This past Friday night at the Staples Center, Drake delivered the show of his life. The fans swarming his massive, LED screen stage knew it, the Migos, popping in and out from backstage to provide filler or back up on joint singles throughout the two-hour set knew it, Drizzy himself knew it, continually shaking his head in awe at the sold-out, loud as f*ck audience screaming out their love for the boy from The 6 — hell, even Adele knew it, tweeting after the show that it was hands down one of the greatest sets of her life, celebrating her role as a spectator, for once.
Running through notes on the show in my mind while we sat there, stunned by the sheer force of his charisma and the technological impact of the show’s visuals, I was prepared to call it the best rap show I’d ever seen. And then, right when he was at the apex of his powers, Drake pulled out one final stop, dropped what he appeared to think was his ace: A surprise appearance from the embattled R&B singer and his one-time rival, Chris Brown.
The reaction to this unexpected, potentially unwelcome guest star was an even split, but the tension was enough to render the arena that had been deafening for two hours into a sort of uneasy rumble. Plenty of fans, myself included, saw the guest that Drake had been hyping up to close out his show, and quietly made their way to the door. In 2018, just days away from the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, and a couple weeks after a man accused of sexual assault was appointed to the Supreme Court, bringing out a prominent man guilty of domestic abuse — and who has done very little to change those behaviors — felt more than tone deaf. It felt willfully careless.
This isn’t the co-sign of the Drake I wanted to believe in, but sadly, it was enough to shatter the facade of an otherwise perfect show. And this is the continual, salt-in-the-wound experience of being a hip-hop fan in 2018, with artists like Drake at the height of their popularity and talent, using their considerable influence and enormous reach to prop up people like Chris Brown, once again communicating the message to victims of assault, battery, and abuse that their experiences don’t matter as much as the bottom line or the bro code.
While Drake’s rival, Kanye West, is facing intensive scrutiny for propping up abusers like ASAP Bari, and, well, the president himself, this is the ideal moment for Drizzy to do the exact opposite. He could be distancing himself from men who are accused of bad behavior like this as recently as this past June, if not out of his own moral belief that it’s appalling, then out of the self-serving reasoning that it would set him a notch ahead of the competition. And yet, he didn’t. Why is that?