DARIEN CENTER — More than any genre of music, hip-hop is entrenched in a battle mentality.
Every verse is seen as a chance to stake your claim to the crown, to perpetuate your own myth with a combination of skill and swagger, to make sure anybody who has to follow you will be shaking in his boots.
As a result, much of rap music features artists beating on their chests with abandon, regaling us about their mic skills, bank accounts and sexual prowess.
In this battle-minded milieu, Drake stands out as a compelling conscientious objector, an artist with the potential to lead the genre into subtler places.
The Toronto child actor turned rap star makes lush, introspective music with one foot in the club and the other in the confessional booth; it's a style so moody and personal, you had to wonder if it would translate live, especially in a place as huge and unruly as Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.
On Friday night, Drake's music didn't just translate, it transcended. From the moment the lights cut out and the stage curtains billowed down, his set felt like something special, an electrifying, sophisticated offering of rap and R&B, running a kaleidoscope of emotions.
A sea of worshipful fans got ear-splittingly loud as the star took the stage, backed by an incredible live band that impeccably recreated the synth-soaked R&B soundscapes of his 2011 opus "Take Care."
And Drake earned every decibel of his audience's praise, rapping with passion, singing with tenderness, exhorting his followers to make some noise with from-the-gut sincerity.
He has called this the "Club Paradise" tour, something that in another artist's hands would be just an excuse to sing about partying. But this club was rooted in humanity.
As Drake delivered lines like "I'm having a good time/They just trying to ruin it," during a stunning "Up All Night," slow-motion shots of an owl in flight played behind him, painting a nocturnal existence as something exotic and beautiful, but also unsettling.
Then came the coup de grace. After introducing "Forever" as the kind of song the DJ pumps to maximum volume, Drake unleashed a passion that had him hopping around the stage.
After this, he crept behind the stage, emerging in a white T-shirt as the band played the opening strains of "Marvin's Room." This "Take Care" standout depicts the narrator "drunk dialing" his ex.
It was a profound one-two punch, one that cut to the core of why Drake is so important. When you're partying in the club, he's there for you. When you have to face life the next morning, he's there for you, too.
Darien Lake Perfoming Arts Center, Friday night
With J. Cole, Waka Flocka Flame, Meek Mill, 2 Chainz and French Montana.