Rap battles where emcees compete over verses – and trade insults – go back to the dawn of hip-hop.
Rap heavyweights Drake and Lil Wayne took the concept to a new level Tuesday night when they brought their interactive, highly orchestrated Drake vs. Lil Wayne Tour to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The double bill – pitting the muscled, profane Lil Wayne against the more sensitive-seeming Drake – was staged as an epic hip-hop showdown modeled after the popular Japanese “Street Fighter” video game, whose creator, Capcom, was a sponsor of the tour.
After an opening set by Deep South rapper Yo Gotti – who previewed an upcoming album, The Art of Hustle – a DJ played tracks by Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé and Ty Dolla Sign, giving fans time to download an interactive mobile app that would allow them to vote on which of the co-headliners would start the show, and then later on which would win the night and be crowned the “Greatest Rapper in the World.”
Although both artists are clearly at the top of their game – and put in high-energy, combustible performances – the night belonged to Lil Wayne, or Weezy, as he is also known. Weezy won the fan-anointed right to battle first, and he stood on top of a high riser at the back of the stage in sunglasses and a backwards baseball cap for the explosive opening volley of “Blunt Blowin’ ” and ‘We Be Steady Mobbin’ ”.
Drake came onstage to cheers shortly after, shrouded in smoke and pacing the stage like a boxer as he countered with “We Made It” and “The Language.”
The contenders traded hit songs – and insults – for much of the night.
“I can do something that this little boy can’t do, and that’s take it back,” said Lil Wayne, his diamond teeth sparkling, in a shot at the relative newness of Drake’s career.
Drake got in his own jabs at Lil Wayne’s age, while Lil Wayne came out in a bathrobe and yawned onstage to mock Drake’s sensitive turn on the slow burning “Marvin’s Room,” which Drake sang atop a platform that hovered out over the crowd.
Although both performers attacked each verse of the night with a bristling energy – like they were in it to win – much of the tension was largely theatrical. The pair has been part of the same crew – collaborating, touring and recording together – for years, with Drake signing to Lil Wayne’s Young Money record label in 2009 after releasing several highly acclaimed underground mixtapes.
The premise of the battle was a good one, though, giving fans the chance to hear over 50 hits (some just snippets of verses) in the more-than-two-hour set. After Lil Wayne was crowned the fan favorite at the end of the night, the duo came back to finish side-by-side with several of their collaborations, including “The Motto” and a brand-new Lil Wayne single, “Grindin.”