Drake and Nicki Minaj pay tribute to Lil Wayne’s legacy at Young Money Reunion concert
There may never be a moment in music that can replicate the YMCMB era. In 2008, fresh out of the release of The Carter III, Wayne embarked on the “I Am Music” tour with a bigger mission in mind than promoting his Grammy-winning opus. It was a moment that helped form the foundation of Young Money. Although artists like Gym Class Heroes, Keri Hilson, T-Pain, Porcelain Black and Keyshia Cole were Wayne’s early acts, the show’s true stars had yet to realize their potential. The most famous artists? Drake and Nicki Minaj. At that time, they created a small but mighty buzz around their names without the worldwide acclaim they have today.
The Young Money Reunion in Toronto celebrated Wayne’s premonition on his team in 2008. He trusted Drake and Nicki to carry his legacy at a time in his career when he had already proven himself to be the “greatest rapper alive. “. Nowadays, it seems that this title does not have the same weight as it once did for Lil Wayne. However, Drake and Nicki Minaj’s efforts to further his legacy – from his incarceration to the present day – seem to be one of the accomplishments he is most proud of in his career.
It was a scorching day as fans waited for one of the most anticipated shows of the year. A DJ went over recent hits from Lil Baby and Kevin Gates, but that wasn’t enough to hold the crowd’s attention after a while. Although the show was supposed to start at 8:30 p.m., the over an hour delay resulted in boos from the audience twice. Eventually the lights dimmed and a screen wrapped around the stage almost produced a third boo. “Unfortunately, Lil Wayne got in trouble at the border,“a message read on the jumbotron before hitting the final “SIKE.”Fortunately, Drake crosses the border,The screen flashed as the fog hit and Wayne emerged onto the stage in a sea of screams. Weezy came in with “Blunt Blowin” out of The Carter IV before going through cuts from that era of his career, like “I’m Goin In” (without Drizzy or Jeezy), “Steady Mobbin” and “Right Above It”. “Pop Bottles” was as far back in the catalog as he was. There was nothing from the early days of Cash Money, records of the first two installments of The Carter series, or even deep cuts of Dedication. He largely kept the theme of the night and played YMCMB-era music while limiting mixtape cuts to No caps and Sorry 4 the wait. He reserved records like “John” and “A Milli” for his last moments on stage before offering one final message – the same one he presents to every crowd before the night is over – “I don’t shit without you.”
Besides the flow of the show, the decision to let Lil Wayne kick off the night was symbolic of Young Money’s vision from the jump. Unlike many rappers-turned-CEOs, Lil Wayne wanted to see the budding stars on his roster eventually top him — and they did. It was as obvious as when the lights started going out for Nicki’s set. As a dominatrix-influenced visual appeared on the stage jumbotron, Nicki took to the stage with the presence of a performer with more than two decades under her belt to louder applause than Wayne. Her pink wig followed her as she walked onstage for “Do We Have a Problem?” A green Louis Vuitton wallet strapped to her belt matched the carry-on on her arm and a green plaid shirt that she slowly began to unbutton throughout the show sensually. Even as a new mom, Nicki hasn’t lost an ounce of her sex appeal. The rest of Nicki’s ensemble reflected her status as the cultural giant she became when her verse on “Monster” hit the internet. Although this particular song is missing from her setlist, Nicki firmly reminded the crowd of her crown as queen of rap. There’s not another early 2010s rapper — male or female — who has been as impactful as he has been consistent. The fanfare grew as she got deeper into her set and began to dive into some of her previous hits – even the more pop-ish “Superbass,” which eventually came close. The only time the crowd response was greater than Nicki’s was when she performed “Crocodile Teeth (Remix)” and released Skillibeng, who then delivered a brief rendition of “Whap Whap” and professed his love to Nicki.
As the dust settled after Nicki’s stellar performance, the crowd’s anticipation grew for their local hero. OVO Fest has been a staple in Toronto for almost as long as Drake’s career, but in the wake of the pandemic, Drake has barely spent more than 15 minutes on stage in Toronto — or anywhere else. Drake spent much of the post-Certified Lover Boy era as a special guest for other artists, including Kanye West, Lil Baby and the Backstreet Boys. The Young Money Reunion was Drake’s first show in Toronto since OVO Fest in 2019.
Drake came onto the scene as the people’s champion. Wayne and Nicki had grand entrances from the side stage before grabbing the mic, but Drizzy made it through the safety pit before Odell Beckham Jr., who went largely unnoticed by the crowd, greeted him on stage. Drake, dressed in a black jacket and matching pants, basked in the flashes and beaming faces of the camera phone in the crowd as an edit of “One More Smile (Live At Electric Lady)” by Yebba was ringing. The lack of general touring in the years that followed Scorpio played a part in Drake’s setlist. He’s largely kept his song choices geared towards bangers that haven’t been played live yet. Launching “Jimmy Cooks” to the shimmering YMCMB graphics on screen saw Drake salute Young Thug and Gunna onstage while paying tribute to the late Lil Keed. Unfortunately, 21 Savage was unable to cross the border to register the record, which Drake later admitted, despite his apparent attraction to Canadian Customs. For the most part, Drake’s set was guestless except for Smiley, who stopped to perform “Over The Top” and then received a warm birthday wish from the crowd. It was a looping moment for Smiley as the only other time he performed at OVO Fest was in 2019; he was largely unknown and thoroughly drunk.
After running through a stripped-down medley consisting mostly of hits from Honestly it doesn’t matter (and acknowledging the Zara memes), which he described as the biggest addition to his catalog, he finally warmed up the crowd for the main attraction – the Young Money reunion. In what Drake described as “the Young Money audition”, he launched into a barrage of bangers consisting of “Sticky”, “Way 2 Sexy” and finally, “Knife Talk” to test how well the crowd could be loud. What followed next was a tribute to “where it all began”. Mannie Fresh and Birdman reunited for a brief three-song set that kicked off a real trip down memory lane, beginning with the Big Tymers’ Cash Money days. The Cash Money duo weren’t as warmly received as they should have been. Sure, people were getting into it, but for many fans whose entry point into hip-hop was the YMCMB era, the Big Tymers seemed like a total stranger to them.
From the moment Lil Wayne walked in to perform his verse on “Bedrock,” a surge of energy erupted from the crowd. Still, Nicki’s infamous bar, “Maybe it’s time to put that pussy on your favorites,” captivated audiences with little prompting. Thirteen years later We are young money abandoned, it’s safe to say that men and women alike are still ready to shout that bar out loud, even if we don’t know exactly what that means.
The nice part about watching Young Money come together — Jae Millz, Gudda Gudda, and Mack Maine included — is that it really felt like a family reunion rather than a structured set of predetermined songs and diligent staging. The chemistry was vibrant and playful between everyone on stage, bringing flashbacks from the YMCMB’s performance at Summer Jam ’14. Drake frequently referred to Wayne as “boss”, while Nicki’s humor shone through at times like when she asked Drake if he still had COVID-19 and jokingly shouted, “You survived monkey pox !” But even after scouring songs like “HYFR,” “Moment 4 Life,” and other records that secured their status as the Holy Trinity of early 2010s hip-hop, Drake made a concerted effort to ensure that the artists he has found receive their flowers. He boldly declared that “none of these h*es can fuck Nicki” at a time when so many women in the industry are thriving on the doors Nicki has broken down. And while Drake had plenty to cheer about (including his negative COVID-19 test), it was a night to honor Lil Wayne, who said little onstage and looked down on his two charges like a proud father.
“You really are the most selfless man on planet earth. To find all these people across this fucking world, bring us all together, give us all a chance. That’s me, by the way. I’m your son! Look at this shit,” Drake told Lil Wayne before redirecting his attention back to the city. “I’ll go to the end of the world for this man. You changed my fucking life, and you changed this town forever.”