This past weekend was Drake’s “Houston Appreciation Weekend,” or HAW. At this point, you are probably aware of just how often Drake seems to be a fan of a new team. Quite recently when Kentucky made the men’s NCAA basketball final, he was seen wearing a Kentucky jersey. This sort of thing is not uncommon for him and with this in mind, I was hesitant of the weekend’s true motives and authenticity. I am a big hip-hop fan, and unlike Drake, I am from Houston. Drake was discovered by the founder of Rap-A-Lot Records, J Prince, who introduced his music to Lil Wayne and the rest was history. Drake has many references to the city, its culture, and its history. Often calling it his second home (first being his birthplace in Toronto), it was not surprising to me that Drake were to put on a celebratory weekend for a city that it would be Houston- but that he would even do it in the first place. It just seemed like a ploy for the city’s backing in a hip-hop world where territories and associations with “coasts” and specific scenes can mean a whole different fan base and level of success.
Despite my reservations, I was excited to see what the weekend had in store and once a schedule was released it was clear that at least on paper Drake was going to be taking the weekend seriously. It boasted club events, a premiere with Kevin Hart of “Think Like A Man Too,” a charity basketball tournament, an Astros game, but more importantly its central event, a concert at Warehouse Live. Warehouse Live is a popular concert venue that only holds 1650, a capacity far smaller than anything Drake would ever play at this point in his career. The venue is where Drake had one of his biggest starts. The same year he signed to Young Money he sold out Warehouse Live. The sellout and love from Houston stuck with the rapper. On “Too Much” on his 2014 album Drake raps, “Backstage at Warehouse in ’09 like ‘Is Bun coming? F*ck that, is anyone comin’ ‘fore I show up there and there’s no one there?’ These days, I could probably pack it for like twenty nights if I go in there.”
Needless to say, with this sort of hype and the size of the venue, I knew I had to go. Entrance would likely command an astonishingly high asking price. Drake had a different idea. Instead of releasing tickets for sale, he had people volunteer through Rock Corps and the Houston Food Bank. If you completed the process and volunteered for four hours you would leave the event with a ticket. No money changing hands, no scalpers, and no tricks. All for charity. It was a respectable move, but I was still skeptical about whether or not this was all a gimmick for the “third coast’s” loyalty.
At the show, the curtain opened with the background of the stage designed as a replica of the famous Houston record label Screwed Up Records’ storefront, founded by the legendary DJ Screw. I scoffed at this. Drake is from Canada, not Texas, and not Houston. I didn’t feel like he was worthy, nor his stage an appropriate use of a Houston icon. But in the middle of this conversation I was having in my mind something happened. Suddenly, what was just a stage prop opened up to let out underground Houston legend Lil Keke. This was followed in the same routine by Yungstar, ESG, Trae tha Truth, Lil Flip, and then finally Slim Thug. At this point the crowd was going crazy. Finally, instead of another Houston rapper Drake came forth.
The show was truly incredible. It was broken up into chapters of his career starting out with multiple songs from the mixtape that brought about his initial fame, So Far Gone. By the time the chapter started with his most recent album’s work in Nothing Was The Same the show had already been over an hour and a half. Throughout the show Drake had thanked Houston for taking him in and especially for the charity work done for the tickets. He said he wanted to promote an up-and-coming artist in Travis Scott who then came on and performed his most well known song, Upper Echelon. This was followed with more guest appearances including YG for the popular single Who Do You Love. As if guests of such magnitude were normal throughout the night he proceeded to bring out Big Sean for his verse in All Me immediately followed by Wiz Khalifa performing We Dem Boyz.
After a few more songs Drake brought out another Houston legend, Z-RO, to perform his local classic Mo City Don. The song is the type that most Houston rap fans will recite word for word and one that Drake performed to much acclaim at his first Warehouse show. Watch the video below, and you’ll understand why Drake feels such a connection to the city.
Z-RO came out to a huge applause and extreme appreciation from the crowd. Drake then concluded the show in the only way that would’ve been fitting for this audience, by performing his hit mixtape song November 18th. The track has always been a hit for Houston fans, as it samples DJ Screw’s chopped and screwed version of Kris Kross’ Da Streets Ain’t Right. On a screen behind the setup of Screwed Up Records a video screen showed Drakes first performance of the song at Warehouse Live so many years ago. Drake began the song and the audience rapped along with him. Two and a half hours and fifty songs later, the show ended.
In truth, Drake had no more right to use DJ Screw’s likeness and Houston’s culture than anyone else not from the city. However, what Drake did in the weekend was just what we assumed he would not — he appreciated Houston, not himself. His ticket buying process was through working with the city’s food bank, his openers and closing artist were locally grown acts, and the other events in the city celebrated the city itself. Outside of one of his posse members coming out for a verse he really didn’t even mention his label or labelmates. I have always thought of Drake as extremely talented but an incessant band wagoner, especially when it comes to Houston culture. Now though, I not only appreciate his efforts but can see that he really does feel a real connection to the city. Currently he is building a rap culture in Toronto that was non-existent before him, and in Houston he found a storied hip-hop culture that welcomed him in. He never meant to hijack or take credit for the city, only to show love. He showed gratitude by reciprocating appreciation back to Houston, and for that I appreciate him.