By GARY GRAFF – Oakland Press
ROCHESTER HILLS — As he slid into his song “Lust For Life” at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on Thursday night, Drake rapped that “as it stands, everything is going as right as it can.”
In less than four years the 23-year-old Toronto MC and occasional singer, a onetime member of the “Degrassi: The New Generation” cast as Aubrey Drake Graham, has racked up a string of hit singles and built a following that’s allowed him to fill an amphitheater such as Meadow Brook — even though his first album, “Thank Me Later,” isn’t due out for another two months. To the exuberant college crowd, however, he’s a star, and Drake strode confidently into that role during a 70-minute set on a summer-like evening, sampling 23 songs drawn mostly from his 2009 EP, “So Far Gone,” and the forthcoming “Thank Me Later.”
Drake certainly cut a unique hip-hop figure on stage, too. Sans the usual bling and visible tattoos that are part of rap’s stock in trade, and sporting a Scrabble-worth vocabulary, he’s not exactly gangsta; when he does spit a few profanities into his rhymes, in fact, it seems a bit disingenuous. And his vocal flow is entirely his own, nodding to a variety of influences but fusing them into a deceptively relaxed attitude that still has bite — as well as a more R&B-styled loverman affect that draws as much from Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass as, say, Jay-Z or Lil Wayne, Drake’s label chief. During the instrumental “Unthinkable” he even brought an obviously delighted co-ed — who he complimented as “a fine (expletive) — on stage for a slow dance a neck nuzzle.
Drake and his five-piece band kicked the show itself off with “Forever,” Drake’s contribution to the LeBron James documentary “More Than a Game” — and dashing hopes of a Meadow Brook cameo by Eminem, who appears on the recording. But he was joined by Big Tymers’ Bryan Williams (aka Birdman/Baby/1 Stunna) at the end of a particularly charged “I’m Still Fly” and for “I’m Goin’ In,” which Drake led as a singalong of support for the incarcerated Lil Wayne (a few in the crowd sported “Free Weezy” T-shirts). He also laced snippets some of his guest appearances into the set, including Birdman’s “Money 2 Blow,” Timbaland’s “Say Something,” Fabolous’ “Throw It in the Bag” and Trey Songz’s “I Invented Sex.”
But the concert was designed to primarily showcase Drake’s own material, ranging from hits such as “Best I Ever Had,” “Successful” and his pair of songs — “Every Girl” and “BedRock” — from the “We Are Young Money” compilation to a sampling of “Thank Me Later Tracks,” including “Fireworks” and his current single, “Over,” which closed the night with its declaration that things are “far from over.” And after watching him capably rock the house on Thursday, it was pretty clear that things are only beginning — in a big way — for Drake.