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"This is the part of the concert where the rapper says, 'We hitting an eight, if you wanna take it to a 10, make some noise!' "
So mocked Aubrey "Drake" Graham, during this first night of a week-long UK arena tour. It seemed appropriate that the 25-year-old Canadian - perhaps best known on these shores as Rihanna's foil on 2010 chart-topper What's My Name - should disavow the old clich茅s. His finely-tuned set confirmed him to be the best of a new breed of pensive, pop-leaning "soap-opera" rappers.
First, a word on supporting act Labrinth, the Hackney-born producer/singer-songwriter behind ubiquitous megahit Earthquake. His all-guns-blazing stage energy was joyous, while the music, futuristic electro-soul underpinned by shuddering synths and fidgety grime beats, augured well for his debut album (released next Monday).
Drake's performance was more measured, but just as rewarding. He often condensed songs into punchy medleys, beautifully weaving together tracks from last year's Take Care with plaintive hooks, sturdy beats and confessional storytelling. From dancefloor-filling hip hop to ambient R&B textures, his live backing band kicked out a limber groove, while Drake eased between fluid rapping and competent singing.
It was a style that set him apart from rap's old guard, and he looked the part too. The neatly cropped hair, black shirt and immaculate orthodontistry betrayed his upbringing in an affluent Toronto neighbourhood, born to a black father and Jewish mother. He had a likeable grace, spreading goodwill - to English fans, his mentors, his family - like confetti, and giving individual crowd members from around the arena personal shout outs to treasure.

Yet the night wasn't without hiccups. The bootie-call melodrama of Marvin's Room should have been a brooding centrepiece, but the emotional resonance was lost as Drake's vocal veered wildly off course in the low notes. Other tracks felt noticeably thinner in the absence of live featured artists. To deafening cheers, he pledged that rap lioness Nicki Minaj and his mentor Lil Wayne would join him on the next tour.
Only occasionally did Drake flicker with arrogance, standing po-faced and motionless as 18,000 fans screamed in adoration. But an open-hearted track like Shot For Me - "you believe in everything but me" - usually followed to balance things out. Failing that, a huge hit, such as Take Care (another duet with Rihanna), left sceptics embracing the braggadocio. Rap wasn't always consumed with violence and vulgarity, drunk on its own excesses. Its future looks bright in Drake's hands.
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