Drake hosts Toronto's greatest hip-hop show for the fifth straight year. Just how did OVO Fest V hold up?

Review: 15 Thoughts On Drake's OVO Fest 2014

TORONTO -- In an age of spoiler alerts and album leaks and too much information, true surprises are harder to find than love, more difficult to schedule than memories.

But once a year at Caribana, under a Greek-inspired amphitheatre overlooking Lake Ontario, a half-white, half-black Jewish Santa Claus makes a list of surprise guests he’d like to bring out, checks it twice, and—this time with an assist via $300,000 of government grant money—manages to genuinely shock us with music.

Drake’s past OVO Fests have brought his city cameos from Jay-Z, Eminem, Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Puff Daddy and Ma$e, Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg and Nas. So, what gifts would Drake pull from his sleeve for the fifth day of Christmas?

1. Jhene Aiko blessed early arrivals with a mellow, 25-minute warm-up, busting out a sweet, unexpected cover of 2Pac’s 1993 demand for better treatment of women, “Keep Ya Head Up.” After a rainy afternoon, the skies had cleared just in time for the outdoor show. Walking casually offstage, Aiko pointed out the rainbow in background. “Look,” she instructed. “It’s beautiful.”

2. Unlike the first four OVOs, the first star to take the stage for the main event was not Drake, but rather Lauryn Hill. Supported by a trio of backup singers, Ms. Hill ran through her biggest tunes from The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and The Score at a jacked-up pace: “Killing Me Softly,” “Lost Ones,” “Fu-Gee-La” and “Ready or Not.” The queen then brought the evening’s host onstage as “Doo Wop (That Thing)” segued into Drake’s Hill-sampling “Draft Day.” Ladies first.

3. After hyping the crowd with “We Made It” and “The Language,” the pride of the Six brought out his wheelchair-bound mom and gave her a hug as she fought back tears. A clumsy but endearing moment followed as Sandi Graham fumbled her attempt to hype the crowd at her son’s encouragement. Drake laughed it off: “We’ll work that out in rehearsal,” he quipped.

4. Bompton’s YG, decked out in a throwback Raptors jersey, stormed onstage to perform his “Who Do You Love?” joint with Drake. YG delivered a full set the night prior, opening up for OutKast on the first evening of the festival. Dude was chuffed to have made it across the border, saying, "I got strikes and felonies and all that shit."

5. Never be as big as Trey Songz? Boy, was she wrong. Drake showered praise on Trey Songz, pointing out the R&B star was the first American artist to work with him, before the two knocked out “Successful”—a tune that holds up better than any other from Drizzy’s early catalogue—and Songz rocked his current radio smash, “Na Na.”

6. Playing a continuous loop of the clip of Drake lint-rolling his trousers during the Raptors-Nets playoff series throughout his performance of “All Me” was a stroke of self-deprecating genius. (Drizzy’s rhymed the absent 2 Chainz and Big Sean’s verses himself.)

7. “If the owner of the Molson Amphitheatre is here, I should just buy it, because I already own it,” Drake joked. Then he mounted a circular platform attached to mic stand. The apparatus elevated and hovered the MC over the 100 and 200 levels of the screaming fans, most capturing the moment on their smartphones as Drizzy performed “Marvin’s Room” and pointed out specific fans in the crowd (“I see you with the OVO hat!”), a cloying bit he cribbed from Jay-Z.

8. It was a nice touch that Drake brought out DJ Khaled, with whom he recorded a pair of monsters—“I’m On One” and “No New Friends”—but considering Khaled neither rhymed nor DJ’d, and knowing past OVOs have featured “I’m On One” cohorts Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, the cameo was a little underwhelming.

9. Better was the drop-in by J. Cole, whom Drake referred to as “my twin brother.” A regular performer in the city, Cole is adored in Toronto. So much so, the screams when he walked onstage were probably louder than for Usher, a guy with a diamond album.

10. Ah, yes, Usher. Drake credited the man who actually changed Justin Bieber’s life for changing his own as well—and those of everyone in the venue. Our affable host may have laid the hyperbole on a little thick, but Usher’s lengthy set, which included “Climax” and “Confessions,” appealed to the ladies. We learned that Drake will appear on Ushers new LP, Everything You Can Imagine. And in an off-script moment, Drake challenged Usher to do his “side waddle,” then demonstrated the vintage Usher dance. The artist more hilariously known as “Ursher” then asked for a beat and slid circles around the stage MJ-style. It was the kind of lighthearted, pure fun moment the show could have used a few more of, as the festival may be starting to creak slightly under the burden of high expectations.

11. Drake made a special point to shout-out peer Kendrick Lamar, a “king” in the game. “He should be standing right here,” Drake said, mentioning the two have recorded and toured together. It was a nice rumour-squashing gesture after Kendrick’s cutthroat “Control” verse (and his own snub at J. Cole's recent LA tour stop), but it would’ve carried soooo much more weight had he been able to bring Lamar out for the show. (See: Kanye West, 2013.)

12. The appearances by lesser-known OVO Sound artists Majid Jordan, OB O’Brien and PartyNextDoor (who was granted a good half-dozen songs) showed crew love, but the up-and-coming artists may have been better served by getting proper billing and performing as opening acts. No doubt PND can sing, but next to an act like Usher, his still-developing stage presence pales. The down-tempo tunes also lulled a decidedly party-revved crowd into impatience. “Bring some rappers out!” demanded one boisterous head, speaking for many.

13. And so Drake obliged. After kicking away the clouds of smoke that set the mood for his Billy Oceanesque “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” it was as if Drake sensed the restlessness. “Enough soft shit,” he said.

14. “Started from the Bottom” bled into the best surprise of the night—50 Cent and G Unit compadres Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo storming the dais to “What Up Gangsta.” Banks got off “Beamer Benz or Bentley,” and Trey Songz returned to perform “Smoke” with 50. “I Get Money” and, of course, “In Da Club” moved the crowd to rhyme-along mode that Drake carried through with new bangers “Trophies” and “0 to 100.”

15. NBA MVP Kevin Durant walked around general admission and was flocked by fans—tough to show up incognito when you stand six-foot-nine—until someone, mercifully, found him a spot in the VIP backstage. The Raptors’ global ambassador attempted to recruit when he asked the T.O. crowd the kind of reception KD would get if he played for the Raps. Naturally, the fans went berserk. Again. —Luke Fox

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But as I got older, and injustices became too blatant to ignore, pieces of Mandela's teaching orbited their way from my peripheral to my direct line of sight.

Then, in 2013, when news outlets reported on Mandela's touch-and-go health I learned of his lofty sacrifices, his world-changing accomplishments, and grace made more resolute with his warm smile. During his last year of life, I understood Mandela was actually more than any of us could imagine.

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Orange Is The New Black's Uzo Aduba took to the stage following Lee's welcoming statements. The Emmy-award winning actress and gifted orator delivered a passionate rendition of Mandela's May 10, 1994 inauguration speech.

"Our daily deeds as ordinary South Africans must produce an actual South African reality that will reinforce humanity's belief in justice, strengthen its confidence in the nobility of the human soul and sustain all our hopes for a glorious life for all."

Aduba, 38, continued, "We, the people of South Africa, feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom, that we, who were outlaws not so long ago, have today been given the rare privilege to be host to the nations of the world on our own soil."

After guests dined, Graça Machel, stateswoman, activist and Mandela's widow spoke. Donning a small blonde Afro, a pink silk scarf and a navy blue knee-length dress, Machel expressed her appreciation to all those who continue to champion her late husband's work and even quipped about her love for leaders.

Aduba returned to the stage this time as a moderator leading an intimate conversation with representatives from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela's Children Fund, and the Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital. Before the afternoon was over, guests were treated to live entertainment from Grammy-award nominated singer-songwriters, Chloe X Halle.

Two hours wasn't enough time to appreciate Mandela's legacy or even come to a full understanding of his life, but guests left thankful, full and gracious to have spent the afternoon honoring a man who showed the world, "It only seems impossible until it's done."

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Take Five: DJ Khaled Talks ‘Father of Asahd’ And #Summergram Partnership

DJ Khaled started the summer off right with the release of his 11th studio album, Father of Asahd. It’s the second consecutive album where his two-year-old son serves as executive producer after 2017’s Grateful. Although Khaled’s rollout remained quite a mystery, the mega-producer is now in the midst of a heavy promotional schedule, jam-packed with guest-heavy Saturday Night Live performances and summer collaborations with the likes of Lil Wayne, Meek Mill, SZA, and more. Possibly his most appropriate partnership is with Pepsi and Instagram’s #SummerGram.

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VIBE: What are your thoughts about your new partnership with Pepsi's Summergram? DJ Khaled: This seems like the perfect fit. I am excited to work with Pepsi – they are always spreading positive vibes and the Pepsi #Summergram collection is a lot of fun to play around with. You know I’m always posting to Instagram and these new AR filters help bring my content to the next level. Look out for more Pepsi #Summergram filters from me all summer long.

It seems like you’ve been intentional with this album rollout even more so than your past projects. What can you tell me about your strategy for this rollout? I decided we can’t do anything dinosaur anymore. For this album, everything had to be big. From the music to the rollout, everything had to be big! And watching it all come together is just beautiful. And I love to see the excitement from my fans! At the end of the day, it’s all for my fans.

What was the toughest song to create? To work with so many different artists and so many moving parts, I imagine it can be challenging. Every challenge is a blessing. The toughest ones to make are usually the biggest ones. I’m blessed to work with great artists and be able to create beautiful music together.

Can you speak to your intentions on beginning the album with “Holy Mountain” and ending it with “Holy Ground”? Me and Buju have a special relationship and have been friends for years. The whole album is very spiritual so it seemed right to start and end the project with those records. The message of the album is to not only receive our blessings but to protect them, as well. Everything for my son, Mama Asahd (Nicole Tuck) and fan love.

How did you go about securing the ‪Buju Banton features? He’s been relatively absent for years, so what were those early conversations like to get him on the album? Buju is family to me - and when he came back, I went to Jamaica to welcome my brother back home. He met my son and we were just vibing. Then Buju asked me to “play a chune” and I played him the “Holy Mountain” beat and Buju finished it in one take. We caught that take on film which is now in the “Holy Mountain” video. Then Buju said play me another one. I had this idea for “Holy Ground”—I played it for him and he loved it. The rest is history.

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How CJ Wallace Turned His Connection To Notorious B.I.G. Into A Cannabis Brand

Christopher Jordan “CJ” Wallace was exposed to the music industry at an early age. As the son of Notorious B.I.G. and Faith Evans, the 22-year-old recalls growing up with countless musicians stopping by his family’s home studio. “We had a studio in our house when we lived in Atlanta. This is around the time [of] Bad Boy South,” he tells VIBE during a visit to our Times Square office. “Any given Tuesday, Usher might come over. It would be crazy.”

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And that’s when it hit him. CJ remembered the relaxed and joyful vibe that overcame his family’s old Atlanta studio. “It’s all about the energy and that’s kind of where for me – sitting next to the speaker, smelling the cannabis, smelling the incense – that was what started it for me,” he says.

Wallace went on to found Think BIG, alongside Willie Mack and Russaw. Think BIG, he explains, is a brand and social movement encouraging society to embrace the cannabis industry and realize its potential to heal and stimulate creativity. In its first plan of action, the brand launched its first product: The Frank White Blend, named after one of B.I.G’s many aliases.

Right now, there is a common focus on the recreational use of cannabis; consumers are flooded with images of kids, middle-aged adults, and celebrities sparking up to escape their realities or “have fun.” Prior to the arrival of Psalm West, Kim Kardashian threw a CBD and meditation-themed baby shower for her fourth child in April 2019. In addition to lifting you off the ground, however, Wallace, Mack and Think BIG want to introduce society to the healing and creative benefits of cannabis. Mack learned about cannabis’ healing powers in a major way during his youth.

“As a kid, watching [how] the AIDS crisis ravaged the world and seeing the LGBT community fighting for cannabis to help them with nausea during AZT [antiretroviral medication used to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS] was my first indication of [thinking] cannabis was a drug, but people are actually using it to try to stay alive,” Mack said, noting that he had several family members who were dealing with HIV/AIDS.

Similarly, Wallace uncovered the alternative nature of the plant when his family experimented with it as a form of medication for his younger brother, who was diagnosed with autism. After testing various strains, Wallace confirms they found the right balance, but since cannabis isn’t an approved medication, his brother is unable to use it publicly. “This is helping my youngest brother every day,” he insists. “It’s unfair because we can’t give it to him and let him take it to school and have the school nurse actually prescribe it to him so he’s constantly getting that regular medication. You can’t take it to school, but the kids in his school are being given opioids, which has crazy after effects.”

Creatively speaking, Wallace and Mack consider cannabis to be the “ultimate ghostwriter.” It’s no secret B.I.G. was an advocate. From numerous consultations with his family members, he learned his dad often smoked while recording. (Mack also notes famous smokers like Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, and Bob Marley.) Just about every corner of the music industry has dabbled in recreational smoking, but no genre has been hit as hard as hip-hop. While fans love to watch Snoop Dogg smoke on Instagram Live or share a spliff with Kid Cudi during a concert set, the hip-hop community as a whole is met with backlash and often times targeted by police due to cannabis.

“I feel like anything associated with black men is just immediately going to be deemed bad or evil,” Wallace says, referencing the negative connotation rappers receive. It’s Wallace’s mission, however, to adjust that perspective. “I feel like it’s really up to us to change that narrative. That’s why I try so hard to stop saying words like ‘weed.’ Cannabis, it’s actually a plant," he continues. Both Wallace and Mack noted the terms "weed" and "marijuana" hold negative connotations and are commonly used in connection with minorities. "We were lied to for so long. If we were given proper knowledge from the start, I feel like the entire hip-hop community and the entire way we talked about it would’ve changed.”

Beyond educating consumers with their message and products, Think BIG also seeks to improve the criminal justice system as well as launch charitable projects. According to “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” on average, a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. Such racial disparities reportedly exist in all regions, states, and counties around the United States and largely contribute to today's mass incarceration crisis.

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant strides to correct this injustice. California, Nevada, and Maine are among the first states to legalize cannabis; states such as New York have already begun the process of exonerating offenders convicted of nonviolent charges and marijuana possession. Despite the steps forward, Wallace and Mack say there is a long road ahead.

Not only is it difficult to eradicate a vicious cycle that has left many black and brown people behind bars, but it is also hard to forge spaces for them to succeed in a rapidly changing industry. “Being able to understand how to navigate the industry that’s constantly changing and to do it without a bank account or full funnel of money, makes it that much harder,” Mack says. “Then on top of that, you got people sitting in jail who should be out of jail for nonviolent possession of cannabis. So, we’re faced with having to work four times as hard to make half as much because of the color of our skin. It’s a constant fight and we look at it as how can we set an example, share our knowledge, [and] show more information?”

It takes a group effort, Mac says. While Think BIG is setting a place at the table for black businesses in the cannabis industry as well as shifting the conversation around the plant, Mack suggests other ways to get involved that ultimately uplift the black community. “It’s much easier to enter into the market based on something you already know,” Mack insists, pointing out the opportunities for design firms, packaging, and communication firms to join the movement.

Wallace and Mack know the journey ahead is going to be a roller-coaster ride fit with many twists and turns, but they’re ready. “You got to dream big, as your dad said, and think big,” Mack says. “Everyone else in this industry is thinking about global billion-dollar companies, why shouldn’t we?” As for Wallace, he understands how difficult the process is and will be, “but, it wasn’t more emotional than the first 21 years of my life.”

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