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Is Drake at the Center of the Rap Universe?

Is Drake at the Center of the Rap Universe?

From last night's OVO Fest. Photos by Karla Moy

From last night’s OVO Fest. Photos by Karla Moy

Every rapper wants to own the summer. In fact, many declare that they do, with the tried and true trope of passing girls not applying to their relationship with that ‘hot bitch.’ If we consider the summer months within the context of the calendar year, owning them is to own the middle, the fulcrum, the longest days of the year. More to the point, summer is when students are out of school, free to listen to music and attend concerts rather than attend first period or complete homework. It is when neighborhoods host block parties, households host pool parties and music is playing, constantly. Summer is justifiably coveted, and if you’re an A-list rapper with any interest in 2013 relevancy and dominance (so, not named Eminem), you gun for that summer title with everything you’ve got. Kanye West released an album in June, Jay Z let his first solo project in four years drop on July 4, and Lil Wayne and T.I. will finish up a 40-city US tour later this month. But following last night’s OVO Fest in Toronto, HOW can you deny that this summer belongs to Drake? He’s sprinting away with the summer title, and may very well be at the center of the rap universe because of it.

For those who missed the gale force winds of last night’s Shakrnado-like OVO Fest, a brief recap. Started in 2010, the festival is put together by Drake to bring general good press and vibes to his native city, Toronto. Previous line-ups have included a nice mix of old and new rap blood, with acts like Bun B, Nas, The Weeknd, and Nicki Minaj. Last night though, the festival reached what may be this year’s (and perhaps future years’) apex concert experience. Drake headlined the show, bringing out Big Sean, Wale, J. Cole, Miguel, The Weeknd, French Montana, Mase, Diddy, A$AP Rocky, Lil Wayne, TLC, and Kanye West. (That last one is the most significant, as there was some imagined/subliminal beef between Kanye and Drake, but that is a whole other essay entirely.)

Now, there are a lot of rappers in 2013. Some would say too many. But the ones that matter have conveniently grouped themselves off; MMG, G.O.O.D. Music, Young Money, Black Hippy, Odd Future, A$AP Mob; with a few stand alone acts, like Mac Miller, Joey Bada$$, and Wiz Khalifa, who each have their own respective cliques and camps. Of those groups, only Black Hippy and Odd Future weren’t represented last night, and Frank Ocean was originally on the bill before tearing his vocal chords, and think back to 2011, in a pre-Good Kid M.A.A.D. City world when Drake let Kendrick carry a Take Care interlude all by his lonesome.

Every rapper undoubtedly has an impressive contact list, and shocking concert guests are nothing new, but the fact that Drake a) wanted to put something special together for his city b) was capable of doing it and c) followed through on it, is an awe-inspiring accomplishment. I mean, Ma$e and Diddy reuniting on stage isn’t even the leading headline this morning. (That would be the squashing of the speculative tension between Drake and Ye.) In order to stand on your home soil and pull all these strings, facilitate history, force the rap world to converge on your terms and circulate around you and your town, you have to wield a great deal of power. Have to.

While Jay Z has spent much time on television, Twitter, and in interviews talking about ‘New Rules,’ it’s impossible to not consider that Drake is writing new rules of his own. He drops four tracks at once, in the dead of night, none of which may even make his new album. He jumps on remixes to songs you’ve never even heard of and makes them the catchiest, most inescapable anthems of the summer. He holds a festival in his home city and makes the entire world envious that they weren’t in attendance.

He even dropped new music last night (not that he needed to) and it’s unlike anything else out. There isn’t really any telling where “Hold On We’re Going Home,” will land, maybe on Nothing Was The Same, maybe nowhere, but in an age where free releases take the form of mixtapes, and radio singles premiere with precise timing, just letting some shit fly seems pretty ‘new rules’ to me.

Not to mention that sonically, Drake is dictating what the radio plays. While Kanye explores the left of center, branching into as-yet-uncharted sub-genres of rap, and Jay Z further intertwines himself with corporate America, and Lil Wayne only releases albums as sequels and follow ups, Drake occupies the middle; where pop lives and entry points exist in 360 degrees. You may hate him for all of this, for being simultaneously soft and tough, rap and pop, rapper and singer; but as long as Drake is influencing high school graduation speeches with his terminology, he will reign supreme.

You can decry this and keep the ‘real’ rap, the classicist straight lyricism that now lives on the fringe, close to your heart. But Drake is at the center of the rap universe, and if some of the genre’s biggest stars orbiting around him last night didn’t convince you, keep a close eye on those Nothing Was The Same (Sept. 17) reviews and numbers. The center has a gravitational force that cares not of the non-believers.

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