Drake’s performance at Apollo Theater with Sirius XM wasn’t something to do for the hell of it, though it might’ve seem that way at first. Throughout the night, it was quite clear that, despite everything he’s done, there was something he needed to accomplish in Harlem. When the curtains rose for the night and the show got underway, Drake’s presence on stage was of course the first thing that caught the attention of fans, but an equally attention-grabbing aspect was the stage design Drake had to begin the show. Through introductory performances of “Over My Dead Body” and “Wu-Tang Forever,” Drake, wearing a “Degrassi” jersey, sat on a bed in a makeshift room equipped with a space heater, nightstand, lamp, and more. “I wanted to make this a show about gratitude,” Drake said to the audience. “This is a little story that we put together. My deep love for my family, for my dear friends, and for each and every one of you who have been supporting me for a long time.” He continued, “This is my bedroom in my mom’s basement where I wrote a lot of new songs… I’m gonna play you some of the sh*t that got us out of here.”
Many, including myself, entered the night under the presumption that the Apollo show would be a night dedicated to the deep cuts that Drake fans hold near and dear to their heart. Maybe this is because it’s a perfect option for the intimacy that Apollo allows artists to take advantage of or maybe we hoped that Drake would do what artists who live in his realm of magnitude have done before (i.e. Jay-Z’s 2015 and 2019 B-Side shows at Manhattan’s Terminal 5). In the end, Drake’s night at Apollo was much more than a show for deep cuts, but in its early moments, it seemed like that was what we were getting. “Over My Dead Body” and “Wu-Tang Forever” turned into “Trust Issues” and his hook from Timbaland’s “Say Something.” Fan favorites “Practice,” “Jaded,” and “Jungle” also appeared in the opening act of the night. Drake exited the stage and returned to a new stage design: an office desk, office chairs with a “record executive” seated in one of them, and a backdrop of skyscrapers reminiscent of New York City. “There’s some dumbass record labels out here,” Drake said flippantly. “That’s what this scene is about; it’s me trying to grind my ass off and let people know that I’m not in a wheelchair in real life [and that] Canadians can make music.”
For this Act II, Drake resorted to the records that made Jimmy Brooks an afterthought and proved that Canadians can indeed make music. Monster hits in his discography (“Nonstop,” “Started From The Bottom,” and “God’s Plan”) and iconic guest verses (“Forever,” “I’m On One,” and “No New Friends”) received airtime during this part of the show. At just the halfway mark, Drake successfully reminded the crowd of the journey that not only took him out of his mother’s basement, but made him the golden child of the music industry. Drake made note of the past, and for the remainder of the night, he inched closer and closer to the present with a few exceptions. He continued with a third act that swapped the record label office setup for an emptier stage design that focused on special effect lighting. Here, chart-toppers like “One Dance” and “In My Feelings” were accompanied by records that showcased his versatility like “Hold On We’re Going Home” and “Passionfruit” and paired with his recent hits “Way 2 Sexy” and “Sticky.”
Drake’s night at Apollo was undoubtedly a bucket list moment for him. During a late 2019 interview with Rap Radar, he was asked whether or not he’d ever do a b-sides show. “I would love to,” he replied. “We’ve talked about maybe doing an unplugged with all the records that I never usually perform. I think it would be great. I think it would also showcase how serious I take performing as well.” Three years later, Drake had his moment to prove just that, and he also used it to pay homage to Harlem and an influence from his childhood in the best way that he could. Act IV began with a makeshift Harlem bodega on stage, perfect for the introduction of Dipset to Apollo, who had a similar bodega built for their 2003 Source Awards performance. “I Really Mean It,” “Dipset Anthem,” and “We Fly High” were performed as Jim Jones, Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, and Freekey Zekey took over the stage. Drake, who was rocking the Cam’ron’s iconic pink mink, stood in the background smiling from ear to ear. In the rapper’s own words, the moment with Dipset meant more to him than any award could have simply because of the influence the group had on him. “These guys right here from Harlem made us dress different, talk different, walk different, rap different all the way in Canada,” he noted.
The night concluded with the final act that featured an appearance from 21 Savage, who joined his new rap partner in crime to perform “Knife Talk” “Jimmy Crooks,” and a pair of songs from Her Loss with the “Apollo” logo brandished behind them. The rappers’ chemistry was on full display as 21 Savage thanked Drake for supporting his career and growth from their first meeting back in 2015. Both rappers made it clear that their friendship is about more than music, it was built from that commonality to find other ones. Additionally, with a joint tour announcement around the corner, it gave the audience comforting promise of what’s to come when the duo hits the road.
Drake’s performance at Apollo Theater with SiriusXM concluded without so many records that would’ve been perfect for the night: “Cameras,” “Come Thru,” “Too Much,” “The Ride,” “Do Not Disturb,” “How Bout Now,” and “4PM In Calabasas,” just to name a few. Despite this, as fans, leaving the night with some level of disappointment would be a bit greedy on our part, especially considering the night’s theme of gratitude. I couldn’t help but perceive the night as a victory lap moment for Drake. The checking off the bucket list objective of it all was quite obvious, but beneath that, stood a man on a stage who is grateful for his accomplishments and supporters. For some years now, Drake has sought new challenges for himself to keep the fire alive as his longstanding title as rap’s king has started to lose its shine in his eyes. He makes this clear on “Is There More?” from Scorpion. “I mean you know I love a challenge, but challenged by who?” he ponders all to later rap, “Am I missin’ somethin’ that’s more important to find? / Like healin’ my soul, like family time / Is there more to life than just when I’m feelin’ alive?”
This night at Apollo Theater is seemingly one example of the more that Drake has searched for over the last half-decade. For his first act of 2023, Drake fulfilled the tradition of excelling in the legendary building on W 125th St. Furthermore, he lived up to his own legend with a loose journey through a career that reached levels of superstardom untouched by most. The end is probably a distance away for Drake, but the beginning of the end is maybe closer than we believe. When that time comes, let us not forgot the heights he reached to make it out of his mother’s basement and continuously “strike up more emotions” for his vast fan base, something he said he may do again in the near or distant future.