Drake may be the first rapper you’d take to tea with your mom.
The 25-year-old Canadian is known to his folks as Aubrey Graham -- not such a street-cred name as, say, 50 Cent.
Drake is starting a U.S. tour and will appeal to those who want a little less machismo from hip hop and a bit more intelligence from their pop.
His European shows give a clue on what to expect. He steers away from routine violence, misogyny and lumpen bravado.
Add his clean-cut good looks and a comfortable upbringing in Toronto and Drake seems like an eminently eligible young star. The former child actor even canceled a 2010 European tour to look after his own mother. (After the U.S. shows through June he will headline the July Wireless Festival in London’s Hyde Park.)
Not that he’s totally exempt from parental-advice stickers. While more lyrically suave than other rappers known for their expletive-infested outbursts, Drake is not profanity-free. There’s a boast about four sexual conquests in a week.
Drake keeps it simple, with the stage basic and black, the lighting largely a criss-cross of stylish white spotlights. He favors black pants and vest. The only flash of color comes from the red soles of his sneakers.
Drake doesn’t like derivative beats. He prefers the sound of producers such as the xx’s Jamie Smith, the electronics of Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreak” and artists such as Odd Future’s Frank Ocean and Abel Tesfaye of the Weeknd.
The star bounds about on stage, rapping in his sing-song way through the best of his two albums, which have sold more than 3 million copies in less than two years.
“Take Care,” originally a duet with Rihanna, becomes an anthem. “HYFR” is as raucous as you would expect from a song first done with a Lil’ Wayne guest slot.
If anything, the lyrics, revolving around the difficulties of being young, rich and famous, comes across better live. The whiney edge is lost in the romp of the beats while those acting skills allow Drake to deliver the corniest self-analysis with puppy-dog sincerity. The boy is going far.
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(Robert Heller is a music critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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