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Drake, OVO Fest: MC Outshines Special Guests Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg and Rick Ross

Sarjoun Faour Photography/WireImage

For three years running, Drake has hosted the biggest hip-hop event in Toronto (and almost anywhere else, too). His OVO Fest, named after his hometown pre-fame October’s Very Own clique, began in 2010 as a way to stake his claim in the hip-hop scene. He did this by not just headlining his own festival, but bringing out the biggest special guests anyone could bring out — Jay-Z and Eminem. This was his way of saying rap’s ruling kings had welcomed him into the royal court.

The following year he had less to prove, but more to say with his special guests — his boss, fresh-from-prison Lil Wayne, appeared as a symbol of loyalty while Stevie Wonder was a way for the rapper-singer to show his concept of music extended back further than the Boogie Down Bronx.

So how could he top that in 2012? Well, he couldn’t. And by taking up the top spot himself and focusing on showing love for his hometown, maybe he didn’t have to, Spinner reports.

“The premise of OVO Fest is you never know who you gonna see,” he told MTV recently, and everyone at yesterday’s sold out show knew there’d be more than just the advertised The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky and 2 Chainz on the bill. But who? Bringing out Snoop Dogg seemed unlikely. Snoop is indeed a huge star, but he’d also just played a small club show in Toronto two days previous under his new Snoop Lion guise before heading to Montreal for a headlining Osheaga set. You’d figure that would’ve been a lot of Snoop for Canada in a three-day span. Rick Ross, meanwhile, just released an album and his appearance would seem like a too-easy Maybach marketing play. But there they were, as well as compulsive name repeater Waka Flocka Flame, too.

Watch Drake & Waka Flocka Flame Perform “Round of Applause”

Nicki Minaj, the final surprise MC, was apparently intended to be the penultimate guest, but their mutual label boss Weezy couldn’t make it across the border — luckily Minaj delivered the festival’s hands-down highlight with a ferocious take on “Beez in the Trap,” a song set further ablaze by 2 Chainz dropping his remix verse — which would’ve had more impact if he hadn’t already done it during his concise but charismatic opening set. (Minaj woulda had more impact, too, if she’d delivered more than this and her Drizzy collab “I’m So Proud.”)

Drake actually reminded us that the three artists had first worked together on Lil Wayne’s I Am Music tour in 2009 back when 2 Chains was known as Tity Boy — which just goes to show that when some famous rapper brings out a crew of nobodies to give each a turn on the mic, maybe we should pay attention. Ultimately, the relatively modest star power of the special guests this year was somewhat irrelevant because just a few years into his career, Drake is now a proper superstar himself.

He no longer has to prove himself, as became crystal clear from the decibel level screams of the sold-out crowd of 16,000 at the Molson Amphitheatre. Dressed in all white everything, Drizzy ran through his increasingly deep catalogue of hits from “Underground Kings” (“I got rich off a mixtape”) and “Forever,” to the surprisingly intense reception for his epic drunk-dial “Marvin’s Room,” and the surprisingly pyro-heavy run through “Take Care.”

Of course, everyone was waiting for Rihanna to come out, and that’s the double-edge of Drake’s OVO sword. Anything short of an Aaliyah hologram — which was an actual rumour — would’ve disappointed the crowd.

So instead, he held court himself and bookended the show with his strongest moments: The Weeknd-assisted “Crew Love,” demonstrated both hometown pride and Drake’s eye for talent, while “The Motto,” a mere bonus track, somehow took over pop-culture with its YOLO, er, motto. During one of his many, many paeans to Toronto over the course of the night, which included showing off his new 416 tattoo, Drake said “we need to have a moment as a city.”

By making himself, a local artist, the festival’s biggest star for the first time, he achieved it.


See Photos of Drake’s Fashion Evolution

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