If he didn’t listen too closely, Drake might have thought they were yelling for him.
Having just performed as a surprise headliner to close this past weekend’s Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival at Dodger Stadium, the superstar rapper and singer could no doubt hear the chant that went up in the crowd seconds after he left the stage. He’d clearly been caught off-guard by his lukewarm reception, so much so that before ending his set after only 20-or-so minutes, he offered a kind of last chance to the audience drawn to this annual festival by its charismatic misfit of a founder, Tyler, the Creator.
“If you wanna keep going, I will keep going tonight,” Drake said. But were people really shouting, “We want Drake”?
“We want Frank” is what the most vocal in the crowd were chanting amid a growing wave of boos — a stunning rejection of the artist credibly viewed as the most consequential pop musician of the 2010s.
So how did this happen?
For starters, Drake wasn’t Frank — Ocean, that is, the reclusive R&B singer who came to fame about a decade ago as a member of Tyler’s Los Angeles-based hip-hop crew, Odd Future.
When Tyler advertised a mystery headliner for this year’s edition of Camp Flog Gnaw, held Saturday and Sunday in the parking lots surrounding Dodger Stadium, many hopefully surmised that the festival would feature Ocean’s first concert appearance since 2017; those so convinced grew only more sure as Ocean released a pair of singles in recent weeks — part of a slow return to action three years after his latest album, 2016’s obsessed-over “Blonde.”
Given the weight of those expectations, one could argue that anyone but Ocean — widely admired for his supple voice and his poetic examinations of race, sexuality and gender — was destined to disappoint in the final slot at Camp Flog Gnaw, which across its two days also offered performances by Tyler, Solange, YG, Juice WRLD, DaBaby and FKA Twigs, among others. Organizers declined to provide attendance figures, though the grounds held approximately 50,000.
Yet Tyler’s choice of Drake (who was immediately preceded by ASAP Rocky and Lil Uzi Vert, both enthusiastically received) also felt like a failure to understand specifically what his flagship event has become in its eighth year.
To some extent this was an issue of age: At 33, Drake already represents something of a veteran figure compared with the Gen Zers who happily dominate both the festival’s bill and its audience. And Drake, dressed in a vintage Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt, seemed to grasp that, as he demonstrated while introducing a string of hits from “way, way, way back” in 2011.
“It’s almost like I’m an OG,” he said, adding that he’d just celebrated his birthday. “I know I’m getting up there.”
Then again, Drake is only a year older than Ocean. (Several other performers, including Solange and Thundercat, are even older than that.) But the scale of Drake’s success, with its radio smashes and its record-setting streaming numbers, is materially different from Ocean’s, which is what truly made Drake — a one-time oddball who’s long since shed any vestige of his outsider status — an uncomfortable fit here. Carefully designed in Tyler’s image, the stylishly off-kilter Camp Flog Gnaw presents itself as a punky-cozy haven for those on the fringes; it proudly centers artists and fans marginalized as a result of their blackness or their queerness or their eagerness to challenge established power structures.
Drake, at least in musical terms, is the established power structure. On Twitter early Monday, Tyler — who, it should be noted, was selling branded hoodies at the festival for 200 bucks — scolded his fans for disrespecting Drake, saying they’d embarrassed him in front of his guest. But to many in the audience on Sunday, Drake’s utter ubiquity means he might as well have been Taylor Swift, as safely deserving a punching bag as any in pop.
The sad thing about Camp Flog Gnaw’s gone-viral conclusion is that the Bronx-cheering of Drake will undoubtedly define this year’s show, which otherwise offered some brilliant performances that, unlike Frank Ocean’s, actually happened.
Tyler, brandishing a scratchy falsetto and dancing with herky-jerky abandon, was a lovably eccentric soul man in a thrilling set that showcased his 2019 album “Igor,” about his exploration of his sexuality. Solange, a Houston native, set tales of womanly determination against images of African American cowboy culture in precisely choreographed renditions of tunes from her gorgeous and funky “When I Get Home.” And Clairo, a 21-year-old singer and producer whose career began on the internet, blended mumbly synth-pop vocals with sensual bedroom-R&B grooves that made the Dodger Stadium parking lot feel as intimate as could be.
Newness wasn’t necessarily the imperative. During his set, Thundercat brought out Michael McDonald, the former Doobie Brother, to do their silky electro-soul jam “Show You the Way”; then the experienced bass wizard asked McDonald, 67, to stick around to sing his indelible early ’80s hit “I Keep Forgettin’.” Nor was Compton’s YG overly concerned with glimpsing some unknown frontier in a performance that channeled classic West Coast gangsta rap — and featured an onstage cameo from Stormy Daniels during YG’s song “FDT.” (The last two letters refer to Donald Trump; you can guess what the first one stands for.)
Even when the sound of the music was comfortingly familiar, though, the spirit at Camp Flog Gnaw felt attuned to important fights — and important victories — taking place right now. That all Drake knows is winning is ironically what made him a loser here.