It has taken Canadian hip-hop star Drake some time to get into arenas.
His second major headlining tour, the Club Paradise Tour in support of his second album, “Take Care,” began earlier this year on college campuses across the U.S. — a taste of things to come. In the spring, the tour moved up to full-sized arenas in the U.K., and in May it returned to the U.S. for a second run in amphitheaters, including a stop at Saratoga Performing Arts Center tonight.
The title of the tour may reference Drake’s history in hip-hop clubs, but so far the rapper has come to embrace the larger spectacle of arenas and amphitheaters.
“Really, my favorite part is just that moment where I realize, as a kid, what it meant to me to go to a concert and see my favorite artist and have them really engage the crowd and interact,” he said during a teleconference with various media outlets prior to the tour.
With: J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz, French Montana
When: 7 tonight
Where: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs
How Much: $89.75, $59.75, $39.75, $29.75 (lawn)
More Info: 587-3330, www.spac.org
“You feel special. I guess I realize now, doing arenas and stadiums and amphitheaters, that there are people in those crowds that are the next whatever, the front-runners of this generation — there’s another Drake, or another Obama, in one of those crowds, and whatever these kids choose to do with their lives, it’s amazing to know that we shared an impactful [sic] night. Just to know that stories will be told about that night in households for years to come, that’s my favorite part of it.”
The packed bill for this leg of the tour features both up-and-comers (Meek Mill, 2 Chainz and French Montana) and stars with almost as much name power as Drake himself (J. Cole and Waka Flocka Flame). Although Drake is clearly the headliner, he insists the vibe is more like a festival than a one-shot show — and many of the openers will have guest spots in his headlining set.
“It’s a longer experience to me; it’s a full-day experience which I think is great, especially in the summertime,” he said. “I know a lot of these guys very well. Not only are we all fans of each other’s music, but there are very strong alliances with these guys on this tour with me. It’s safe to say now that if there’s anybody on this tour that I didn’t have a song with before, I have a song with them now.”
Born Aubrey Drake Graham, Drake has seen his star steadily rise in the hip-hop world since the release of his first mix tape, “Room for Improvement,” in 2006. But he’s been in the spotlight since 2001, when he landed the role of Jimmy Brooks on Canadian TV’s “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”
He was on the show until 2009, but his rapping soon eclipsed his acting career as hip-hop star Lil Wayne took Drake under his wing.
After releasing two more mix tape collections, he was eventually signed to Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment. His debut album, “Thank Me Later,” followed in the summer of 2010.
With its mix of melodic hooks and emotional lyrics, Drake’s sound is still something of an anomaly in the hip-hop genre, but it became part of his appeal in the U.S. On “Take Care” — which produced five singles including the title track, featuring Rihanna, and “Make Me Proud,” featuring Nicki Minaj — he pushes even further into his personal life, addressing failed relationships and his own struggles with fame.
“I write about what’s going on around me,” he said. “None of that is bad. I don’t live, like, a sad, miserable life — I’m a happy individual. I just don’t live in a fairy-tale bubble. I try to describe what’s going on around me, whether it’s good or bad.”
Performing these highly personal statements in front of giant stadium audiences doesn’t bother Drake. He’s only uncomfortable with it when his family is around, but even then the emotional release is a good thing in his mind.
Proud of emotion
“Anything I write, any piece of music that I put out, I’m proud of the emotion — it’s something I went through in my life, you know,” he said. “It’s not painful. Sometimes it can be tough to do songs like “Look What You’ve Done” when my mom or my uncle or my dad are at the show; it gets kind of awkward to talk about such personal feelings in front of those people. At the same time, it’s also a beautiful thing — I get to make these records come to life.”
“Take Care” has also found Drake more involved than ever in the music videos for the singles from the album. Most notably, the video for “HYFR,” featuring Lil Wayne, re-creates Drake’s bar mitzvah. He hopes to continue working on stories for his own videos in the future.
“It really showed me — OK, I need to start stepping in and bringing the visions I have for my songs to life,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, they’re my songs, my emotions.”
The third album may not be too far off, as he is already mulling ideas. His recent move to Los Angeles, and his ever-evolving personal and professional life, will all most likely be inspirations.
“I think that the next album will be from definitely a different [place],” Drake said.
“I don’t want to give too much away about creative ideas, but I think that my mood will be reflected in the tempos I choose for the music. A lot of ‘Take Care,’ it’s down; a lot of it is down [because it’s about] being back home in Toronto, trying to get reacquainted with the life I had before, but at the same time trying to express that excitement and joy. Now I’m kind of in a very, very, very, very different place than I’ve ever been. I’m really focused on myself, on my health, my body, my mind — really, really wanting to be the best I can possibly be.”