Drake at the Apollo Theater – Rolling Stone

Moody blue lights drench the audience at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. We’re in Drake’s bedroom. Or at least a version of it. Musician-born Aubrey Graham sits on the edge of a neatly made bed and in the corner of the stage stands a dim tulip-shaped lamp designed to replicate the teenage bedroom in which he wrote his first songs. His outfit of baggy jeans and a yellow and blue basketball jersey complete the picture. Number eleven, Degrassi High.

Before he takes the stage, we hear a recording of Drake’s mother, Sandi Graham, now a central figure in the Drizzy film universe. “Aubrey, try to keep it quiet tonight if you’re working,” she says. A supportive parent trying to get a good night’s sleep. Drake turns the introduction’s essential Drakeism inward.

Presented by SiriusXM, the show was about gratitude. And the meticulous recreations have a sense of naked sincerity at moments. His own version of The sample, except as Drake tells us on 6PM in New York, who is absent from the evening’s setlist, he just wants to “feel a few things twice”. As he describes them, it was the tracks he would play that got the 36-year-old rapper out of that bedroom.

It was Drake’s first time performing at the Apollo, and the venue’s legacy as a proving ground for raw talent brought the rapper’s gruff origin story to life. It was indeed on medium-capacity stages like this that Drake took the effort of an athlete to attract and keep the audience’s attention. Start with You take care “Over My Dead Body” which underscores its introduction. You can feel the historic venue’s warm and organic acoustics cradling the lush, thunderous bass that’s been seething beneath Drake songs for decades, courtesy of longtime producer Noah “40” Shebib.

After the boom-bap sampling Wu-Tang Forever, he dives headfirst into the emotional corners of his catalogue. After a performance of “Trust Issues,” in which Drake gave a vocal performance worthy of a cheer at Showtime at the Apollo, he urged the crowd to essentially buckle up. “No, we’re going there tonight, I promise.” Then came “Marvin’s Room,” possibly the rapper’s opus. The venue’s comfortably packed crowd quickly realized he wasn’t kidding.

Throughout the night, Drake managed to convey a calm understanding of the appeal of his music. From the perhaps exaggerated emotional stakes that he was able to manifest for so long. Drake’s catalog is so diverse – there are mixtapes, EPs, loosies and “playlists” in addition to full-length albums – that it allows him to go from “Say Something,” a 2010 Timbaland single on which he to hear was to move on to “Practice,” the slow-rolling, New Orleans-style club banger Look out.

That’s the story of Drake’s career. Soon the bedroom would give way to a boardroom, where Drake has hired convincing-looking actors to play the label execs debating whether or not they should sign him soon. The attention to detail feels enticing, as if this is actually acting out a deep-seated fantasy in Drake’s mind.

Drake and 21 Savage perform at the Apollo Theater on January 21, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

Getty Images for SiriusXM

After going through a string of hits from nothing was like it was Drake decked out in Cam’ron’s famous pink mink fur (according to Drizzy, that was it literally Cam’s Mink), spawned members of Dipset. Outside a replica bodega in Harlem, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zekey performed “I Really Mean It,” “Dipset Anthem” and “We Fly High (Ballin)” while Drake glided across the stage in Cam’s pink mink. The evening’s plays didn’t stop there, Drake later invited 21 Savage on stage to perform excerpts from their latest album your loss. The duo teased that they might be going on a tour together this year.

Drake’s performance at the Apollo, with attendees including Justin Bieber and Kevin Durant, will likely be one of the smallest venues he will perform at throughout the year. With a maximum audience capacity of around 1,500, the show felt like the big-budget stadium productions artists like Drake are used to, except on an actual human scale. For an artist whose career is built on sincerity, it was a blessing.

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“I know ‘fuck Drake’ is the cool thing,” he told the crowd towards the end of the show, thanking them for their loyal fans. “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!”

setlist:

  • Over my corpse
  • Wu Tang forever
  • trust issues
  • Marvin’s room
  • say something
  • feel no ways
  • Work out
  • jaded
  • jungle
  • karaoke
  • The best I’ve ever had
  • headlines
  • HYFR (Hell Ya Fucking Right)
  • Started from the bottom
  • I’m on one
  • No new friends
  • energy
  • know yourself
  • non-stop
  • God’s plan
  • Laugh now, cry later
  • Wait, we’re going home
  • steering
  • A dance
  • in my feelings
  • passion fruit
  • Way 2 sexy
  • wait for u
  • Firmly
  • calling my name
  • Sticky
  • Yebba’s heartbreak
  • I really mean it (with dipset)
  • Dipset Hymn (with dipset)
  • We fly high (ballin’) (with dipset)
  • Rich Flex (with 21 Savage)
  • Privileged Rappers (with 21 Savage)
  • Spin Bout You (with 21 Savage)
  • Jimmy Cook’s (with 21 Savage)
  • Knife Talk (with 21 Savage)
  • Legend

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