Come one come all for the bout of the millennium! Live at the Hollywood Bowl on September 22, two of rap’s biggest superstars face off in a concert like no other, challenging one another in a test of mass appeal, lyrical chops and showmanship. In one corner, at age 32, a martian who entered the rap world a boy and came out a man, holder of the Billboard record for most chart appearances, the former best rapper alive, Lil Wayne! At the other end, at age 27, the former child actor turned Young Money pupil, the record holder of the most #1 songs on the Rap and R&B/Hip-Hop charts, the crooning zeitgeist of millennial America, Drake! No matter who you want to win, having two of the genre’s biggest stars come to the first ever (solo) hip-hop show at the Hollywood Bowl is an exciting event.
But that’s not how everyone sees it. Overheard walking in Hollywood: “Did you see Drake and Lil Wayne are coming to the Bowl next week? What?? Shouldn’t they be at the Forum instead?” Indeed, the Hollywood Bowl is a cultural oasis, the one place for the Philharmonic to overwhelm the star-studded Boulevard. Why would some rappers want to go there? In Los Angeles, racial identities and communities are geographically coded, divided and ordered by the freeways; for this young man on the street it makes sense for a rap show to be held at the Forum in South Central L.A. (that’s where the Wu-Tang Clan played later that week). But to have Drake and Lil Wayne take on the mystique of the Hollywood Bowl, sell it out and crush the show goes to show the impression hip-hop has made on popular culture and the role these artists have had in bending and breaking the boundaries.
If anyone deserves to inaugurate the Bowl it’s these two artists. Both of them are towering figures of the genre, huge crossover stars that became lightning rods of controversy for traditional heads as they helped push hip-hop into the future. It’s been a few years since Lil Wayne was operating at peak capacity, so it’s hard to remember just how incredible, transformative and exciting he was in his prime. He put rap on his shoulders in the genre’s darkest days, changing the way audiences interacted and listened to music, and became the biggest superstar in the country in the process.
Every rapper on the planet owes a debt of gratitude to Weezy, whether it’s Drake, Kendrick, Future, or Young Thug. Drake may never be officially crowned as the king, but goddamnit if he doesn’t wear the crown now. Not only is he the hottest rapper at the moment, but he is the gatekeeper of the radio, ushering artists into stardom at his own leisure. He’s effectively touring off of a handful of street singles and features released this summer. In fact, one of these features was with Tunechi himself as their joint hit “Believe Me” effectively kicked off this exhibition of skill and spirit. The relationship is symbiotic, though: Wayne may be using Drake’s current star power, but Drake is also using Wayne’s legacy.
With record sales bottoming out across the country, artists are forced to come up with more elaborate and creative tour ideas than ever before. Dealing with two catalogs on stage can be tricky but Drake vs. Lil Wayne found an engaging way to do so for both artists. The Capcom-sponsored set played like a duel, with Drake and Weezy taking turns doing mini-sets and gleefully trash talking the other. It was a wonderfully unique way to perform, with each set becoming a response to the one before.
When Wayne said he could take it back in the day, Drake responded with “Show Me A Good Time” and “Over” from his debut. To which Wayne replied, “There’s a difference between ‘old’ and classics,” before launching into “Go D.J.” And so on and so forth. There were duels of current hits, old standards, slow jams, a feature battle and of course the obligatory duo set. Both rappers displayed all the different facets at their disposal. When Drake slowed down “Find Your Love” and flew over the audience on “Marvins Room,” Weezy responded with “How To Love.” And when Wayne seemingly owned the night when he performed the double whammy of “Lollipop” and “A MIlli” (maybe the highlight), Drake shut the crowd down with “Trophies” and “Started From The Bottom.” It was an even fight the whole night.
The Hollywood Bowl wasn’t prepared for such a battle. Traffic was monstrous in all of Midcity. The lines wrapped around the block. Venue staff laughed at the influx of security — probably the most ever used at the Bowl. But it wasn’t a joke. Homegrown LA hero YG was scheduled to open for the two megastars and couldn’t because the LAPD said that the Bowl would need more security to deal with his fan base. His absence was felt when Drake asked the audience to sing “Who Do You Love” loud enough for YG to hear, no matter where he was in the city, and everyone hollered along to each word.
Most inspiring was that Drake and Lil Wayne didn’t let the hallowed ground of the Bowl change who they were or what they wanted to do. There were no fancy orchestras a la Jay Z at Carnegie, just a dope hip-hop show that emphasized what makes the genre great; competition, shit talking, skills (yes, both possess many of those) and a communion with the crowd. Judging by the simultaneously sweaty, happy, tired people that marched single file out of the theater, they made the right call.
And just in case you were wondering who actually won the battle, as a car drove down the line of people on the street asking where they all came from, someone casually shouted back, “The Drake show!”