All along, it seems like “Summer Sixteen,” Drake’s first single of the year, not included on VIEWS, was designed to be his heated opener during his tour of the same name, which hit Madison Square Garden last night for the first of four shows at the elite Manhattan arena. Though billed as a co-headlining tour with Future, make no mistake -- this was Drake’s show, and Drake’s audience. 

After opening performances from his OVO underlings Roy Woods and DVSN and a vastly prolonged DJ set, Drake finally took the stage after 10PM. Upon reminding the packed stadium that he’s “looking for revenge” all summer long, he segued into an a cappella freestyle that he knew would make headlines:

“You see, they tellin’ lies on Hot 97, that’s how it goes / I told ‘em fire Funk Flex and then I’ll come and do your show / Plus me and Kanye, we just left out the studio / My first night in the Garden, I’m feeling like D. Rooose!”

The crowd erupted as he bellowed the final line, taking note of his customized OVO Knicks jersey. He quickly pointed out that he wasn’t here for any “long talkin’” and that New York City, “the greatest place in the world,” was deserving of “the best show you’ve ever seen.” So why the shot at New York’s most famous hip-hop station? Though he was intent on proving his love for NYC all night long, he began by positioning himself against the old guard who might be uncomfortable in having a singing rapper -- one who might even enlist others to sharpen his lyrics -- play host to the city’s hottest ticket of the year.

It was all music from then on. As Drake has undeniably become the biggest example of a pop star that hip-hop has to offer, his credentials within the latter genre have been brought into question. Such was clear in the response to VIEWS, released at the end of April and still sitting at No. 1 on the albums chart, now for the 12th non-consecutive week. It’s been difficult to distance the album from the hype and rank it within Drake’s catalog, but last night proved that VIEWS is equipped with more hits than any other project he’s released. From “Controlla” and “One Dance” to tracks like “Still Here” and “Child’s Play” that are just starting to get radio rotation, every VIEWS song that he performed felt instantly familiar.

“Hotline Bling,” technically a VIEWS bonus track, provided the most blissful moments of the night, as a ceiling full of spherical pink lights descended and bobbled overhead of those standing on the floor, who grasped at them even though they were far out of reach.

The impeccably produced and arranged “Feel No Ways” also gave way to an intimacy that was felt across the venue. To finish the song, the beat faded and he began a seemingly improvised and admittedly schmaltzy interpolation of the hook -- singing more delicately than anyone could’ve expected. Immediately afterwards, he switched gears and said something along the lines of, “I know y’all aren’t trying to get serenaded tonight.”

Little did he know that’s exactly what we wanted.

He would later address all of those in the nosebleeds, saying how he longed to see each of their faces. Suddenly, he worked himself into an enclosed platform that would project him above the floor seats and then toward the top of the stadium, all the while singing “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” another tender ballad that made the audience gush in the same way as the man singing it.

Though much of his show -- from the anthemic “We Made It,” a remix of a Soulja Boy track, to “Back to Back,” last summer’s still-ubiquitous Meek Mill diss -- was intended to shake the stadium, it was his softer renditions that were the most stirring. During these moments, we were entranced by the sensitivities of a guy who most of us have watched go from a boyish actor-turned-rapper to one of the biggest megastars whom hip-hop has ever cultivated. No matter how big he gets, though, his charm lies in his ability to pour out his (sometimes petty) emotions to a sea of superfans as though he were a wounded friend. 

Future, the co-headliner, did not emerge until toward the latter half of Drake’s performance, and he brought with him a marked shift in energy. He started with fire, entering to “New Level" and bringing out the track’s lead artist, the Harlem-bred A$AP Ferg, whose voice resonated throughout the Garden. Also during Future’s set, another surprise guest emerged in the form of Young Thug, who performed “Best Friend,” the biggest hit of his career. The two shared a hug as Thug made his exit. It was heartwarming show of brotherhood from Atlanta’s two best rappers, whom have not always been on friendly terms.

Though Future’s showmanship was palpable (to me, at least), and his sweat-soaked passion could be readily seen on the big screen, his run of hits -- save for the undeniable “March Madness” -- wasn’t able to fully resonate inside MSG, at least not compared to the main performer. His energy itself was impressive, but there was a notable lull in the audience for much of his 40-minute set, and concertgoers eagerly awaited the return of the man whom they came for.

Drake concluded the night with a few of the most popular songs off last year’s now-platinum pseudo-album If You're Reading This It's Too Late. After “Know Yourself” and “Energy,” two rousing numbers, he closed out the show on a softer note with “Legend,” ending with a mournful boast -- “If I die, I’m a legend” -- which the crowd chanted in lovestruck unison. Whether or not he’ll ever get the “legend” cosign from the aging hip-hop establishment, it was a sentiment with which most everyone in the Garden fully agreed.