Mobs of folks swarmed the entrance of the Molson Amphitheater all the way back to the bridge at the Molson Indy, ta bloodclaat. But of course: it’s OVO’s annual summer all-star game, even if it isn’t quite “Drake Season” yet. (Just wait til Views From The 6 comes out. But, I digress.)
Straight up, it doesn’t even really make sense to hate on Drake Inc. anymore. The man is the King of Altering Negative Opinions. Didn’t like Take Care? Well, Nothing Was The Same was totally different. Didn’t like that album? All the songs he dropped since have been even more unpredictable. Don’t like his music? Do you like Majid Jordan or PartyNextDoor? No? Don’t like the OVO Sound? Well, how the fuck did you not laugh your ass off to his hosting of the ESPYs? As Royce the 5’9″ wisely tweeted: “Drake is an amazing talent.” He IS “Will Smith with a vengeance.” Hell, do you know who Kennedy Brown is? Google her. Because you don’t have to be from Houston to show appreciation, word to The Weeknd. And bringing together like twenty-or-thirty-thousand-plus people every summer to celebrate the good life with some surprise musician friends is another reason that it’s futile to hate on Drake at this point in time. He’s just putting on for the city waaay too much to hate on, even if you don’t completely agree with his personal politics. Can’t knock the hustle.
Another good reason to respect the fuck outta the brother: Aubrey also officially done brought the Rap God André and the Rap God Antwon to the T. Dot (word to Choclair, circa 99) aka The Screwface Capital (word to Theology 3, circa 2003) aka The 6 (word to Drake, circa 2014). This city has survived a helluva lot of disrespect and invisibility since the days when Michie Mee mashed tings up in front of KRS-One at Concert Hall, and after last year’s superstar-diamond-studded affair, Toronto people (and the whole world, les-bi-honest) were beyond anxious to see what would happen in the next chapter of the history book that Drake is currently writing by making the mighty OutKast part of the immortality-aspiring OVO legacy. Really, Toronto has even come a long way since “Over.” And it’s still far from over…
Briefly looking back at last year, to make peace with a force of creative nature as unrelentingly immense as Kanye West is nothing short of a motherfuckin’ miracle. To have Kanye on that stage proved Drake has powers beyond most mortal men. I’m sure a few people might expect Jesus Christ himself to walk out onto the OVO stage someday, ha. (Oh yeah, I guess Kanye already did it on the “Yeezus” tour. Ha ha!) Apostles (some may say Judases) like (once-again former) Pastor Ma$on Betha and Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs are also holy hip-hop deities whose rare duet performance personifies the legendary level of impact Toronto and Canada can achieve with its closest equivalent to Hot97′s Summer Jam concert, or even what Jay Z is attempting to build with his Made In America festival. No bar is set higher around these parts, and rumors of supposed guest performers rocketed around the city like TTC streetcars. I avoided all inside knowledge, and innocently looked forward to the Caribana-time Christmas toys that are the surprise revelations that exist within the tradition of the OVO Fest.
This year was the first time it was officially a two-day event, since Frank Ocean’s throat illness cancelled his headlining spot last year. So, to have a rarity like OutKast headline the first day was the perfect addition to the OVO Fest tradition of accomplishing moments and occasions that can barely be dared to be dreamed of. We’ve had enough foreplay. It’s time for the mindfuck.
Day One. Year Five. Sunday evening. Beautiful deep blue hues tinged the sky, and soft-burning red beams of light painted the horizon, as the sun set quietly in the background… In the immortal words of Eddie Murphy: It’s showtime!
After a short and energetically gangsta ass set by YG (of “Who Do You Love?” fame, also exciting the crowd with musical shoutout references to Snoop Dogg’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” and Tupac’s “California Love,” plus more), and an extended intermission, it was time for the main event of the first day of OVO Fest 2014.
Enough pomp and circumstance, my fellow countrymen and women.
It’s fucking time to see OUTKAST.
Performing together for the first time since 2001 and Area One with Moby at the Docks (long before it was called Sound Academy), OutKast hasn’t been reunited for a concert on Canadian soil in thirteen years. THIRTEEN YEARS! I should know, I was in the front row of the audience last time they performed here, and will never ever forget André 3000 in his furry pink minotaur outfit during the most insane-ass days of the infamous Stankonia era. But on this esteemed occasion, the 20th anniversary celebration of OutKast, Toronto was fortunate to be one of the cities that Atlanta’s finest has chosen to bless with the one-of-a-kind performance of their unparalleled musical catalogue. Since I didn’t see too many reviews focus on the immaculate Outkast ensemble, I thought I’d share some of my unique insights from the extra special occasion… I hope you enjoy.
Lights. Cameraphones. Action.
A ten-by-ten-foot squared black translucent cube/prison fishbowl/petri dish/pandora’s box captured two of the finest urban griots ever to crawl out of Babylon’s belly and achieve international acclaim. Canadians gazed at the black and white stars and stripes of the United States of Stankonia adorned the inside of the musical cubicle, where King André and King Big Boi languished, trapped in their freedom, energizing the audience as anticipation reached an insanely crescendo. A few dramatic, boombastic bass kicks, drum slaps, horn stabs and strobelight flashes announced the arrival of the moment we were all waiting for, and you could see Mr. Patton and Mr. Benjamin, a perfect portrait of black brilliance, just soaking in the screaming serenade. Then the black curtain in front dropped with a big explosion, and… it’s motherfuckin’ showtime f’real, whoadie.
First sound: the heavenly, beautiful, ominous, Twilight-Zone-like twinkling of chimes and keys that loop up so sweetly before: “Bombs Over Baghdad.”
Thoughts at a thousand miles per hour, instantly! André blasted off to infinity: “like a million elephants and silverback orangutans/ you can’t stop a train…” Everything in the universe is going berserk now, exactly as everyone dreamed it hopefully could, on a beautiful day like today…
Three Stacks was wearing the white Andy Warhol wig he loves, plus white-rimmed sunglasses with black jumpsuit he’s been known to sport on this reunion tour, and the message on front expressed a sacred sentiment to the overseers of earth: “OK, STOP PLAYING AND HAND OVER THE CURE.” Big Boi, on the other hand, was swathed in a huge-patched matching outfit with green and orange squares and 3/4 length pant-shorts, crimson and white bandanna protecting his neck, Afrocentric-like fitted cap and a small circular diamond medallion plus black and red 90′s-era Jordans. The perfect complimentary OutKast to his brother from another. Both of them ATLiens was looking crazy as hell while creating the sounds of heaven. “Big things happen every time we meet!” is still the gospel truth.
They had the entire Amphitheater in chuuch, catching the Holy Ghost at the pinnacle of ‘B.O.B.’:
“POWER. MUSIC. ELECTRIC. REVIVAL. POWER! MUSIC! ELECTRIC! REVIVAL!” Paradise.
Boom. Straight into “Gasoline Dreams,” shifting concert soundtrack speeds with perfect precision. Then straight into “ATLiens,” staying cooler than a polar bear’s toenails as they encouraged everyone to “throw they-re hands in the a-yer” to “everybody lemme hear ya say ‘oh yeah-yah’”, before it was time to “Skew It on the Bar-B” for both old school players and new school fools. Blaow. Next up, e’rrybody sing along: “Ah ha! Hush that fuss/ everybody move to the back of the bus…”, word to “Rosa Parks,” another immaculate conception of the Dungeon Family patriarchs dedicated to the Civil Rights matriarch.
Slowing down to talk to the crowd for the first time thus far during our outer-space excursion down magical memory lane, in a solemn and reflective voice, André said: “Toronto! We ain’t came to talk y’all to death. We came to play songs… we came to jammmm!” And added with incredulous humility:
“If you don’t know us by now, you probably never will. So, on this side of the stage: I go by André 3000…”
And in response:
“On this side over here, I go by the name of Big Boi, Daddy Fat Sacks…”
André: “…and together, we make up this small, tiny, tiny, mighty little group called OutKast.”
Big Boi: “Fuck widdit!”
André: “We been in your lives for about 20 years now… I feel like I was just 17 years old the other day, rapping, you know, trying to do this shit…”
Big Boi: “20 years, man.”
André: “We just want to say thank you for staying down. It all started off in the days of high school. We appreciate it, seriously. We’re not trying to talk y’all to death, so is it cool that we get into more songs?” CUE WAILING WALL OF PRAISE AND JOY.
Big Boi: “Can we tell you all a story? I said: can we tell yall a storyyy?”
André: “We gonna tell you about these two young ladies named…”
As the music for “The Art of Storytellin’” rolled out behind them like a royal velvet carpet, to carry them back into the sky where their magnificent music falls into our fortunate ears…
And now for something completely different: “Even the sun goes down/ heroes eventually die/ horoscopes often lie/ nothing is fo’ sho, nothing is for certain/ but until they close door/ until they close the curtain/ it’s him and I…”
And adding a special dash of new-and-improved verbal spice to songs they must have performed a million times, André laid on a thick serving of double-time adlibs, insanely spitting: “who is it/who is it/who is it/who is it/who is it/who is it???” right before Big Boi rhythmically replied: “It’s him and I: Aquemini…” damn near making that concert feel like some last rites with their solemn ode to brotherhood bonds and family faith against adversity. They went back into the pandora’s box, where they walked around their cube prison, rhyming together while the walls rained blue liquid drops of flowing aqua visual magic, and blue lasers shot into the sky. Just being alone in that translucent psychedelic prison added gravitas to the declaration of dual independence: “It’s him and I… Aquemini.” Timeless.
André then stepped out, and asked the audience: “Do you know a… Mrs. Johnson?” Cheers. Big Boi inquired: “Do you know… a Mrs. Jackson???” SCREAMS. As the backwards snare sliced through the air alongside the morosely joyful keys that open the melody of: “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson” (oooh!), they let the vibe inside the digitally-transformed abode radiate an empty shell of a home. Complete with domestic decor and pretty pictures on wooden walls, as red and yellow light beams flickered regally, the fellas had a confession session with their baby’s mama’s and their lady’s mama’s, as well. Cause you know them unhappy situations can last a long-ass time, but happy couples be hoping they can feel like this forever. For-ever? For-ever-ever? FOR. EVER? EVER? Damn, it feels good to see people up on it and sing it together. I am for reeeal!
After that, The Incredible Hulk came up outta Big Boi when the marijuana smoker’s anthem “Kryptonite” was sparked, and emerald lazers and green stars started blasting around the arena, as the crowd responded electrically like they were on molly and ecstasy. Plus, I suppose “Ghetto Muzik” is the logical choice cut to juxtapose the bootylicious glory of the Real Exotic Dancers of Atlanta on the 40-foot screen behind, and also to display the greatness of Big Boi’s little boys poppin’, lockin’, backflipping (!!!) and tandem dancing alongside a blistering rhyme-delivering Daddy Fat Sacks. The pimp strut electric slide performed in perfect tandem with the boys during “feeling good feeling great… feeling good, feeling great, how are you?” was too cute for life. The overall effect was nothing less than exactly awesome, and as Sir Chico Dusty asked the audience to give it up for his two young ones, Toronto obliged all too kindly.
“I Like The Way You Move” slid up to the bumper next, with lazer-projected silhouette bikini models gyrating teasingly on the black box, and crowd members getting randy and hot and naughty everywhere, as the siren call for a body party was on and poppin’. So damn sexy it sure was! And just like that, Big Boi did the damn thing just right, before gracefully bowing out.
Moving right along, the backwards drums, rousing rhythms, live percussion and nearly nude empress in the white button down shirt was the appropriate visual accompanist to a calm and composed André 3000, seated on the edge of the stage, taking off his cool, and getting into some of The Love Below’s choicest cuts. “She Lives In My Lap” slid out the speakerboxxx, and at one point “She” was projected on the entire back wall screen, like a 40-foot-Amazon-Queen, larger than life. By the climax of the song, the scantily clad vision of beauty on screen, with her legs spread as wide as the stage, nipples just out of the top of the frame just slowly removing her white lace panties as André crooned “forever my fiancé,” had everyone feeling every fucking breath and note of that steamy ass siren song in their deepest, wettest, hardest private parts. “You’ve got me open wiiiide,” indeed.
And if that wasn’t sexxxy enough, André turnt up the temperature of the flesh even more: “We gonna slow it down just a little bit… So, if you with your lady, or your husband, or your wife, or your boyfriend or your girlfriend, or your lover, or your affair that you don’t want nobody to know about, but everyone know about anyways… I want you to hold them real close… Real tight…” and then, his voice gently drifted away, as a guitar gently wept in the background, before he sang:
“I hope that you’re the one…/ If not, you are the prototype!/ We’ll tip-toe to the sun, and do things… I know you like/ I think I’m in LOVE again…” Glory hallelujah, it sounded divine. White lines on a black grid transformed like a level of Tron on the center box, and red infrared spectral projections flew over Johnny Vulture’s shoulders, as chirp style scratches floated over the ethereal rhythm, while our brother delivered the alien love anthem of the millennium.
“Do we got any lovers in the house?” I screamed insanely, along with a few other brave souls. “C’mon people…” he requested more participation from the shy, lonely and stush in the Screwface. Then gave us a: “Stank youuu, very much!” and added, “Now, fellas: if you with your lady tonight, and you get home, and you can’t get none: that’s on YOU, man! I tried to do all I can, I’m sorry!” as the song faded away into our collective dreams.
André continued: “I wanna apologize for the… cause I know it’s a lotta rap niggas in the crowd like ‘Man, fuck all this slow-ass singing ass shit! Kick one of them verses!’ We do that too sometimes… Well, for this next song, I’d like to get a couple of ladies from out of the crowd to come up on stage. Now, if you’re not wearing any panties, you can come up first!! Y’all got first dibs. Whoever invented panties anyways? Who made them motherfuckers up? Like who said ‘this leg needs panties?’ It’s just some shit! They are just made to take off right?!” André 3000 was on some stand up comedy shit for a minute, yo! Ha ha, it was hilarious. About 3.3 seconds later, a splendid stream of Toronto goddesses came was brought out on stage and lined up behind Dre. He turned and greeted them like a gentleman should. “What’s up ladies, how y’all doin? Y’all scared? Y’all look good. Now I know why Drake be making all them fresh ass songs!” More fire jokes, ha ha! Then André went a touch too far and told a joke that maybe coulda stayed silent. “I need some help cause I kinda forgot the moves to the song… And y’all was probably like 10 years old when this song was out!” The crowd murmured amongst themselves with bemused emotion. Then, like a tribal elder, André asked everyone aloud: “Lemme here you say ‘heyyy ya!’ Say hay-aaaaaay-aaay ya!” He started asking people to say ‘Hey Ya!’ in all kinds of funny ways, and it was playfully refreshing.
Right on cue, in came the “One! Two! Three! Uh!,” the supernova of pop-rock-funk-soul-hip-hop-dance magic that lives underneath the immortal lyrics: “My baby don’t mess around because she loves me so/ and this I know fo’ shooooo’…” Good times were here again! It was extra awesome to hear André add the “ggggggggggirl” machine lovegun spitfire-style adlib during the chorus to lead into the second verse, and giving us a “Hey Ya!” we’ve never quite heard before in the process. Notably, the price tag he had on his jumpsuit the whole night was visibly turned over to reveal the red side with the dollar sign on it, saying ‘Sold Out’ instead of just ‘Sold.’ Things that make you go hmmm… but still, you know how it goes when André asks: “Fellas, what’s cooler than being cool? Ice Cold! Now, ladies… I wanna see y’all on your baddest behavior! Lend me some shugah, I am your neighbor, aah!” Every fun-loving ass in listening radius started to shake it like a Polaroid factory in an earthquake. It was sure some beautiful type of fun to see all the Beyonces, Lucy Lius and Baby Dolls that knew what to doooo…
Then when the love-tastic celebration was over, André declared “If y’all new OutKast fans, y’all gonna be like ‘What is this shit?’ Cause we gon’ take you back to the first album.” Chants of “Hootie hoooooo!!!! My white owls are burning kinda slowwww…” were heard, as a huge flame burned behind them. Big Boi strutted back out on stage to join his partner in rhyme, as they reminded everyone how long they been making classics. Space swirling royal purple and blue lights mingled in the live drums of “Player’s Ball,” as all the players came from far and wide to celebrate. And I have to say “daaaamn, homie,” because the high-school yearbook/history-lane picture montage that played the wall behind OutKast was really unreal. A pure mind-numbing tumble down nostalgia’s pathway, and oh so joyful.
But when it was time for “me and you, your mama and your cousin too” to start “comin’ up slammin’ Cadillac doors,” the eye-melting visuals warped into another universe. “Elevators” took the Amphitheater through a crazy space nebula of asteroids, comets and quasars spiraling across the big screen, blowing eyes and ears open with astronomical happiness. André kicked it off ridiculously, spraying the mic with another tommy-gun burst like: “One-one-one-one-one-one-one-one-one-one-one: one for the money/ yes, uh/ two for the show/ a couple a years ago on Headland and Delowe/ was the start of something good…” Fuckin’ right. When we was all done rollin’ down the strip in vogues, the entire universe all changed again.
Pandora’s Box turned red.
Like a fresh-ass bouquet of “Roses.” “Caaarrroooolllliiiinnneee!” André wailed.
Their performance felt just as jittery and ridiculous as the video did, and when it was time for André’s solo, he went buckwild, when he said “and try to put her make up on in the mirror and ccccrrauawwecwolsdflkslikjcuclcwerjlccrrearecocrrrwenarllcrrecrrr….” he ranted incoherently, then finally spit: “CRAAAAAAASH into a ditch!”
Personally, the outro of this song was my least favorite moment of the show, as they took the “dumb-ass bee-yitch”-bashing outro to some unnecessary, extra-excruciating levels of expression. It smelled like what roses really smell like. Otherwise, Caroline was mighty fine.
It was an honorable touch for OutKast to shout-out the immortal Saint Pimp C, and letting the music breathe and stop and start dancing towards heaven again, before going into “International Players Anthem (I Choose You),” and then triumphantly introducing their only surprise guest for the night: The New Mayor of Houston aka Bun B. UGK’s living legend was southernplayalistic like a muhfucka, as he strutted his own humble magnificent self out on to the stage to murk his verse easy as A-B-C and simple as 1-2-3, before graciously bowing out of the OVO F-e-s-t.
Now, André: do you have something else to say? He did.
“I want to thank Drake, and everyone that came out. We gonna do y’all a favor. Right now, I know everyone been in the crowd all day, and it’s kinda hot. Y’all been sweating, I know y’all body is musty as hell…” Then, Big Boi decided to add: “…everybody took no baths… stankin’ all to fuck…” And André offered: “So, right now: we gonna do y’all a favor, and get y’all SO FRESH AND SO MOTHERFUCKIN CLEAN!” As a Motown-worthy brass horns section blasted extra sexyhornychill flavor on the peanut-buttery jam, and they rocked their classic hit number from Stankonia. Cat dammit, it was fillin’ sensual and swank ’round that there spot all up in that there moment! The coolest motherfunkers on the planet, without a motherfunkin’ doubt. The sky is falling. Ain’t no need to panic.
Amidst the journey through OutKastonia, I made a few random observations: why did André slowly, but most certainly, pull down the banner that said “OK 20″ from under the DJ table, and gently, but decisively, make sure it was put down on the ground, with the logo no longer able to be seen? More things that make you go hmmmm…. Also, the five-piece backing band was Funkadelically-fabulous in their all-black shades and Zorro masks. The divine vibrations were undeniable, but it would have been nice if they could have had a few solos. Lastly, why did André and Big Boi not make any contact with each other the entire night? There was not a single moment where the brothers were arm-in-arm together, or actually rocking the mic together while making a physical connection. Why is that? It was disheartening to a degree, and perplexing to a point.
But ultimately, the finale was magnanimously grand, and the glorious OVO-sponsored OutKast 20th Anniversary Extravaganza came to a close in a semi-satisfying but simultaneously sympathetic manner. Just like OutKast’s first show at Coachella (which we shall NEVER. EVER. discuss again), the spectacular set ended with “The Whole World”… except thankfully, Killer Mike and the accompanying music was not unbelievably decapitated by the overseer organizers. OutKast (without Killer Mike, who is currently touring and running jewels with El-P) got to joyfully uplift the audience with the colorful sing-a-long hook, as the people’s hands were a-waving and the people’s voices were a-singing radiantly. At this point in time, André took his glasses off for the only moment in the whole evening, to survey and inspect the essence of the audience, and give the perceptive few a better understanding of André Benjamin’s actual emotional state of mind, since the eyes are the window to the soul and all. To not be curious to know how ‘Dre and ‘Twon feel about the modern world’s mixed reactions, wavering from overloaded ecstactic bliss to poker-faced hipster meh-filled nonchalance is impossible. I think André is kinda glad, but more sad… and even, maybe for the first time ever: genuinely mad. I look forward to his solo album.
Personally, I feel serious sympathy for the suffering of the anachronistic André 3000 right now. Big Boi has been touring the past few years, so he knows the modern state of affairs. Some people really don’t even care about keeping a community connection through music anymore, and André is feeling the fucked up truth about how different the new school is from the golden era. The potential audience is so much different than the heads he used to spit “Spottieottiedopalicious” to… and after looking into the oceanic abyss that was the Toronto massive, André shouted some infinite wisdom into the mic for anyone who was possibly still listening:
“This isn’t for black people. This isn’t for white people. This isn’t for Asian people, or for Latino people, or for Aboriginal people, or for gay people, lesbian people, straight people, trans people… THIS IS FOR EVERYBODY! This music is for everybody in the world that is an outkast…”
No matter how many people forget to care, or remember to love, I just want to say:
Stank You Very Much! …for being the best hip-hop group of all-time, OutKast.
Here’s to the next 20 years of your art, wherever in the universe you two choose to take us all…
And don’t wait another 13 years to return to Toronto, please and stank you!
Love, Addi “Mindbender Supreme” Stewart
Day Two: August 4, 2014
Headliner: Drake and Special Guests
Since I didn’t see the show from the beginning, I don’t think I can’t reproduce my masterpiece from last year’s OVO Fest (but shout-out to Billboard, they did a pretty damn good job this year). It’s also extra unfortunate I didn’t see the whole show since day two happened on my actual bloodclot birthday… So, where was I when the show started? I was out front of the Amphitheater, waiting to get sorted, and mingling with the chef from Sotto Sotto, the big homie Noah “40″ Shebib (good lookin’ out, brother!), brother Doc (producer of The Weeknd, and many other legends), Boi-1da (peace, brother), Niko and some other OVO royalty, not long before showtime began. It was rather frustrating trying to get respect (again, remember last year?) and sort out my guest list/media credentials, but was I going to miss the five year anniversary of this legendary hip-hop/Toronto family gathering? No fucking way.
At least I saw most of it. Straight up, I’ve seen every single performer of every single OVO Fest EVER (except the year with Nas/Stevie Wonder, because I was in Ghana… but still tuned in), and I have seen Queen L. Boogie nine times in concert. So it was heartbreaking to miss her opening set. I was outside in the front parking lot when I heard one loud scream (for Jhené Aiko), and then not long after, I heard another thunderously deafening roar (for Lauryn Hill), but then managed to get inside (for a relatively microscopic ticket price), thanks to my gracious anonymous friend. So, I will just speak randomly on what I saw, since my experience was so different than the time I saw King Yeezus emerge from the darkness, and righteously slouch in the red spotlight. God damn, that was a timeless moment… anyways, who do I see when I walk in?
Aubrey “Drake” Graham on stage, in front of like 35,000+ people, it seemed like. Just an endlessly deep sea of excited music lovers enjoying the Toronto hip-hop event of the year in the peak of the summertime. A slice of paradise, nothing less. He just performed “So Far Gone,” and this night, he was apparently unveiling the story of his music in chronological order of the years of his success spree. Dammit, it was dope to hear him do mixtape shit inside a venue as grand as Molson Amphitheater. Can’t anybody accuse Drake of forgetting where he comes from.
Case in point, bringing out the first guest I saw: Trey Songz. Cue to Drake humbly confessing: “I’d be nothing without this guy. He was the first person to ever embrace my music…” as Trey thanked his lucky stars he and Drake confidently sang a few joints directly to the gorgeous ocean of part-time models in Toronto. Not a huge surprise, but a good look. I certainly enjoyed when Drake played the beat for his hella-underrated, Kanye-West-produced chune from Thank Me Later, “Show Me A Good Time”…, but sadly, he didn’t spit any of the lyrics! Une petite faux pas for a rap fanatic like moi, but to hear him run the Yeezy beat was a nice gift, still. It was pretty nuts when Drake got on the tiny little crane stand (NOT a “stripper pole,” as random Instagrammers have apparently christened it) and elevated his highly-insured-ass up hundreds of feet in the air to dangle over the crowd and do some eagle-eye shout-outs to the audience below between performing little pieces of “Marvin’s Room.” He even had to add: “the only people who would do some shit like this is like me, and One Direction!” Jokes. It’s shit like that, that gives Drake the right to say other biggest-boss-we’ve-seen-thus-far business like: “If the owner of the Molson Amphitheater is here, I should just buy it, because I already own it!” That’s real.
Mr. Do Right And Kill Everything then said: “At this point in my life, I’m getting calls from the greats to write songs, be part of things, and while I’m doing that there’s this other guy who can really rap, he’s from North Carolina. And instead of becoming enemies, we become great friends…,” and it was, as Drake referred to him as: “my twin brother” J. Cole, steppin’ in hotter this year, even though it wasn’t that much of a surprise. Cole comes annually. But there was no question it was still appreciated by the audience, audibly. Jermaine was heating up the microphone furiously, lighting up the stage with “Power Trip” and “Can’t Get Enough.” But it was all about the moment when Drake told everyone to take their cameras out and capture his declaration of peace he chose that particular moment to offer to Kendrick Lamar. “Man, this rap game can get fucked up sometimes, they try to make stuff happen,” Drake says. “I wanna shout out my man Kendrick Lamar — he was on my album, I was on his, we were touring together. He’s one of the hardest niggas out there. He should be standing right there. There’s a lot of kings in this shit…” as he stood beside J. Cole. It was a grown-up display of humility, something far too fucking rare in rap music, and it felt amazing to witness Drake go so far out of his way to express some solidarity towards everyone. Kill that beef.
Now, will Kendrick make an OVO appearance next year? Better get a good view from the six…
“Days in the East” played not long after… and for the record, it’s just silly to think a Satanic image of Rihanna is what Drake was portraying in the screen montage. Put those thoughts in the same place where you should put the idea that “Jay Z is in the Illuminati,” somewhere in the actual archives of some secret society, so hip-hop doesn’t have to hear about it. We gonna brush that shit off with a Raptors-endorsed lint roller, ha ha! Speaking of imaginary powers that be: Drake’s blatantly professional and extremely evident distaste for the Grammys was also expressed hilariously and succinctly, as he acknowledged his spot at the top of the popular music pyramid, and rejected any notion of needing award show statues for credibility or to certify his gangsta, but he was “just glad to bring it home for Toronto.” Ain’t no envelopes or trophies, he just does it cause he’s supposed to, nigga. (Wait for it…)
PartyNextDoor was lookin’ decently confident as he claimed his designated moment to shine, and laced his numerous tracks with as much bravado as any of the young money-making first-timers to set foot on that stage in the last five years. Even though he could have circulated his stage presence more, I thought his voice was clear and sharp, peaking with “Recognize,” the raw, crude call-and-response hook catching the crowd good and gritty: “you got niggas/ and I got bitches.” Drake laced his verse at the end with at least three different flows on that pristine OG OVO sound the whole world is copying now. And word to Inspector Gadget, R&B starlet Tinashe came out moving six or seven parts of her body at once, almost taking away from her upper register singing display. With pyrotechnic body acrobatics, she laced the hook for O.B.’s “2 On,” where he performed a better version of the song than at HAW, but still wasn’t as confident as could be on the mic. Fun was clearly being had by everyone on stage though, even if the star power wasn’t on a hundred thousand million.
Drake reminisced about clubbing in Miami and spending time on the beaches and ting and how motivational and inspiring it was for him at a certain point earlier in his career. He then showed his respect to the next guest for introducing Drizzy to the riches within that region. At that point: DJ Khaled bombastically barked and enunciated his intentions for attention into the mic for the crowd-commanding anthem “All I Do Is Win,” where he played puppeteer as everybody’s hands go UP…. and they stayed there. Drake jumped on the mic for “No New Friends” and “I’m On One,” the finest of their seasonal creative favors. Not having much besides self-aggrandizing promotion to offer, they both wisely kept it moving. So, it was humble of DJ Khaled to note that Drake gave him “his first #1 record ever”, before he saluted Toronto, and exited stage left.
In the festive mood to bring out guests, YG then came back to rock “Who Do You Love?” (cause Drake “did the Motto and took a flight to the Golden State“), instead of rocking solo as he did before OutKast. Then Drake set up the event to start writing crazy-ass chapters in music history once again. Also, I’d like to add how funny it is to repeatedly see just how much Drake loves performing “All Me,” delivering his own verse with requisite fire, and then delivering Big Sean’s verse as well, sometimes sounding like he prefers Sean’s gangstafied verse to his own, or that he can perform Big Sean’s verse better than Sean can himself! “I got 99 problems/ getting rich ain’t one!” is surely a lyric Drake can deeply relate to.
A master of ceremonies that is highly adept at navigating emotion and direction through silent moments that exist between the larger, louder moments, Drake prepared to introduce his next guest by prefacing the big reveal with: “I know I wouldn’t be who I am without this guy. And I know none of you would be who you are without this man. This is probably gonna be one of the best moments in OVO history, so make some mothafuckin’ noise,” said Drake, as Mr. Entertainment Himself aka Ursher Raymond emerged from the periphery to grace center stage. Falsetto ribbons of ecstatic vocalism rained down upon the audience, as “Climax” oozed into the air, whilst we can safely assume brought many ladies to the same state of arousal. With maybe the longest guest set of the night, Usher was definitely friendly, if a touch too verbose, during his alotted segment. Most comedically, he described the phone call in which Drake requested his presence at the annual festival, which Usher described in hilarious detail.
“The homie Drake hit me up, and was like: ‘Yo man, I got a festival, man… And I really am wondering if…’ Before he was even finished, I was like, ‘You’re god damn skippy! You know I’m there! I got you!!’” Ha. Cute. Usher added: “I see what you doing as an artist, I’ve always been supportive of you, since the first time we met in Atlanta, up to now.” The lavish praise kept coming, as it should. “It’s an honor to be here. Anytime I’m in Toronto, you guys always show me love…” Some words got hard to hear amidst the screaming mistresses. But Ursh gave a generous offering by way of observing “…and for everything Drake is doing as a businessman, as a mogul, and a motivator for each and every person coming out of Canada: I’m supportive. Whether it’s here in Toronto making a connection, in Stratford making a connection, Ontario… hahahaha…” Usher paused, wisely taking note of the suddenly subtle murmuring felt within the rising ire of the crowd as they ostensibly feared visions of “the other Justin” walking out onto the OVO stage… but it didn’t happen. Usher just smiled, absorbed the opposition with awareness, and continued: “We made a lot of history together. And tonight, we’re gonna make history with you again, and be one of the loudest audiences EVER. I did this song, and everytime I did it, they knew exactly what it was… and it went a little something like this…”
Cue “Confessions”, Part 1 and 2. And cue damn near every woman in the crowd singing along to every damn word of Ush’s cathartic love ballads, which then slid into “Lovers and Friends.” And as that faded to black, the energy was electrified once again with a sultry serving of the body-rockin’ dancefloor masterpiece “U Don’t Have to Call,” complete with gyrations and such, before tucking the ladies into bed with a completely satisfying performance of the new smash jam “Good Kisser.” True player for real.
Emerging from the side, where he often watched the show whilst dancing along to his various guests, Drake also announced that him and Usher have collaborated on the ATL crooner’s upcoming album Everything You Can Imagine, due this fall. He then asked his friend to show off his signature slide dance steps, and even started getting a little bold, bright and brash, to sprinkle in some spontaneous fun. “From ‘My Way’ to ‘8701,’ I used to swing a chain around my neck!” Drake recalled, “I had the Sean Johns on with the studs down the sides… I had the roller-skating shoes on. Can we just slide-walk battle for a second? You still got it, or what?” Drake riskily asked Usher. That’s like asking Michael Jackson if he could still moonwalk. Usher’s reply? “Hell yeah!” And after Drake’s opening slide-step salvo, which actually proved that The Boy can shake a leg, and a feisty “what YOU got?!” reply, what happened next was utterly unbelievable.
“I need a beat, man.” Usher’s request was satisfied by super drummer Adrian X, to which Usher Raymond started sharing The Magic. Poppin’ and lockin’ like a Jackson 5-programmed robot transitioned straight into The Amazing Wave, and then he busted out some chest concave swivel move, straight into the hip gyration tornado madness that sparked them powerfully wobbly legs to circular spin into a whirlwind of wonderfully wild and wickedly sexy slickness, as the crowd started losing their entire minds insanely. Usher took it up another level on Drake, and started spinning around with wide, wild movements that are difficult to describe… and then, to top it all off, as he’s gliding towards the back of the stage in the middle of his tasmanian devilish dance-down, Usher grabbed his thick-ass diamond rope, and swung that bad boy so it was spinning around his extended neck, as he grinned like some unstoppable-ass awesome motherfucker made of showtime superstardom.
BEST. EXIT. EVER!
The way Ush threw his victorious hands up like a child who just got away with stealing candy as he ran off stage was truly one of the best moments of the night. Pure unadulterated fun and joy for all to behold. Thanks for that moment, Usher and Drake!
Then, with a raw delivery of “Own It,” a touchingly unique arrangement for an audience sing-a-long to “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (featuring a nervous-but-excited Majid Jordan guest appearance, that included a unwise admonition for “the fellas to look at the ladies, not him!” Rookie mistake), and a hyped-up performance of “Starting From The Bottom,” Drake then cleared the air for another legendary moment to get locked and loaded. “I wanna bring people to you that changed all of our lives… that shaped my career… so like I said… I hope you enjoy this next shit.” and walked off stage.
A mob of black gangster energy exploded from stage left next. And to any hip-hop head who was a head at the turn of the century, the next beat would cause your blood to boil with adrenaline-filled excitement. “G-UNIT. BO! WE IN HERE. BO!!” was all that could be heard, as the lethal sounds of “What Up Gangsta” came gunning out the speakers with an evil-grinning Curtis Jackson leading the brigade. A slightly-off beat Lloyd Banks and a third menacing member was there too (it wasn’t Young Buck, and I don’t think it was Tony Yayo, so it musta been Kidd Kidd) and it was all (fake) gunsmoke and explosion noises. Just how 50 Cent likes it. Banks’s banger “Beemer, Benz or Bentley” came next, and sufficiently excited the peoples dem. Trey Songz joined the crew once again for 50 Cent’s 2014 single “Smoke.” A performance of the party-started “I Get Money” was also a natural choice, and even if the set was more amazing ruckus than audible rhyming, it all came to a proper conclusion with the unmistakable bass-line bump that Dr. Dre sculpted for 50 Cent’s debut smash “In The Club,” which found Lloyd Banks barking the hook like a mad dog, and the crowd going their craziest yet. CAUTION: do not give 50 Cent any access to any water bottles during any future performances of his! Why? Because at some point in time before he steps off-stage, he WILL unscrew the bottle, spot some targets, sport that mischievous grin of his, and then spray up the audience like it’s an AK-47!
50 was completely losing his voice near the end of the short but shocking show, and it was enough to cause him to simply and silently salute Drake after they hugged at the end of the G-Unit setpiece. “None of us would be anything without this man here! He revolutionized hip-hop, music, everything… y’all make some noise for 50 Cent and G-Unit one time!” And the crowd did. To which 50 Cent just offered a single humble gesture as his surprise segment was written into the history books. Curtis “Aggressive Content” Jackson, speechless and vulnerable? Only at OVO Fest.
Now, we’re going home for real. Time for the biggest hip-hop/R&B/modern musical entertainer on planet earth to shut this motherfuckin’ shit down for “all the people that are proud to be from the best motherfuckin’ city on the planet,” as he triumphantly declared at the beginning of the show, after he brought his dear mother, Ms. Sandee Graham, out to set the show off in an endearingly unscripted and imperfect but earnest introduction to the legendary festivities. Ms. Graham was asked by young Mr. Graham, if it was “time to go”, and now, after all the surprises and celebrity guests had enjoyed their moment making history, it most certainly was, for the Man Of The Year for the past five years: Drake.
He asked “Who do y’all wanna see next year?!” and all kinds of names were being shouted (word to Prince and Sade. Now we’re dreaming big…) as Drizzy Hendrix added: “We’re gonna see about some things. Sixth annual OVO Fest in the 6? You know that shit gotta be special. One more time, make some noise for 50 Cent! Usher in here tonight! J. Cole! Trey Songz! Lauryn Hill and Jhené, one time! Make some noise for the OVO artists you saw: Majid, Party… y’all got some energy left for me?!” Chaos. Drake then commands: “Future the Prince, let’s close this shit out.”
Then those majestic motherfuckin’ Hit-Boy horns came cascading down from the heavens above, proclaming the arrival of the sound of royal paradise, by way of a song called “Trophies.” I’ll be damned if those aren’t the freshest fuckin’ horns in a hip-hop joint since Big Pun’s “You Came Up,” my good music loving family! An extended row of solitary wildfires burned on stage across the stage, as glistening rays of white light stretched towards the stars in a crown-shaped arrangement, projecting a perfectly-understated-yet-regal backdrop for one of the best joints of the last year to get rinsed right and proper. “This shit is not a love song/ this a fuck a stripper on a mink rug song/…” Damn! And man, it would have been nice for him to spit the second verse, the one where he rightfully proclaims: “I got my whole country on a new way!” But he still licked off the uzi clip outro, where the drums, kicks and keys sprayed like a Crip set in a glasshouse Impala pulling a drive-by, as pillars and streams of flames blasted towards the ceiling, and the whole bloodclot room was melting from the intensity. Nothing left to prove.
Also getting some burn was “Believe Me,” his second-newest 2014 joint with Weezy, as well as blessing us with an excited performance of “Worst Behavior,” which I really appreciated… but why in Jayhova’s name doesn’t he perform the lyrics after “bitch you better have my money when I come for the shit like ODB“? That song has one of the most interesting structures out of any rap song of the past three years, and the rapid-fire verse at the end of the song is far too phenomenal not to spit. “Fuck you bitch/ I’m more than high/ my mama probably hear that and be mortified!” Motherfuckin’ bulletproof Drizzy.
He finally killed off OVO Fest 2014 with the unofficial sequel to “Started From The Bottom,” the super smash hit street record that everyone in NYC and 20 other American and Canadian cities already done a dub over aka the unofficial song of the summer: “0 to 100,” which made everyone lose their minds real quick, real fuckin’ quick, nigga. All kinds of crazy fireworks were spraying and sparkling all over the place. Er’rybody and they baby’s mama was spitting every line, including the one about daddies not showing up. Gully shit. As much as Drizzy not giving a fuck to then ask the audience to cheer and show concert attendant/NBA superstar Kevin Durant “what it would be like if he played for Toronto…” which triggered a 15-second tsunami of thunderous roaring screaming applause. $25,000 tampering fine well spent, Ambassador Graham!
And then, after all the pyrotechnics were lit, all the guests were done they duty, and now backstage possibly enjoying some D’Usse, it was time for Aubrey’s very last words of the night: “I want to thank you for five years of being the greatest crowd in the greatest motherfucking city in the world. You understand what I’m saying? I promise you, it only gets bigger, it only gets better. Imma let you know, I’m bout to go on this tour, I’m bout to come home, and make the best album I’ve ever made for this motherfucking city right here. I go by the name of Drizzy Drake. I’ll die for y’all. I live for y’all, and I’d die for y’all. WHAT’S UP!!!” …then The King of the 6ix walked off into the sunset of yet another chapter of magnificent summertime history for 2014. And even though he did perform the song early on in the show… Drake still ain’t released that “Wu-Tang Forever” remix!! Hell, maybe Wu-Tang Clan could be one of the special surprise guests next year… Or Dr. Dre, with Kendrick Lamar, that would be dope… But, no matter what, I’ll be there to see it, and I promise I will not miss the opening act next year. To any and everybody in the world who might not have been there, thank you for reading this article, I hope you could feel the passion if you weren’t able to be at yet another wonderful OVO Fest (which, regardless of what critics have been saying: this is still the #1 concert of the year). I look forward to Views From The Six and I look forward to seeing Year Six from an even better view.
Hopefully, it’s the Best I’ve Ever Had.
(Yeah, I know I said I couldn’t repeat what I did last year. And to me, I didn’t. But I wrote this for all the wonderful people who re-tweeted the “A New Hope” article since last August, including Drake himself. Peace to you all, I wrote this for you! Because, in the immortal words of my inspiring brother Aubrey Graham: “Shit don’t come with Trophies, ain’t no envelopes to open/ I just do this cause I’m supposed to…“)
Written by Addi “Mindbender Supreme” Stewart for HipHopCanada
Photography provided by Live Nation
Twitter: @Drake | @mindbendermind
Tweets by @HipHopCanada
Tags: 50 Cent, Andre 3000, Big Boi, Drake, Dreamville, G-Unit, J. Cole, Jhene Aiko, Lauryn Hill, Lloyd Banks, Majid Jordan, Mindbender, O.B Brien, October's Very Own, OutKast, OVO, OVO Sound, PartyNextDoor, Trey Songz