Lil’ Wayne “Wins” Battle With Drake, Lays His Claim To Portland

The rap battle royale of the year took over Sleep Country Amphitheater this Saturday, and everybody won.

By Matthew Schonfeld September 15, 2014

When two of the biggest names in modern rap history embark on a cross-country stadium tour together, one of two things will happen. I know this because it’s only happened twice. It will either be lavishly indulgent like Kanye West and Jay Z’s 2011 “Watch The Throne” tour or playfully humanizing like Lil' Wayne and Drake’s battle royale that transfixed the Sleep Country Amphitheatre audience Saturday night.

Now, I know how ridiculous that sounds—the self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive” and his protégé, rap’s messiah, actually appearing candid for once, but that’s why it works—that’s the brilliance behind the corny, Street Fighter-era cartoon skits incorporates in the set. Anytime Wayne hits the stage, powerful and adrenaline-inducing as ever, Drake’s right behind him, primed to crack jokes in attempts to diminish Wayne’s undeniable prowess. He’s the little brother encroaching on his elder’s heels. And vice-versa: when Drake floats through his latest radio hit with the Toronto skyline proudly displayed behind him, Wayne’s there to quip at his teen drama days on Degrassi, calling him Jimmy, or boasting “I’ve been doing this shit since he was in the wheelchair.”

Nobody gets to play the role of wildly acclaimed, internationally revered rap god—shoes both of them can rightfully fill—because one is always there to humiliate the other. They humble one another on stage. It’s charming, and downright rare for a stadium rap show.

The show began as the lights dimmed and smoke engulfed the crowd. The jumbotron behind the stage showed a boy putting quarters into an old arcade game and pressing play. Then the narrator introduced the history, “Our story begins, thousands of years ago, with a legendary tournament, fought through the centuries by the greatest performers in the world. The cost of winning holds great. The sacrifice is many. But the prize is far more valuable than any mere object. The prize is immortality.”

The screen then asked us to take out our phones, open the Drake vs. Lil’ Wayne application, and button mash on our favorite rapper’s cartoon image to decide who will hit the stage first. The whole intro graphic and back-story is tacky, but it kept the crowd engaged and interacting with the performers. It gave everyone (well, everyone with a smartphone) some agency. While most stadium crowds are at the complete mercy of their performer, Drake and Lil’ Wayne allowed their fans to play an active role. And, honestly, in a music world where pop artists are increasingly teaming with corporate sponsors and creating digital components to their artwork, the Drake vs. Wayne Street Fighter app is goofy and unthreatening in comparison to Jay Z’s tawdry Samsung deal or U2’s recent Apple association.

Lil' Wayne made sure to remind everyone that he played guitar on his "rock" album. Photo: Matthew Schonfeld

Wayne won the pre-performance battle and rose from below the stage first, muscling through “Blunt Blowin’” and “John,” two stand-outs from 2011’s Tha Carter IV. And then, without hesitation, the intro beat to the Lauryn Hill-sampled “Draft Day” blasted, and the 27-year-old Canadian Drake draped in a Marcus Mariota Oregon Ducks jersey—the first of two he’d wear throughout the night—grabbed the mic. The back-and-forth was seamless: as a Drake hit ended a Wayne hit started, and the only reminder that they were battling was a light-hearted jab or two in passing.

As the weathered veteran of the two, Wayne comfortably gloated, “I can do something he can’t: take it back.” And Drake couldn’t rebut, because Weezy’s catalogue of classics reach back over a decade. He can tap into his bag of mixtape jams like “Swag Surf” or, simply, exploit his 2008 magnum opus Tha Carter III, firing out “A Milli,” “Mr. Carter,” “Mrs. Officer,” and “Lollipop.”

Drake, of course, can pull from his high-quality discography too, but even timelier are his singles. Since his latest, Nothing Was The Same, was released a year ago this month, Drake has posted “Trophies,” “0-100,” and “Draft Day” on his octobersveryown Soundcloud page, as well as traded verses with Soulja Boy on “We Made It.”

The two YMCMB rappers compliment each other’s style surprisingly well. Drake’s presence and music is infectious: it makes you want to dance, to make eye contact and smile at the stranger standing next to you. He’s on stage partying with you, seemingly as thrilled to play his hits as you are to hear them. Comparably Lil’ Wayne is the rock star. He’s there to floor the crowd, to render you speechless as you gawk in awe as he cavorts around the stage. 

Drake soared over the Portland crowd on his "stripper pole." Photo: Matthew Schonfeld

About half way through the set the duo started showing up on stage during each other’s songs. It was after Drake levitated above the crowd on a “stripper pole,” as Lil’ Wayne affectionately called it, that their relationship was aptly represented. The stunt, though, is so quintessential Drake, as he didn’t rap while suspended above his cronies, rather, he gazed into the crowd of hypebeasts and hip-hop heads, shouting out specific concertgoers by their shirt color, or hat brand, or any worthy signifier. All that to intro into his blush-inducing crooner “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which Wayne stole by imitating Drake’s falsetto, earning him a worthy, “y’all better make some mother-f*ckin’ noise for this angelic-sounding ass,” from Drizzy himself. It was the perfect signifier of their relationship: brotherly, competitive, and ultimately blithe.

The concert’s finale came when both rappers ran through a slew of their joint chart toppers. It started with the duo trading boastful verses on Drake’s “The Motto.” Then “Believe Me,” the lead single off Wayne’s forthcoming album Tha Carter V (slated for October 28th), in which Drake declares, “It’s been me and Young Tune off the rip/that’s the man who put me in this shit.” It’s a line that shines through the whole performance, because between all the digs and quips, Drake is forever indebted to Wayne for helping him jumpstart his career on Young Money Entertainment. The final installment of their collaborative set comes in “HYFR,” a 2013 Grammy nominee for Best Rap Performance, which has both spitters at the top of their game, weaving between one another’s lyrical acrobatics.

According to the scoreboard, Wayne “technically” won Portland, the 13th round of their 31-city, two-month-long bout, but they both conceded that neither truly wins a battle. Their partnership is duly dependent on one another as Drake owes Lil’ Wayne for his come-up but Wayne now owes Drake for his sustained relevance. So in reality, as cheesy as the root of their “battle” is, at the Drake vs. Lil’ Wayne tour everybody wins. 

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