Drake Teaches the History of Drake at the Apollo

Near the midway point of his set in Harlem on Saturday night, Drake paused to reminisce about an occasion he had come to New York earlier in his career. It was a different time, and the memory was a bit fuzzy: “I think I was at, like, the Spotted Pig.” The restaurant closed in 2020 and had its celebrity heyday a few years prior to that. A decade-plus into the Canadian rapper’s run at the top of hip-hop and pop, there’s a deep trove of moments, styles, recalibrations, and swerves to mine. Or, as he put it in a characteristically wistful aside, “We’ve just been relating to each other for so long.”

Drake has always been an especially deft narrator of his own trajectory, and the show at the 1,500-capacity Apollo Theater, with all its historical trappings, offered an opportunity for a hushed retelling of the tale. He emerged on stage in a Degrassi basketball jersey, sitting on a bed representative of the room in his mother’s Toronto basement where he wrote some of his earliest songs. The crowd included a mixture of SiriusXM contest winners—Drake’s radio channel put on the show—and other interested parties: Ice Spice, Kevin Durant, Justin and Hailey Bieber, Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Rubin, Sarah Snyder peering over a balcony in a Chanel beanie and scarf.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for SiriusXM.

During the journey to follow, Drake presented a rough sketch of the years since his 2009 breakout, but it amounted to less of a chronological survey than a spectrum of his moods. Early, he began singing “Marvins Room,” a 2011 song that oscillates between some of his most wounded romantic ruminations and some of his most bracing self-assessments in a career brimming with both. But he played just a snippet, the softer and more desperate portion, reserving some of his brasher instincts for the latter half of the show. It was also a conspicuous performance of volume: playing only a touch of some songs to get to as many as possible, and still capturing only a fraction of his catalogue. 

When Drake did arrive at the thump of his 2018 song “Nonstop,” the floor seemed to vibrate. Noah Shebib, his longtime producer and engineer known as 40, sat at the soundboard, orchestrating the trademarks that the pair have increasingly entrenched in both their own work and the landscape of pop music since they first began collaborating in 2005. But Drake’s best-known signature is now perhaps his flexibility–across regions and sounds and the musical and internet micro-eras he’s navigated since he started out–and as the show came to a close, he ceded some of the stage to local heroes.

As the Harlem rappers of Dipset walked out, Drake wore a pink fur coat in the indelible style of Cam’ron. (“This is Cam’s actual mink by the way,” he noted. “I didn’t just get some new shit made.”) He’s performed with the group in New York before and it looked comfortable enough to try on. Last year, Drake released two albums, one on which he veered towards dance music and another on which he defended that maneuver by situating it amid the shape of his own ascent: “I’m worldwidе and this is just another cargo jet flow.” At the Apollo, he suggested that he was clearing his throat as much as he was staging a retrospective. Planning ahead after those two albums, “I might get bored and make another one,” Drake said. “I hope I can strike up more emotions for you.”

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