poppin' for papi
Drake dazzles Houston with Johnny Manziel cameo and H-Town shout-outs at Toyota Center opening night 'homecoming'
Hard to imagine any Canadian-born global superstar calling a Houston tour stop a “homecoming,” but it’s also hard to imagine another global superstar who loves Houston more than Drake.
That love was on full display at Toyota Center on Sunday, September 17 as the rapper-singer-Toronto native made his way down the stands to open his wildly anticipated, two-show Houston stop. “What are we gonna do when he comes out, scream or cry,” a young fan directly behind us asked her friend. Both, actually, nearly the entire night.
Decked out in neon yellow-green, Drake fist-bumped and high-fived shrieking fans walking alongside Johnny Manziel, his longtime buddy and subject of the track “Draft Day.”
A young actor portraying a young Drake waited for him onstage, chilling on a sofa. Real Drake kicked into “Look What You’ve Done” to start his new 50-song setlist. (As Houston Chronicle entertainment writer Joey Guerra reminds, fans can follow the official tour playlist on Spotify.)
The theme of Young Drake — back then he was still Aubrey Graham Drake — played above the stage, as clips of opening intros to his ’90s sitcom faves Family Matters andThe Fresh Prince of Bel-Air flashed on the giant screens — followed with the show that first introduced him to the world, and Degrassi: The Next Generation. A giant Peter Pan flying overhead played up the childhood theme.
A Drake homecoming
“Houston, Texas,” he bellowed to the crowd, to the city where he said “where everything started for me.” Drake shared so much passionate love for H-Town that he threw off his neon-yellow jacket, revealing his gym-crafted biceps (and more screams). “I’m just as proud to be from Houston, Texas as you are,” he declared, “even though I’m not from here.” he said. He gave heartfelt shout-outs to Lil’ Wayne, who he met in Houston through Jas Prince, the son of Rap-a-Lot Records founder James Prince. Lil’ Wayne would become an early Drake mentor; Drake signed to Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment label, released his debut album Thank Me Later, and scored a Grammy nomination.
Houston rap icon Bun B also got some big Drake love (Drake recently called Trill Burgers his favorite), as did Warehouse Live. Calling out a now-legendary gig on May 8, 2009, Drake said he “vividly” remembered it as “the first time anyone had bought tix to see me.” (The show was a sellout.)
No word if Drake knew that Houston Astros ace Lance McCullers, Jr. and his lovely wife Kara were in the audience — we bumped into them on the way in — or LMJ might've gotten a “Bury Me in the H” shout out, too.
“My first homecoming show is right here tonight in Houston, Texas. You know that already,” he told the city where he said “where everything started for me.”
Shout outs to H-Town legends
During an interlude, the 36-year-old performer got so passionate with his love of H-Town that he threw off his neon-yellow jacket, revealing his gym-crafted biceps (and more screams).
“I wanna y’all to sing this next one so loud Lil Wayne can hear it,” he said, kicking into “The Motto.” A massive flying saucer hovered over his head for “HYFR,” and the stage turned bright red for “Energy” while an “Opps Cam” capturing crowd reactions. Things almost got quiet for “Know Yourself” before bursting into the chorus; he hopped up and down during the groove-heavy “Nonstop.”
The stadium then went black, as audio from late fashion designer Virgil Abloh speaking pumped through the speakers. Drake’s respect for “his brother” Abloh was so massive, a massive statue paying tribute to Abloh anchored his stage the whole night.
A Chanel bag for a lucky fan
Never one to stay melancholy, Drake — aka Champagne Papi — got things poppin' with his standup comic laughs when he pointed out one fan, whose sign revealed she had waxed 50 women’s private parts to afford the show. For her manual labor, Drake told his team to give her a Chanel bag — the crowd cheered her on with laughs and applause. More laughs came as giant sperm swam overhead for “Child’s Play.”
A giant woman floated overhead for “Way 2 Sexy” then landed on the stage. Drake went from rapper to director as he urged each side of the stadium to sing “God’s Plan” to each other.
Sipping on tequila, he walked over to the elevated DJ booth with DJ French Montana and going from performer to comedian to director, he settled into life coach, telling the crowd to take a few minutes for themselves. “Forget about the little things,” he counseled while downing a tequila shot. “Arguing with your parents? Forget about it…your girlfriend went through your phone? That’s f*cked up, but forget about it.”
Back onstage, Drake was joined by four AI collapsible robots for “Calling My Name.” He dropped a shout out to Houston billionaire and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, adding, “I know the big dogs out here,” before going into “Massive,” “Sticky,” and “Search and Rescue.”
A Savage set
A long set with rapper 21 Savage, whom Drake dropped the album Her Loss with last year, included bangers like “Red Opps,” the yacht party jam “10 Freaky Girls,” “rockstar,” and crowd favorite, “Bank Account.”
Back onstage, Drake was decked out in a red leather butcher apron for “Knife Talk,” slicing through lyrics and bouncing back and forth with nonstop, rapid-fire lines on “Spin Bout U.”
“I hate to mention the D word,” he teased, “but Dallas Texas was turned up.” Not backing down, the crowd erupted as Drake kicked into the “Throw a Party for My Day Ones” and an H-Town tribute to DJ Screw — even sipping on something purple (see what he did there?) — on “November 18th.”
Screwed up and Legend status achieved
“Listen, listen — I’m a be honest with y’all,” Drake told the audience. “I get the most nervous for Toronto of course, and the second most nervous for y’all.”
A fitting closer, “Legend,” got the crowd more frenzied than before, as the cocky, swag-dripping showman spread more love to tease a following Monday night show.
“I’m so grateful for this relationship we have,” he professed.
And so is Houston, Drake.