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When Drake’s album VIEWS arrives at the end of this week, it will be the Toronto rapper’s latest missive in support of his home city. The cover shows him perched atop Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, and the title itself solidifies the nickname Drake invented for the Queen City. Geography has always been an important part of Drake’s story: Besides putting on for T-dot or "the 6," he’s also made himself out to be, at various points, a rep for cities like Houston, Atlanta, Memphis, Miami, London, and Kingston, Jamaica. He lives in a home in LA. He’s a global superstar. And it’s no secret that he had to leave Toronto and find success in some of those cities before he could morph into the 6 God he is today.
So where does Drake really rep, when it comes down to it? Is he really as much a roadman as he claims to be? Is he really swangin' and bangin' in H-Town? Did he really have to travel the States to find success? You can argue about it easily enough, but what does the data say? Having played almost 400 shows throughout his career, Drake has given us enough data points to offer a pretty good indication of where he is really spending his time. We decided to break down his years of touring data and see if it would show us anything we didn’t know about the word on road. Here’s what we found:
Map by Taylor Blake
Figure 1: North American and European Cities in which Drake has performed by year
Using data from bandisintown, we can see that Drake has played 392 shows since 2006. There’s scant evidence of his tour patterns prior to 2009; our numbers for the years 2006-2008 are based on our own scouring of online tour date databases.
Drake was number nine on International Federation of the Phonographic Industry’s recent list of the “Top 10 Global Recording Artists of 2015,” but his live performances have been almost exclusively reserved to just two continents—North America and Europe. 70 percent of his gigs were the States while Canada and UK stops make up another quarter of his tour activity. The rest of his shows were across continental Europe and Australia, and one-offs in New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates, and Jamaica. That last stat is especially surprising as the Islands figure prominently in Drake’s music – recent work “Controlla” features dancehall star Popcaan while “Work,” his collaboration with Rihanna, showcases a significant Caribbean influence (its video was famously filmed at Toronto’s Real Jerk restaurant).
Toronto looms large in Drake’s public persona. Drake references his hometown three times as often as any other city (ahead of Houston, Memphis and Miami) in his rhymes and his massive international success–he was the most streamed artist on Spotify last year—put the city on the international hip-hop map. But, London comes out on top as the city Drake has played the most, stopping in superstar metro 17 times. It is a hub for pop music and like Toronto is home to a mix of African and West Indian cultures. Drake has been nearly as vocal about his love for the city as he is Toronto and he recently signed with London-based grime label Boy Better Know. That New York and Los Angeles, music’s other superstar metros and hip hop’s coastal epicentres,failed to crack the top five only amplifies London’s personal significance to Drake.
Figure 2: Timeline of Drake’s touring
Less surprising are number two and three ranked Toronto (14 shows) and Atlanta (10 shows). Although he regularly frequents the stages of his hometown, he’s stopped in Montreal and Vancouver, Canada’s second and third largest cities, just four times each. Meanwhile, as an epicentre of southern hip-hop, Atlanta had a major impact on Drake, who fused many of the city’s distinct sounds with his own.
Drake played a quarter of all his live dates in 2010, a flurry of activity that coincided with the release of his debut album Thank Me Later. Although headlining for the first time, three-quarters of these gigs were in spaces that held under 10,000 people. 40 percent of Drake’s concerts were held in 2009 and 2010, suggesting that while Drake waited for success to hit the road, he still had to build his fan base before moving on to stadiums. By 2012, however, when Drake played 73 shows only, 14 of which were in venues that held under 10,000 people. By 2013, that number had shrunk to just three. Since then he’s continued to play larger stadiums and festivals, rarely performing to fewer than 10,000 people.
It would appear that the cities that loom large in Drake’s persona don't necessarily carry the economic weight suggested by his lyrics. Through steady boosterism, both on and off the mic, Drake and Toronto have become synonymous, even though it’s common knowledge that he built his base outside of Toronto first. His path to success emphasized places like London, and relatively smaller, less culturally relevant cities like Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas, over "superstar music cities" Los Angeles and New York. In a pattern that’s likely already being replicated by his peers, Drake projects the persona of a global superstar, yet plays just a handful of shows close to home, reaching the world through social media instead.
Ian Gormely is a freelance music journalist and research associate at the Martin Prosperity Institute. Follow him on Twitter.