One could argue that that Drake and Kanye West are hip-hop's most prolific vampires. Both have an uncanny way of picking up the scent of younger artists with fanatic online stanbases, taking them under their wings, and then leeching off their most interesting ideas for their own work. In 2012, Kanye would do this with Chief Keef during the "I Don't Like" debacle, but in that same year, Drake was different. Sitting somewhere between flash-in-the-pan and undeniable brand, he'd just released Take Care, a massively anticipated and successful album whose immediate acclaim has now ossified into a reputation as Drake's classic work.
To support Take Care, Drake embarked on a four-month global trek (from February to June 2012) known as the Club Paradise Tour, named after a loosie of the same name. Instead of booking known quantities and affiliates like Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne to open, he got A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar, both lacking mainstream hits and familiar mainly to followers of rap blogs. Without knowing—or maybe through impeccable instinct—Drake wound up being first on these superstars-in-the-making and exposing them to the widest possible audience before other rappers did.
To understand the impact, two documents should be examined. The first is the above video that shows the finale of a North American Club Paradise show. Besides Chase N. Cashe (his beat for "Look What You've Done" is still a masterpiece) everyone here is now an A-lister in the rap conversation despite beginnings in the hype cycle. Kendrick had Section.80, which in retrospect is now a Kanye-worshipping conscious rap album that nevertheless displays some storytelling ambition. In this lineup, Rocky almost seems like the real revolutionary. LiveLoveA$AP sounded like nothing else out there, and the multi-region aesthetic was the first sign of how internet rap's lack of borders could gestate strange, appealing music. Also, haute couture fashion. The second thing to look at is this contemporary interview Drake did with Stereogum's Corban Goble. While it also offers an unusually transparent inside look at the making of Take Care, it's when Drake is asked explicitly about his choice of openers for the Club Paradise Tour that his curatorial ear and strong sense of external narrative are revealed in detail.
"There are people like you who are well-versed in who those guys are, but there's people that will get out there and be like, what the fuck was this? And maybe three years from now they'll be like, damn, I was there for that moment. … I don't want to do some big arena tour like, let's go me J. Cole and Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, cuz that's what's going to sell right now, those guys all have albums out. … And it's really me giving [Rocky and Kendrick] a chance to say, I'm bringing you out, do with it what you will. You take it to the moon from here, congratulations, because we'll be immortalized in this moment."
By 2015, Kendrick had released both good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly, while Rocky had charted repeatedly on the Billboard Hot 100, guested on Selena Gomez songs, and, most importantly, made the world of high fashion inseparable from modern hip-hop. Drake didn't make these two blow up—their fanbases would have made that happen sooner or later—but his cosign definitely expedited matters. It's also, once again, a testament to him and the OVO cabal making the most of their presence in the deepest corners of the rap internet. Usually they are vampires, yes, but sometimes they're just taking care of the next generation. Club Paradise proved that when tastemaking resources are used for altruistic purposes, the future can be very bright, indeed.
Phil still misses the year that "Stay Schemin" ruled everything. He's on Twitter.