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Seven by Seven / Seven things you need to know by 7 a.m.

1. The smooth Canadian rapper Drake takes some of the hop out of hip-hop, slowing down the beats and pushing up the lushness of his arrangements to get to the core of his emotions. The former star of television's "Degrassi" series has fans in high places, such as his mentor, Lil Wayne, and colorful collaborators such as Nicki Minaj and Rhianna. Last seen locally with Lil Wayne at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center in 2009, he returns to the Darien amphitheater for a show at 7 p.m., headlining a bill that includes J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz and French Montana. Tickets are $55.75 to $95.75 reserved, $35.75 for the lawn.

2. The parade of summer blockbusters continues today with the arrival of director Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi, "Prometheus," a prequel to "Alien" with Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in which space travelers hunt for the origins of humanity. Striking a lighter note is the computer-animated comedy "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," in which Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo, voiced by Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith, respectively, wind up in a traveling circus.

3. The Buffalo Zoo is closing early today to get things ready for "Catillion," its annual creative black-tie gala. Gates will close at 2 p.m., and grounds will close at 3. The evening includes a fancy dinner, silent and live auctions, music and dancing. The program will include the presentation of the zoo's highest honor, the Friend of Wildlife Award, to attorney Wayne D. Wisbaum, a board member emeritus and a leader in arranging funding for zoo improvements. The zoo will be open again Saturday as usual from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

4. Ever wonder what Santa Claus does in warm weather? Today he's at Women & Children's Hospital, helping the hospital staff and Assemblymen Ray Walter and Kevin Smardz kick off the annual Christmas in July Toy Drive, which benefits the hospital, at a news conference at 10 a.m. The drive will continue through July 25.

5. Groups and individuals opposed to the Obama administration's mandate that employers provide their female employees birth control coverage return to Niagara Square from noon to 2 p.m. today. Featured speakers at the Buffalo Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally include the Rev. Robert Behn of Last Call Ministries; Stephen Krason of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists; Father Christos Christakis, president of the Council of the Orthodox Churches in the Niagara Frontier; and Rabbi Frank Lowinger of Congregation B'rith Hadoshah.

6. While the Bisons are on the road in Columbus, Coca-Cola Field will be full of fans of another favorite summer pastime -- Shakespeare in Delaware Park. The third annual "Bases Merlot-ed" Ballpark Wine Trail from 6 to 10 p.m. will offer tastings of wines from Niagara County, the Finger Lakes and around world, as well as cheese and gelato tastings, all of which are included in the $25 presale ticket. For ticket info, call 846-2032. The Shakespeare season begins June 21 with "Richard III."

7. If Toronto-born stand-up comedian Howie Mandel's name seems almost like a household word, it's because he's been coming into households on television for the better part of two decades. Beginning as Dr. Wayne Fiscus on "St. Elsewhere," he's gone on to host the game show "Deal or No Deal," create and star in the cartoon "Bobby's World" and, most recently, serve as one of the judges on "America's Got Talent." He comes to the Avalon Theatre at Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls, Ont., at 9 p.m. to open a two-night stand. Both shows are sold out.