Canadian rapper Drake is a mega-selling modern-day Jekyll and Hyde. But instead of doc and monster, the 27-year-old is a smooth-talkin' romantic who can morph into a hardcore rapper, cozying up to Rihanna on massive hit Take Care one minute, getting low 'n' cutthroat with mentor Lil Wayne on YOLO-launching The Motto the next.
From the raucous squeal of the high-heeled young crowd of 12,179 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum Wednesday — best-looking audience of the year right here, boys and girls — the nimble-lipped lyricist, whether singing or spewing wicked rhymes, has concocted a slick formula adored by a multiculti mélange.
A former child star who seamlessly aged into a profanity-dropping hip-hopper — but who suffered little of the role-model blowback felt by, say, Miley Cyrus — Drizzy has his cake, he eats his cake, he steals your girlfriend.
And yet as displayed during his 90-minute set, he also has an easy, approachable charm. The guy was having a happy-to-be-here blast, running through his own profitable songbook (the slow-jam Crew Love was an early fave) and all the NSFW hits he's helped others make huge with a featured turn of phrase (2 Chainz's No Lie, DJ Khaled's I'm on One).
Dressed casually all in blue, and soon enough showing off his guns in a tank top, Drake played likable host, all the while gamboling on a wild multi-tiered stage that featured two giant rings (a live band lurked in the bottom one) plus a massive LED screen. If you're thinking "2001," you're close, and yet Drake, a former Nickelodeon cutie-pie, sold it as if he too was amazed by the grandeur of the evening.
(By the way, even Drake's opening acts displayed both sides of his personality. Atlanta rapper Future fired up sinful smokes onstage and woke up growling in a new Bugatti. Prince-Usher hybrid Miguel is a theatrical R&B crooner as smooth and slippery as cineplex popcorn butter. Heck, engulfed in fog and yellow light, cooing Beautiful, a song he wrote and performed with Mariah Carey, Miguel even had me screaming out for his number.)
Drake takes some rap-feud hits from certain peers for alternating between hard and soft, ferocious MC and soul singer. But shifting between that nasally near-monotone flow and pillow-soft bedroom come-on is his bread and butter, as illustrated rather dreamily by current radio hit, and live-show smash, Hold On, We're Going Home, from platinum-selling new album Nothing Was the Same.
That Drake can drop some pretty nasty rhymes (encores of The Motto and HYFR were not for the squeamish), and yet still get a speaking role in one of the Ice Age cartoon flicks, lets you know about his sleight of hand. He invited a female fan onstage, but treated her way sweeter than Justin Bieber ever would have.
And when a third spacey ring dropped over the crowd, and like a gabby talk-show host Drake called out dozens of fans, all those well-heeled pretty people trying to act so cool realized it was okay to get gushy, that there's no crime in dropping your guard — just like the man onstage.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.