Drake took New York City on a “journey” through his career at a special SiriusXM concert Saturday night at Harlem’s historic Apollo Theater, with the help of 21 Savage and Harlem legends, the Diplomats.
The Toronto rapper ripped through his biggest hits and deep cuts (does Drake even have deep cuts?), transforming the stage from his childhood bedroom to a record label boardroom to a New York bodega.
Drake kicked off the show by paying homage to his roots, wearing a “Degrassi” jersey and sitting on a replica of his crib, where he told the crowd he “wrote a lot of these songs”. That concert was “about gratitude,” he said, and performed in front of close family and friends, including his mother and OVO co-founder Noah “40” Shebib, who has produced all of Drake’s albums.
The show’s first act was decidedly downtempo, with Drake pulling out the less-radio-friendly ballads “Over My Dead Body” and “Trust Issues,” as well as fan-favorite feeler “Marvin’s Room.” No time was wasted as Drake slipped out of most songs after just a verse and chorus.
Early on, the rapper caught himself repeatedly asking the crowd to turn up the energy. “We’re going there tonight, I promise you,” he assured an audience that was surprisingly tame, at least in the back of the room. “Don’t play shy with me.”
But as the set moved from his mother’s basement to a boardroom — where Drake rapped to a man in a suit representing the labels that had passed him on early in his career — he hit the Apollo with a much-needed triple espresso: “Best I Ever Had”, “Over” and “Headlines”.
In fact, entire sections of the show were jam-packed with #1 songs, from “God’s Plan” to “One Dance” to “In My Feelings.” It’s easy to forget how many hits Drake has until you see a crowd singing along to almost every word on a 40-song set that didn’t even bother, “Nice for What,” “Hotline Bling,” “Toosie Slide” or “Pop Star.”
With a guest list of industry figures and celebrities from Kevin Durant to Ice Spice, the show had an air of exclusivity. The entire stretch of 125th St., from Frederick Douglass Blvd. to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., was closed, with swathes of onlookers taking photos of the Apollo marquee and trying to land last-minute passes. Of the dozens of cell phones held in the air at all times during the show, many weren’t recording video, but instead FaceTimed people who couldn’t get a ticket. Those lucky enough to be at the Apollo each received a free commemorative t-shirt and were treated to free drinks.
After a second interlude, the set turned to a Harlem street corner and none other than the diplomats entered the stage through a bodega door. Dressed in Cam’ron’s famous pink mink fur, Drake performed “I Really Mean It”, “Dipset Anthem” and “We Fly High (Ballin)” with Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zekey. Before they left the stage, Drake praised the influential New York rap collective, who responded by gifting him a custom OVO x Dipset bracelet. “These guys from Harlem made us dress differently, talk differently, walk differently, rap differently, all the way across Canada,” he said.
Then, blasting from the past to the present, Drake brought out 21 Savage for a series of songs from their 2022 collaborative effort Her Loss. Standing in front of a giant neon Apollo sign, the duo exchanged verses about “Rich Flex,” “Privileged Rappers,” “Knife Talk,” and “Jimmy Cooks.” Between songs, they teased a tour together this year, with Drake saying, “We’re going to be on the road this summer.” He also reassured fans he won’t be leaving anytime soon, hinting at a solo album in 2023.
Towards the end of the set, Drake thanked his fans from the bottom of his heart: “I appreciate all the people who stick by me. I know it’s a cool thing… to be like ‘fuck Drake’… but I really appreciate everyone for continuing to support us.”
He added: “I’ve been thinking about a lot of things in life but at this moment none of those things stop making music for you so I’ll be there for you at least for a while. And I hope that maybe this year I can arouse even more emotions in you. Maybe I’ll get bored and do another one, who knows!”
After ending the show with “Legend,” Drake stopped the music and thanked the viewers again. “I don’t know how the hell we got here, but we did it.”
Because as boastful as his rap persona is, Drake was genuinely humbled by the magnitude of this career milestone. Concluding a 90-minute celebration of his journey from mixtape distributor to one of the world’s most successful hitmakers, he told the crowd, “My name is Drake, I’m from Toronto,” as if he were about to be back in the boardroom, introducing himself to the first Just.
The show will also air on Drake’s exclusive SiriusXM channel Sound 42; Lady Gaga, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam have also previously performed at the Apollo for SiriusXM.
Check out the full setlist below:
- Over my corpse
- Wu Tang forever
- trust issues
- Marvin’s room
- say something
- feel no ways
- Work out
- The best I’ve ever had
- HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)
- Started from the bottom
- I’m on one
- No new friends
- know yourself
- God’s plan
- Laugh now, cry later
- Wait, we’re going home
- A dance
- in my feelings
- passion fruit
- Way 2 sexy
- wait for u
- calling my name
- Yebba’s heartbreak
- I’m really serious (with the diplomats)
- Dipset Anthem (with The Diplomats)
- We’re Flying High (Ballin) (with The Diplomats)
- Rich flex
- Privileged Rappers (with 21 Savage)
- Spin Bout You (with 21 Savage)
- Jimmy Cook’s (with 21 Savage)
- Knife Talk (with 21 Savage)