ARLINGTON (CBSDFW.COM) – The unbearable lightness of being smug: Just how much is too much?
From every cocky grin to each carefully rendered grimace, Grammy-nominated Canadian superstar Drake worked diligently to make sure the sold-out student crowd knew how highly he thinks of himself on Friday.
It may seem odd and unfair to criticize a rap artist for having a blatantly overblown ego; this is rap, after all, a genre where one’s ability to broadcast a cartoon sized caricature of themselves often correlates with success.
But the character that Drake has crafted over the course of a mix tape and a pair of LPs toes the water on a host of personal issues but never wants to take the full dip.
He wants and finds success, but it proves too overwhelming. He wants to be loved, but he lacks the self-control to form a trusting relationship. He thinks he’s a legend, but he’s too sheepish to embrace the sort of unabashed narcissism that makes for interesting music, the type his Toronto buddy and collaborator The Weeknd dabbles in.
Simply put, Drake makes the listener want to furiously shake him: His is the music of insanity, doomed to repeat the mistakes that form the foundation of his whiny emotive rap.
That’s why the smugness is so bothersome. He’s a child with a bank account. His biggest asset, however, is his taste, and he’s surrounded himself with excellent talent.
He’s also undeniably smart: Instead of booking shows at arenas around the country and opening ticket sales to the general public, Drake booked a college tour, directly pandering to the core of his fan base.
At the University of Texas at Arlington, the show was also a landmark event for the college; this stop on the Club Paradise Tour was the inaugural concert at the brand new 7,000-capacity College Park Center.
Judging from the crowd’s response, there’s nary a better artist to ring that in. And other than a stomach flu –– which Drake said we helped him power through, which, I guess, made us Pepto Bismal –– all performances went smoothly and sounded precise and nuanced, a remarkable feat for the infant arena.
Drake’s stage was phenomenal: The rapper and a six-piece band played in front of a towering, 30-foot high wall of high-definition screens and lights.
After bellowing his support of anyone in the crowd boozing up, the screens broadcasted three women slowly shooting liquor while Drake moaned the hook on “Shot For Me.”
While he whisked through the line dedicating his success to the late Aaliyah during “We’ll Be Fine,” the fallen R&B star appeared behind him on the screens, staring off into the crowd.
The lavish stage and well-rehearsed set was directly opposite of his organic and appreciative support, the New Orleans rapper Chase N. Cashe, Harlem’s A$AP Rocky and Compton native Kendrick Lamar.
The latter two artists are producing some of the most exciting music the genre has to offer.
Both got under a half hour to play to a mostly receptive, if unfamiliar, crowd. Rocky was more high-energy, bringing out A$AP Mob member A$AP Ferg to sing his album-stealing guest spot on “Kissin’ Pink” along with A$AP Twelvy and A$AP Nast for their verses on “Trilla.”
By the time the sparkling synths began on set-closer “Peso,” the A$AP Mob bounced from one end of the stage to another, all of whom grasped half-drunk forty ounce bottles of Olde English, which has sort of become the group’s calling card.
Lamar mostly stuck to the more energetic side of his catalogue, but still found time to work in the strange “Buried Alive,” an addendum to Drake’s “Marvin’s Room.”
It was also neat hearing the capacity crowd shout back the hook to “A.D.H.D.,” although not as surreal as hearing them sing along to The Weeknd’s portion of Drake’s “Crew Love” later in the evening.
While Lamar may have not had the same control of the crowd he did last month at Trees, the 24-year-old looked genuinely grateful to be performing in a venue this size.
And that’s the good thing about Drake: It seems he understands he’s flawed and purposely surrounds himself with adventurous artists like those who filled out the night’s bill. See also: His sonically adventurous producer Noah “40” Shebib, whose weird production is helping reshape the genre.
The one complaint about having a live band back up Drake? It sapped some of the swampy murkiness that lives inside 40’s synths. “Underground Kings” and “I’m On One” still sounded excellent, but live instrumentation can’t go the same places electronics can.
Still, the musicians added life to the set and gave Drake a reason to awkwardly and hilariously air-guitar with his microphone.
All in all, October’s Very Own played for about 80 minutes –– 15 of those were spent recognizing fans in the crowd. And for the Drake disciples, never fear: The 25-year-old gave no indication of any plans to cut out his bratty mistakes, surely begetting more of the same music that’s connected with so many.