Drake and Lil Wayne are rappers who also happen to be two of the most recognizable faces in popular music. So it stands to reason that the duo’s performance at White River Amphitheatre in Auburn on Sunday night was less about performing songs than it was about performing celebrity.
Nearly every aspect of the show was designed to emphasize the artists’ star power. This is true of most arena-scale pop concerts, but those often have costume changes, backup dancers and elaborate stage props.
On Sunday, though, the amphitheater’s large stage was strikingly barren; even the DJs, usually found back and center at a hip-hop show, were relegated to the margins. Whoever held the mike was the only possible focus point, dramatically illuminated by huge LED screens that bisected the stage. Its sightlines clear, the largely young, suburban crowd Instagrammed with abandon.
The show was a stop on the “Drake vs. Lil Wayne” tour, where each concert is an ersatz rap battle. Fans were encouraged to download a proprietary phone app beforehand to vote on who would appear first, and the rappers traded short sets, engaging in some lighthearted, if forced, trash talk along the way. (Drake’s acting background on the TV show “Degrassi” surely helped.)
After a lengthy opening video sequence modeled after the “Street Fighter” arcade game introduced Lil Wayne as the winner, he performed three truncated songs in quick succession. This was a theme throughout the night. Whether out of necessity (no one to rap the guest verses) or convenience, few songs from either rapper lasted more than two minutes.
Although Lil Wayne came out first, Drake is a bigger pop star, and his appearance drew a bigger reaction. Though he released an album last September, his sets were heavy on older singles like “Over” and “Headlines.” But shortly after serenading the crowd from atop a platform that flew over the lower seats, he sang “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” a smooth electro-R&B song that was a top-five hit last year.
Opening the show was Oakland rapper G-Eazy who, clad in all black with slicked-back hair, looked like Macklemore’s evil twin. He played booming party rap as the crowd trickled in.