This past Friday night at the Staples Center, Drake delivered the show of his life. The fans swarming his massive, LED screen stage knew it, the Migos, popping in and out from backstage to provide filler or back up on joint singles throughout the two-hour set knew it, Drizzy himself knew it, continually shaking his head in awe at the sold-out, loud as f*ck audience screaming out their love for the boy from The 6 — hell, even Adele knew it, tweeting after the show that it was hands down one of the greatest sets of her life, celebrating her role as a spectator, for once.
Running through notes on the show in my mind while we sat there, stunned by the sheer force of his charisma and the technological impact of the show’s visuals, I was prepared to call it the best rap show I’d ever seen. And then, right when he was at the apex of his powers, Drake pulled out one final stop, dropped what he appeared to think was his ace: A surprise appearance from the embattled R&B singer and his one-time rival, Chris Brown.
The reaction to this unexpected, potentially unwelcome guest star was an even split, but the tension was enough to render the arena that had been deafening for two hours into a sort of uneasy rumble. Plenty of fans, myself included, saw the guest that Drake had been hyping up to close out his show, and quietly made their way to the door. In 2018, just days away from the one year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, and a couple weeks after a man accused of sexual assault was appointed to the Supreme Court, bringing out a prominent man guilty of domestic abuse — and who has done very little to change those behaviors — felt more than tone deaf. It felt willfully careless.
This isn’t the co-sign of the Drake I wanted to believe in, but sadly, it was enough to shatter the facade of an otherwise perfect show. And this is the continual, salt-in-the-wound experience of being a hip-hop fan in 2018, with artists like Drake at the height of their popularity and talent, using their considerable influence and enormous reach to prop up people like Chris Brown, once again communicating the message to victims of assault, battery, and abuse that their experiences don’t matter as much as the bottom line or the bro code.
While Drake’s rival, Kanye West, is facing intensive scrutiny for propping up abusers like ASAP Bari, and, well, the president himself, this is the ideal moment for Drizzy to do the exact opposite. He could be distancing himself from men who are accused of bad behavior like this as recently as this past June, if not out of his own moral belief that it’s appalling, then out of the self-serving reasoning that it would set him a notch ahead of the competition. And yet, he didn’t. Why is that?
Just a day later, on the same stage and in the same city, Drake chose to use his platform in a different way, this time bringing out his “Sicko Mode” collaborator Travis Scott, and Los Angeles’ new big man on campus, LeBron James, who the city will happily accept as the new star of the Lakers, along with Lonzo Ball. Earlier in the weekend, James welcomed Drake onto his barbershop-style talk show, The Shop, where they used the platform to air out Drake’s decision not to engage any further in beef with Pusha T and Kanye, after the former dropped a searing diss track spiked with the revelation of Drake’s son, and the latter apparently made promises he couldn’t or didn’t want to keep when it came to releasing music, helping Drake with his, and giving him Ye-perfected beats.
Just like that, Drake has the upper hand again, seen as the gracious good guy defending the insult against his best friend and collaborator 40, taken advantage of for trusting his idol Kanye West (many of us can relate to that sentiment right now, natch), and bonded in brotherhood with LeBron, who told Drake he could never be disappointed in him for not responding in kind to the diss. All in all, it was a good call, and the kind of behavior that more rappers would do well to notice the impact of — and seeing James out on that stage with Drake in LA only further cemented their developing bond. I imagine the crowd on Saturday night was catapulted from the golden experience I enjoyed up until Brown was brought out Friday, and taken it up to another level when Travis and LeBron appeared.
And frankly? I felt jealous. Not just because of FOMO, and not because I’d rather see the greatest basketball player of all time and my favorite rapper instead of the scummy Chris Brown. I felt jealous because that is the kind of savvy chess move I’ve come to expect from Drake, a rapper with the following of a pop star, but one of the most hip-hop minded figures in the game when it comes to aligning and accelerating power. If he’s going to start emulating LeBron, he’d do well to look at another way the star basketball player uses his immense fame — by continually standing up for what’s right. Using #morethananathlete hashtag, James is continually pushing himself to be excellent not just on the court, but in every way.
Drake would do well to consider the impact he can have if, instead of standing up for a fallen-from-grace R&B singer, he chose to stand up for the demographic who easily make up more than half his fanbase — women. Instead of just dropping “Nice For What” and putting City Girls on a track, Drizzy is positioned to be one of the most influential men in the world if he speaks out on issues like #MeToo, #TimesUp, and brings attention to the causes of women — particularly marginalized women — all over the world. One easy, simple place to start is by not supporting someone like Chris Brown. Otherwise, he doesn’t deserve any woman’s love — not even the mysterious KeKe.