Drake at the peak of his powers during Dubai concert
Big hip-hop gigs in the UAE are, sadly, a rare occurrence. Normally banished to the 2am slot in clubs, acts rarely get the same big-stage love as their fellow pop peers.
Judging by the more than 15,000 people who turned up for Drake’s Dubai International Stadium performance on Saturday, there’s an eager market out there for the music – so let’s hope local promoters take note and their antipathy towards the genre is reversed.
Drake’s superb gig also stood out as a rare chance for UAE fans to see a hip-hop artist at the peak of his powers.
This was no lap of honour as seen at the previous big rap gigs by Eminem, Kanye West and Jay Z, or any of the cheesy drivel that we routinely encounter in clubs from, let’s face it, C-list rappers.
The 28-year-old Canadian arrived in the UAE only a month after releasing his record-breaking mixtape, If You’re Reading This it’s Too Late, and less than a month before he will headline arguably one of the biggest events of the year, the Coachella Festival in California on April 12.
Arriving on stage in baggy white jeans and matching shirt to the sound of the triumphant horns of Trophies, Drake made a storming performance for his UAE debut.
Supported by his touring band – a keyboard player, drummer and DJ – Drake essentially carried the show by himself, delivering a blistering set full of hits and old favourites that were enhanced by a blinding light show.
An interesting aspect of Drake’s performance was how well the songs sounded in a stadium. While as recordings the plaintive beats can come across as too minimal or watery, they take on a deeply evocative tone live on a big stage.
Where Headlines sounds broodingly introspective on the record, for example, performed live with added percussion the track sounds positively anthemic, with the crowd swaying their arms during the chorus.
Drake’s sweet croon, his secret weapon, was also on display in Best I Ever Had, which kept the track just on the right side of racy. The Motto also went down a treat, with those big stonking beats sounding so large that those in the front rows could feel them pounding on their chests.
Worst Behaviour also benefited from the live treatment – the abrasive beats and live percussion were delightfully undercut by Drake’s buttery flow.
The show’s only serious setback came during the ballad-ish Hold on We’re Going Home. What was meant to be the emotional centrepoint of the show instead became a near 10-minute snooze-fest that tested the audience’s patience. Then again, everybody benefited – the track served as a useful drinks break and a chance for fans to touch Drizzy’s pearly white trainers as he strolled down the T-shaped stage for the first time. Fortunately, the energy returned for the final section, the best part of which was 0 to 100, in which Drake’s flow was absolutely venomous.
The set closer was Started From the Bottom. Drake pretty much acknowledged it as his unofficial anthem as he paired the track with a video montage of memorable moments from his career.
Always one to promote sincerity rather than boasting, Drake’s acknowledgement that his Dubai show was a “dream come true” and his intention to return on the back of his next world tour capped off a great evening.