Drake kicks off is four-city Jungle Tour as the pinnacle of his second Houston Appreciation Weekend.

Drake chose Houston, his second-home, to start the beginning of his 6-city Jungle Tour. When tour dates dropped, many were wondering what a Memorial Day Weekend tour date meant for Houston, if Drake Day and the anniversary of Houston Appreciation Weekend were only a couple of weeks later. To practically no one’s surprise, HAW was moved to Memorial Day Weekend to coincide with the Jungle Tour. While some rejoiced, others were apprehensive about the lineup which sparked interesting Twitter fodder and debates.

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Thursday’s kick off included a private dinner honoring Bun B, followed by the Future and Kirko Bangz concert. Friday featured a star-studded softball game benefiting the Houston Astros’ Urban Youth Academy. Saturday resurrected the exclusive HAW Pool Party, and Sunday brought us the moment we cared most about: the concert.

Check out Greg Noire’s Awesome Pictures from the HAW Celebrity Softball Game

 

The sold out show would be Drake’s first performance since his Coachella-headlining performance that left fans and critics less than impressed. The Jungle performance also marked the follow-up to Drake’s momentous pseudo-anniversary concert at Warehouse Live during his inaugural Houston Appreciation Weekend in 2014. If you were one of the fortunate volunteers who worked really hard to earn tickets, you know that concert was legendary and your expectations for every other Drake concert would be high. So even though Drake claims going online isn’t part of his day, I was willing to bet that he was very aware that he had to bring it, whatever “it” was.

On Sunday, May 24th, the Toyota Center had a chilling calm to it. Maybe it was because the Rockets had been unscrupulously disrespected by the Warriors the night before, but the air seemed much more reserved than I expected for a sold out show. While we were in line to get drinks, I hear a Boosie song faintly playing throughout the arena. It’s 8 PM so I assumed the DJ had started trying to get the crowd turned up. Then another Boosie song played, and I wondered why we were getting ahead of ourselves on the mix. Everyone knows you don’t play “Wipe Me Down” until intermission. Then I realized Boosie was actually performing! What an odd opening act for a Drake concert, but my inner ratchet got its life as I watched Boosie Badazz run through a few hood classics. The most entertaining part of the performance, aside from the children dancing on stage, was the crowd emphatically reminding everyone they remembered how to spell “independent.” Boosie closed his 15 minute performance out by reminding us to buy his new album Touch Down and Cause Hell and urging the crowd to come to Limelight after the show to see him perform the same things he just performed. The lights came back on in the arena and stayed on for over an hour. I wrote them off as first tour date technical difficulties and began to get anxious for the big performance.

 

Who was Drake going to bring out? Would he perform songs from that surprise mixtape/album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late? Would Bun B make an appearance? Since it was Houston Appreciation Weekend, would Drake at the very least bring Travis Scott on to perform their joint track “Company”? And then there was the part of me that hoped Drake let his petty chopper sing and perform the “2 Legited 2 Quitted” remix that had some rappers up in arms that he never sent back. As you see, that strange hour-long gap between opening and showtime left me to my thoughts, for better or worse.

At 9:25 PM, the lights dropped and the crowd roared! Down comes the projection screens, playing the opening scenes from Drake’s short film Jungle. Drake energetically kicks off his performance with “Legend” and I immediately notice a shift from Coachella Drake. He’s more energetic, more sure of himself, definitely at home, or home away from home. He even shocked the crowd with some sporadic pyrotechnic effects that I felt he got too closed to and my concern that he was going to singe off his beard grew quickly.

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After performing the Soulja Boy-produced hit “We Made It”, Drake did something very interesting. First, he preemptively apologized to Future the Prince, his DJ/Manager, then he made a challenge/promise to the city of Houston. Champagne Papi promised that whichever crowd on this 4-city tour had the most energy, he’d bring OVO Fest to that city within the next two years.

Let’s pause for the cause: OVO Fest Houston makes sense.

I would like to convince myself that someone hacked my phone because I surely said this year’s HAW event lineup would be more appropriate if it was called OVO Fest Houston. What do I mean by appropriate? This Houston Appreciation Weekend brought a lot of criticism from Houstonians and outsiders alike. An event lineup of  parties and performances would very much fit into the music festival turn up that OVO Fest has become, and it would at the very least seem less disingenuous and mitigate some of the demand for receipts about how parties and a few concerts are showing appreciation to the city Drake credits for launching his career. I’m not saying OVO Fest Houston would be the end to all of the criticism, because let’s face it, he’d still get flack for which Houston artists were included in the lineup; but OVO Fest Houston could work. And yes, I’m being presumptuous that Houston would win this “challenge” because OVO Fest Chicago, OVO Fest Detroit and OVO Fest Montreal sound silly and don’t have nearly as much significance to Drake as Houston does. Fight me.

Drake at Coachella | Photo Credit: Chelsea Loren, WireImage

Drake at Coachella | Photo Credit: Chelsea Loren, WireImage

Back to the show… Drake runs through a few more tracks with the most fan participation for songs like “Up All Night”, “Over”, and “Loving the Crew.” The visuals that accompanied the “Loving the Crew” set included well shot “behind the scenes” footage of Drake, OVO and friends. This intimate look at “less calculated” Drake was refreshing as we watch him chill with a few familiar faces, including P Reign, his tour manager Jamil, Big Tho, Makonnen and more. I found myself so distracted and captivated by the video, that I momentarily forgot the song was actually be performed right in front of me. After a few more songs, the white screens parted and Drake revealed that he brought his Jungle set from Coachella with him. While he wandered around the foliage, he ran through all his popular, current features including “Blessed,” “Tuesday,” Come My Way,” and “Truffle Butter.”

Drake takes another moment to have a personal moment with the crowd. My petty senses start tingling and I know this is where things should get interesting. Drake reminds us how much he loves the city of Houston. He briefly reflects on that nervous summer in 2009 when he was concerned about packing out Warehouse Live, and to a sold our Toyota Center, Drake boastfully states:

“Don’t give a f*ck what any n*gga say about me – this is a city that I love and I’m gonna give y’all all of me. F*ck what they gotta say.”

As the crowd erupted in various pitches of  oooo’s and ahhhh’s, it was very clear that was Drake addressing the local rappers who had taken to Instagram during HAW to claim Drake was exploiting the city. A claim that I personally would have analyzed more critically had I not resolved this was just backlash that Drake never sent back his verse for a remix that could easily been as big to the rappers as the “Versace Remix” was to Migos. Drake confirms with a vigorous head nod that he said what he said, then transitions into his quintessential Houston appreciation track “June 18th” followed by “Worst Behavior.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - MARCH 14: Drake performs on stage at Dubai International Cricket Ground on March 14, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Helen Boast/Redferns via Getty Images)

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – MARCH 14: Drake performs on stage at Dubai International Cricket Ground on March 14, 2015 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Helen Boast/Redferns via Getty Images)

Drake quiets down and takes another walk through the jungle while performing “Jungle.” The performance suddenly feels much more intimate, as if it’s to a crowd a tenth of the size. Singing Drake varies from Rapping Drake in the way that he shows his vulnerability. It was fascinating to see a rapper who doesn’t shy away from feelings in his songs be so tender in a performance. This was also the first time I realized that Drake is singing “rock me slowly” on the song. While transitioning to “Company”, a notably Houston-influenced song with a notable Houston artist, I wondered if this would be the moment Drake would seize to bring out Travis Scott, but no such luck. He moves on to the song that would land Drake in the headlines the following morning with his performance of “Madonna.”

Now, I knew two things: 1) last time Drake performed this song was at Coachella, Madonna accosted him and stuck her tongue down his throat in search of some youth serum I’m guessing she thought he possessed. 2) Madonna referred to Drake as a girl after the backlash of the performance and Drake’s repulsed reaction to “the kiss.” Not one to disappoint or to pass up on an opportunity to be subtly petty, Drake swaps out the pop icon’s name with the rising pop icon/ revolving love interest, Rihanna.

I don’t know if you know, but I know who you are; you could be big as Rihanna

Following his not so subtle nod to the Bajan beauty, Drake performs a reggae melody of “Find Your Love” and takes a stab at Jamaican patois, which is laughable at best. But I’d love to see him hold a conversation during Caribana.

To liven the crowd back up, Drake goes “0-100” and appreciate Houston enough not to breathe Steph Curry’s name in the Toyota Center, a move that I’m going to credit to the reason the Rockets didn’t get swept the next day. Take that, Lil B. Next up was “All Me,””Hell Yeah,” “Started from the Bottom,” “Know Yourself” and closed the show with a heartfelt performance of “Energy”.

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And just like that, the kickoff show of Drake’s Jungle Tour was over. Overall, I thought it was a good show. I will admit I was a bit disappointed there weren’t any guest appearances, especially because I saw that he brought out other artist during the next 2 stops of his show in Detroit and Chicago. More importantly, I felt that this concert would have been a stand out performance had it not been coupled with the rest of the Houston Appreciation Weekend events. Because it was natural to compare it to last year’s HAW performance and this solo show didn’t pale in comparison. Drake feeds off the dynamic energy of others. That’s what stood out most to me during last year’s HAW concert: when Drake knew Houston legends and other artists big in their own right would be joining him on stage, he took advantage of his solo time; he made the most of it. Please don’t get me wrong, this performance was worth it, I just wanted more, or maybe I should write that I expected more. Drake sets the bar high, that’s been his “thing” since So Far Gone debuted. So I expected more from this HAW concert than he gave us last year. Nonetheless, it was great show and as a Drake fan, I’m committed to watching him grow as a performer.

Did you attend the Jungle Tour? What did you like the most? Let us know in the comments below!