The Club Paradise Tour opened with French Montana, whom I was actually sort of interested in seeing, had he not gone onstage at 6:30, which is sort of crazy considering the set-time gulf between openers and headliner. I guess Drake and co. needed more time to build their two-tiered stage setup.
So next came 2 Chainz, nee Tity Boi of the underpromoted and presumably-forever-defunct Playaz Circle. 2 Chainz, folk hero, is everywhere. This is not an exaggeration. The man seems to be featured on a new radio single every day and told The FADER’s Andrew Noz that he’s recording six to eight new verses a week, all while simultaneously finishing his major-label debut. His work ethic and love of expensive things make up for whatever the rapper lacks in terms of actual rapping talent, but that doesn’t matter because his incessant guest appearances are actually fun to listen to. Fifteen minutes of stage time was all he needed to cover his parts on Kanye’s “Mercy” and Minaj’s “Beez in the Trap,” and still work his own “Turn Up” and consumerism’s national anthem “Spend It” into the mix.
Next was Meek Mill, Philadelphia’s frenetic possible savior of commercial rap and protege to Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group, whose 15-minute set probably was the night’s most canned and rehearsed, and, in a testament to how good Meek Mill can be, was still very entertaining. Paying reverence to his boss-of-all-bosses Rick Ross, Meek let “9 Piece” pump through SPAC’s surprisingly adequate system. “Flexin’,” off the underwhelming Dreamchasers 2 mixtape, followed shortly thereafter, trumped by the overwhelming force that is playing “House Party” an “Ima Boss” back-to-back.
The night, if a competition, was won hands-down by Riverdale, Ga., madman Waka Flocka Flame. Twenty minutes of stage time was enough to put Waka 30 rows deep in the audience for a nearly-10-minute rendition of “Grove St. Party” backed by a small-riot-inciting “Hard in the Paint”; enough time to play some of his new album’s singles in full and snippet the bad ones, (“Rooster in My Rari,” “Fist Pump,” respectively); enough time to throw stacks of money into the front rows during the strip club hymn “Round of Applause.” He never stopped smiling, never seemed anything less than completely enthused to be performing, which may have had something to do with all the Molly and Xanax he promises us he’s eating.
Then there was J. Cole, a sing-rapper in the vein of Drake who draws inspiration from the most popular and/or the worst aspects of urban radio. He is, at his worst, a big ball of bland and an amalgamation of the worst of his inspirations; at his best, an endearing goof, not the slickster he fancies himself to be. He maybe-sorta-probably threw subliminal shade at Drake back in 2010 on his failed lead single “Who Dat,” failing to say the rapper’s name in any of the verses (particularly the third). I guess the allure of Drake-level money is more fun and more enticing than trying to figure out who’s spent more time in the hood.
Lastly, the night’s headliner: Drake, the teen actor turned sing-rap megastar raised under the Lil Wayne-helmed era of Cash Money Records; a rapper so preoccupied with public perception of himself and his music that too much of his output fails because of it. He played with a live band behind him, and fell off his own songs on a handful of occasions: His bookmark fell out, he lost his place in the book he wrote. He went through a set, the set he’s been playing at almost every “Club Paradise Tour” stop; a set dialed in and scripted down to the moment pyrotechnics started flying on “Take Care.” He trotted out the opening guests for performances of their biggest singles—this time with a fuller, more receptive crowd. He efficiently worked through the set to leave himself ample time for this weird, prolonged, nearly 30-minute crowd interaction portion of the night where he gazed over each section of the audience, pointing out beautiful women (“I see you baby girl right there in the green skirt lookin’ good”) and bros in jerseys he approved of (“I see you bro right there in the Celtics jersey”). He did this bit for nearly 30 minutes. It was absurd.