The legacy of the famed Apollo Theater sets a high standard for even the most accomplished performers of the streaming era. The Apollo was erected in 1913 as a “whites only” venue before the theater was purchased by Sidney S Cohen in the 1930s. Cohen, a prominent owner of theaters throughout New York City, decided that it would be dedicated specifically to platforming black performers and providing entertainment to black patrons at a time when the majority of venues in the United States were racially segregated.
Then, during the height of the Jazz Age in New York, Harlem theater quickly established itself as a catalyst for then-emerging jazz musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Luther Vandross, and Thelma Carpenter. And in the decades since, the legacy of the Apollo Theater has continued to innovate and affirm its legendary status. Duke Ellington graced the stage alongside his Jazz Orchestra in 1945. Jimi Hendrix began his career after winning first place in the Apollo Amateur Musician Competition in 1964. Just three years later, the Jackson 5 would win the same competition, and in 2002 the Apollo hosted Michael Jackson’s last live stage performance.
Unlike the aforementioned artists, Drake’s back-to-back performances at the Apollo this past weekend in partnership with Sirius XM came at what could be considered the peak of his career. This begs the question: why hold a concert in a theater with a maximum capacity of 1,500 people when the stadiums are usually full? During the event, the answer became increasingly clear as Drake delivered an intimate and expansive 41-track show spanning his discography and saluting Harlem’s influence on hip-hop.
“Aubrey, try to calm down tonight when you’re working,” a voiceover from the rapper’s mother, Sandi, cuts through the silent anticipation of the crowd. Under bluish lighting, Drake sits on a replica of his childhood bed, donning a Degrassi basketball jersey, as the opening lines of Take care of you cut “Above My Corpse”. It quickly became clear that this particular gig wouldn’t see the rapper smash his way through the His loss tracklist, as some participants might have expected. Instead, in a refreshing twist, Drake blasted his way through an eclectic mix of B-side cuts such as “Wu-Tang Forever” and “Trust Issues” and fan favorites like “Best I Ever Had”, “Forever”, “Nonstop” and “Le plan de Dieu”. Over the course of his discography, the decor has gone from his childhood bedroom to the improvised conference room of a record company.
Lil Uzi Vert made a brief appearance to perform an energetic rendition of his viral hit “I Just Wanna Rock,” after which Drake offered the rapper his flowers and celebrated their close friendship. “Whenever I’m feeling down, I always get a message from him. Never ask, just check in,” Drake said onstage with Vert. “So I want you to know that if you ever want to do well and go far in life, you have to watch your people.” About halfway through the evening, a Harlem bodega was set up between songs, from which 21 Savage emerged and the duo immersed themselves in a sampling of Her Loss tracks, beginning with “Rich Flex”.
Some attendees may not have been aware of the significance of Drake’s next move, but for others, the show’s most culturally significant moment occurred when the rapper brought out the four rappers from Harlem collective The Diplomats – also known as Dipset – Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Juelz Santana and Freekey Zekey. Drake had spent the last hour and a half charting his own path in the music industry and for the final stretch he shared the stage with those who had set the tone for rap in the early years and influenced Drake from his early days. . with his own career in Toronto. Drizzy even paid tribute to Cam’ron by donning a replica of the pink furry coat and matching headband that the Harlem rapper went viral in 2003. “These guys here from Harlem made us dress different, talk different, walk different, rap different – all the way to Canada,” Drake said.
Tapping on Dipset to close out the night with some of their own hits — “I Really Mean It,” “Dipset Anthem” and “We Fly High” — Drake reminded fans he wouldn’t be performing at the Apollo, or at this stage of his career in general, without the rappers who paved the way decades before. To commemorate the moment, Jones, in true rapper fashion, gifted Drake with a personalized OVO x Dipset chain.
“My dream of doing the Apollo would be to share the stage with these legendary guys,” Drake said. “First of all, we wouldn’t be there, but we wouldn’t have talked the same way, dressed the same way, walked the same way. You have influenced me and my brothers so much.