Drakes Team on Bringing the Its All a Blur Tours Surreal Staging to Arenas: Like Figuring Out a Rubiks Cube
When it comes to Drake, it takes a village.
He has investments and business ventures as wide-ranging and unpredictable as restoring an old surrealist art amusement park to launching his own production house, with the latter having earned him his first Emmy nomination for outstanding drama series as an executive producer on the HBO drama series “Euphoria” last year.
So last November, when Drake approached his team — a combination of life-long friends and industry veterans — with the idea of launching a career-defining 29-date jaunt across the U.S., now known as the “It’s All a Blur tour,” they were ready for anything.
Tasked with putting the larger puzzle pieces together was longtime DJ-turned-manager and business partner Adel “Future” Nur, along with co-managers Matte Babel and Anthony Gonzales. The three are just a few of the brains behind DreamCrew — the all-purpose production house with one hand in visual arts, and the other, according to their website, in “Drake’s entire professional career and business portfolio.”
Babel joined Drake in 2017 just as he began to invest in endeavors outside of music. Rising to the role of chief brand officer, Babel began to help the crew foster a mysterious image while making the impossible possible: They’ve offered very few behind-the-scenes looks at the tour since it launched at the top of July (a few weeks after it was originally scheduled to launch), and Drake himself has rarely said much to the media in recent years, apart from a few, seemingly random one-offs.
Between Drake’s back-to-back takeovers at both the Forum and Crypto arenas in Los Angeles, Babel shared a few of the logistics behind the massive production — which he says deploys the largest fleet of trucks ever used for an arena trek.
“We don’t like to do ‘serious press,’” Babel prefaced ahead of the conversation. “Early on, Drake got burned — got misquoted and misrepresented and I think it’s maybe made us overly cautious. Future runs a tight ship: He seeks and optimizes potential to the point where he’s built a ton of infrastructure and other businesses surrounding Drake, who already has so many interests that are also constantly evolving. When you go to him with a ‘This isn’t happening,’ Drake says ‘Figure it out,’ and we always do.”
When it came time to start conceptualizing the tour, months after Drake had delivered a hits-filled performance at the Apollo Theater, the blueprints called for colossal, stadium-sized floors. Incorporating robots, special effects, crucially timed lasers, 30-foot tall inflatables, and three separate stages, the “It’s All A Blur” tour is designed to hit the audiences with sensory overload.
The show is intended to be a celebration of Drake’s career thus far, starting with the moment he was peer-pressured into smoking marijuana before his audition for “Degrassi.” Despite the fact that he thought he had failed the job interview, the TV show went on to launch his storied presence in the entertainment industry. Audiences follow the narrative in the form of surreal stage props like a massive flying Peter Pan, a UFO and drone-powered sperm, and the setlist honors his most beloved songs with experimental elements like an ampiano-infused DJ set that repurposes his radio hits. For each date, the props have to be re-sequenced — this includes rebooting the dancing robots, all of which sit at different heights throughout the show.
“After we had started building some of these ideas up, Drake decided it felt too far removed from the people who had to spend a lot of money on a ticket,” says Babel. “His idea was that arenas would feel intimate enough to watch a show, to get to feel it, and still large enough to serve the audience. When you see all these elements inside the arena, that’s why everything is so huge — it’s a stadium-level show. And there are so many things that can go wrong on any given night. We suggested many times to lose some props or at least scale the sizes down, but he said ‘No, I want to have the same show — regardless if it’s a stadium or an arena.’”
Once the tour kicked off, it did experience a few hiccups, including the show at Memphis’ FedEx Forum being called off nearly a week before it was supposed to take place “due to the magnitude of the production of the Drake concert,” according to the camp’s official statement, which added that it was “logistically impossible to bring the show as designed” to the venue. His first of four shows at the Forum in Los Angeles faced similar issues.
“It was like figuring out a Rubik’s Cube,” Babel explains. “The Forum is a very small building that’s outdated and it doesn’t have a lot of the rigging points a lot of the new arenas have. So we had a lot of trouble bringing that show in there, and finding out how to make adjustments. [Drake] didn’t want people to come to the Forum and not see a show they’d already been seeing online and a show they expected to see. In the end, he was like ‘I don’t care what you guys have to do. Figure it out.’ We went back and forth on the phone, trying to do the proper research to make it happen, and we still went back and said ‘Maybe we shouldn’t,’ and in the end, we got it done.”
“We” also includes lighting director John Torres and creative director duo Amber Rimell and Bronski, all of whom returned to this tour after contributing their skills to the Apollo show.
“We wanted to accentuate the essence of the show and really combine the intimacy of a theatre piece with the power and scale of Drake and his music,” Torres says of bringing the closeness of the Apollo show to arenas. “The monolithic center stage was an excellent canvas to explore architecture through light and the team both inspired and challenged me to find the perfect hybrid between a classical aesthetic and full-on spectacle.”
Bronski and Rimell are the London-based creatives behind TAWBOX, the production studios that also put adventurous visual effects for Stormzy’s 2019 Glastonbury set, which earned the duo a BAFTA nomination for best entertainment craft team, and Olivia Rodrigo’s performance at the 2021 Brit Awards, among numerous other showcases.
“Working closely with Drake, Matte and the whole team has been a truly remarkable experience,” the pair tell Variety. “Our goal was to deliver creative concepts that complemented Drake’s overarching vision to take everyone in the audience on their own personal journey – starting from where it all began for him. Using innovative techniques and designs that have never before been deployed by a tour of this stature, we were able to showcase vital moments throughout his career using bold lights, colors, contrast and darkness, delivering a one-of-a-kind visual masterpiece that we are incredibly proud to have been a part of.”
Other team members wear more than a few hats. Chubbs, on Drake’s security team, also occasionally fields beats for the rapper and has gone on to launch his own label outside of the camp. Some are even more out of left field: one of the designs for the tour’s merchandise came from the crew’s on-site nurse.
Everyone’s on “rap time,” Babel says, referring to the speed of execution the team has managed to adapt to over the years. And this show has been their biggest testament to “rap time” yet. With every passing week, Drake has welcomed a revolving door of guests: he’s been escorted into the venue alongside Lebron James and Steph Curry and has welcomed J. Cole, Lil Yachty, Skillibeng and Sexxy Red to share the stage with him. The latter was added on as a regular opener for the tour in August and it’s Drake’s goal to incorporate more surprise openers as the tour continues through October, though they won’t be announced until the night of the show.
As if this weren’t more than enough to keep tabs on, Drake also has a new album dropping at the end of the month. “He’s relentless,” Babel says. “He has been working on this album for a while… as soon as he dropped ‘Her Loss,’ he just kind of kept recording, and we’re waiting for him to finish the work. The songs I’ve heard are incredible — and obviously, from a managerial standpoint, it’s a uniquely incredible experience to work with an artist that can be on a tour of this size and still hype the fans up even more by telling them there’s another project on the way.”
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