Drake at the O2 Arena: rap's future looks bright
Punchy melodies and confessional storytelling push emo-rapper to new heights
What you need to know
Drake (Aubrey Drake Graham to his mother) is a Canadian actor-turned-rap singer who first became famous in 2001, at the age of 15, for playing basketball star Jimmy Brookes in TV teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation.
In June 2009, Drake signed a recording contract with Young Money Entertainment - the label of megastar Lil Wayne. Drake's debut album Thank Me Later was released a year later and went straight into the Billboard 200 at number one. Both his debut and its follow up, last year's Take Care, which included vocals from Rihanna, have sold over a million copies.
Today, Drake is the hottest name in 'emo-rap'. The first UK leg of his Club Paradise tour, which included two dates at London's O2 Arena, finished in Glasgow last night - but he returns for another series of dates in this country between 19-25 April.
What the critics like
Drake eased between "fluid rapping and singing", says James Lachno in The Daily Telegraph, but it is his style that sets him apart from rap's old guard: "He has a likeable grace, spreading goodwill - to English fans, his mentors, his family - like confetti."
Track after track from Drake's album Take Care "crash brilliantly around the Arena", says Matilda Egere-Cooper in The Independent. "For at least 90 minutes," she says, "he pulls off one heck of a party." Not an easy job, as he is "joined only by a six-piece band, a humble light show and not even an outfit change".
When Drake and his band knuckled down, says John Aizlewood in the Evening Standard, it made you wish they did so more often, and for longer. "The epic Take Care and Shot For Me were operatic," he says, while Over "showed a man more thoughtful about his fame than those more heralded peers".
What they don't like
Drake spent too much time "shouting out audience members", says Maz Khan at MTV. "The set seemed rather rushed. The rapper hasn't had years of experience connecting to such large audiences, which showed, because he was unable to keep the large crowd of people captivated consistently throughout the show."
The set was great, says Egere-Cooper, "until a knucklehead thuggishness made an appearance by way of his excessive use of the N-word - and references to 'bustin' pussy' sound way too wrong."
For Aizlewood, the low points were: "A horribly cheap set clearly designed for smaller stages, a disastrous attempt to sing on the poorly punctuated Marvins Room and, for all his scampering across stage, a lack of actual vocalising."