A Decade Later, Drake Is Magnetic As Ever.

Ten Years After His First Performance In Dallas’ American Airline Center, Drake Has Transformed Into A Vital Voice Of A Generation.

All photos by Breanna Loose.

Just about 30 minutes into the first of his two back-to-back headlining appearances at Dallas’ American Airlines Center this week, the multi-platinum, megawatt hip-hop superstar Drake launched into one of many monologues he’d offer up between songs over the course of this two-hour, hit-filled, Wednesday-night performance.

“Early on in my career– like early on, like ‘Best I Ever Had’ days — Dallas was rocking with me,” the rapper said to an adoring, applauding audience that dutifully cheered along, but was mostly too young to grasp the gravitas of what he was saying. “Backstage, I was like, ‘Man, Dallas has been rocking with me for, like, 10 fucking years!'”

Almost exactly, actually: Drake’s first major appearance in Dallas — which, pardon the man himself, came almost a full year before his breakthrough “Best I Ever Had” single became the hit that would propel him into a stratosphere from which he still hasn’t retreated — came on December 19, 2008, when Drake was just one of a handful of young acts that a then-red-hot Lil Wayne would showcase to Dallas audiences over the course of his own headlining set, offering as potential future icons.

At the time, the introduction didn’t quite resonate. Beyond the fact that it meant one of the stars of Degrassi: The Next Generation had made a cameo, it didn’t feel altogether significant.

But who could’ve known then that Drake would blossom into what he has now become — an artist who has, frankly, long since surpassed even the vaunted Lil Wayne’s stardom?

Well, Drake, for one.

Over the course of the last decade, there has been no bigger Drake fan than Drake. He is, in that and other regards, the perfect millennial avatar: Jubilant, despondent, cocky or on edge, he is always loudly and proudly himself — and so, too, are his devoted fans, who on this night simultaneously shouted along from the gut each and every lyric their idol recited to them, a not insignificant amount of which came from this year’s smash Scorpion LP.

His fans’ appreciation of his art is truly awe-inspiring. In following their icon’s lead to jump along to his many songs’ beats, this crowd’s movements repeatedly shook the foundation of the venue itself — no small accomplishment. Though their passion was at times truncated by the production’s willingness to check touchstone tracks off of the set list after just 60-or-fewer-second offerings, it was unquestionably spirited.

These fans were here to support their undoubted favorite performer, who himself is unafraid to bare his clear influences. The night’s in-the-round offering, which mimicked recent set-ups seen from Kanye West and Jay-Z, was just one way in which Drake paid homage to those who paved the way for him. Covering Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” was another.

Drake seems well aware, too, of the responsibilities of his followers’ idolatry. Much like Lil Wayne did for him way back when, he provided ample opportunity for his tourmates Migos to shine for themselves on this night. Beyond their own 40-minute opening set, that trio also performed a run-through of its own chart-topping tracks as a well-received sort of intermission to Drake’s top-billed display.

More than anything, though, Drake succeeded on Wednesday night by clearly appearing to enjoy himself. The latest slight against him be damned, he took to the AAC on this night to enjoy himself, his accomplishments and his connection to those who appreciate his efforts.

Mission accomplished.

If only every artist could so easily turn crowds of tens of thousands of listeners into such a smiling, friendly lot.

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