Tour Tales | Aaron Draper talks Eminem, Rihanna, performing with Tupac hologram, and surprising Adele
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Aaron Draper explains working with Rihanna, Eminem’s pranks, and much more. Read here.
Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
From going to the same high school as State Property’s Young Chris and Neef to performing in the same band as the future music director to the biggest artists over the last 20 years, percussionist Aaron Draper isn’t new to this music thing.
“We were doing the Voodoo Festival in New Orleans with Eminem [in 2009]. I saw them carry someone over the gate and out of the festival. I was like, ‘Oh, this is like those old Michael Jackson concerts when someone passes out,’” Draper told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Draper explains how Rihanna helped him surprise Adele, Eminem’s pranks, and more.
Where did you hone your percussionist skills before hitting the road with major acts?
The church is where I learned to put it together and play as one with my bandmates. I will always give love and respect to that place because that’s where it started. I went to Ford Memorial Temple [in Philadelphia] where the late Bishop Andrew J Ford II was the bishop and I played with my brothers Omar Edwards, Jamar Jones, Dwayne Moore, and John Lawson. My brother Omar Edwards is one of the greatest music directors and he helped out early on. He can never do any wrong.
How did you get involved playing percussion for JAY-Z’s MTV “Unplugged” performance in 2001?
Before “Unplugged” started, I was doing a lot of stuff with The Roots. I was part of The Black Lily series in Philadelphia. I would end up on stage sometimes during The Roots show — during Ahmir’s drum solo. That was my introduction to all of them. That turned into them trusting me to do other stuff and that turned into me doing “Unplugged.” I was 18, fresh out of high school. I didn’t even go to college and I was playing MTV.
What was your interaction with JAY-Z at the show?
Jay was so cool. I got to take a picture with him and that was before we had camera phones. I had my little camera (laughs). I was young, so I was still star struck. You had Mary J. Blige there. State Property was there. I actually went to school with two of the members of State Prop: Chris and Need. We all went to Simon Gratz together.
As a touring professional for 20+ years, what shows did you have to adjust last-minute mistakes on?
When we were doing the Grammys with Eminem [in 2011] — Me and Adam Blackstone — we were doing “Love The Way You Lie.” In the middle of the performance, someone in the sound room, I think, sabotaged us and the sound went out for us for five seconds. Five seconds is an eternity during a live performance on the Grammys. If you watch the performance, I think you can hear Adam go, “Yo! We can’t hear.” One of the great things about coming up in the churches is before all of the in-ear monitors, you had to use your ears. So, we were still on beat.
Another one was when we were in Sao Paulo with Eminem [in 2016] and it decided to monsoon rain. We just did the show. We had plastic all around us, instruments were getting ruined, we were getting rained on. Eminem kept going, so we kept going.
Eminem is very particular about his sound on records. How does that translate to his live show?
We’ve been playing with him since 2009, so we know what he wants. His attention to detail is great. He’s the only person I know that sounds just like his records even in rehearsals. Some rappers have to read their verses and all of that. I’ve never seen him with paper to read his verses; he knows them. We throw arrangements at him, he listens and nine times out of 10, he likes them. We might subtract something or move something. When I’m not there, Paul Rosenberg, who is one of my OGs and a great guy, says, “We wish you were here. We miss you.” That means you’re putting in your work.
What did you have to learn from those 2009 shows?
It’s hip hop and it’s not a lot of chops. It’s a lot of one verse here, chorus here. It’s simpler, but not simple. Back then, we were learning the music. You know Eminem songs, but now you have to play them and arrange them. So, we were learning them. Now, it’s a well-oiled machine.
Speaking of Adam Blackstone, arguably the most influential show you two have done together was that Coachella show in 2012 with the Tupac hologram. What was it like performing with a hologram?
That whole experience blew me away. In the words of my brother of Omar Edwards, “That was epic.” There was a screen that came down and that’s where they had the Tupac hologram on. We were on the actual screen recorded, so it matched what we were doing on the stage. So, when you looked, you could see us playing in the background. We were playing live, but the video on stage was pre-recorded and it matched up to what we were doing live.
Did you rehearse with the hologram?
Absolutely. When we first saw it, it blew us away. It was unbelievable. That was the first time I did a show with a hologram.
One of the biggest tours you were a part of over the last decade was undoubtedly Eminem and Rihanna’s “The Monster Tour” in 2014.
That was a great tour. That was the only tour I played over two hours straight without a bathroom break. I played for both artists. There were two drummers — one would switch for Rihanna and one would switch for Eminem. There were also switch offs for guitarists and keyboard players. I was the only one who did not come off stage (laughs). Oh, and Adam, too. After that tour was over, they called me to perform for her.
Between those two artists, what are your favorite songs to perform with them?
I have two. One is “Rude Boy.” I added this little percussion part Adam and I came up with. “Where Have You Been,” as well. The energy was high on those songs.
What were the rehearsals like between Eminem and Rihanna?
We would joke around. We were all on the same page. It was always good times.
Any humorous memories you have of Eminem or Rihanna?
For Eminem, there are always funny moments. When we get to the end of a song, we all look down and this guy moons you every time. Then, he’d be like, “What?” He’s wild. With Rih, she was always cool. She won’t be an artist that’ll act like they don’t know you. It doesn’t matter where I’m at, she’s given me so much love. I did the Grammys with Adele [in 2016] and we just finished playing when we were walking down the hall as Rihanna and her squad were coming. Adele says hi. Rihanna sees me and goes, “Is that my bro? What’s up, bro!” I’ll never forget this because I love the look on her face, Adele looked back shocked like, “Wow!”
What are some of the most memorable fan interactions you’ve seen?
2009 was my first time seeing someone pass out. We were doing the Voodoo Festival in New Orleans with Eminem. I saw them carry someone over the gate and out of the festival. I was like, “Oh, this is like those old Michael Jackson concerts when someone passes out.” It shocked me (laughs).
You began working with Adele in 2015. What did you add to her live show?
Adele is different. It was challenging mentally in terms of how I was going to approach playing with Adele. I had just got off from playing with Rihanna at Rock In Rio in Chile, Santiago. I actually got the call [to play with Adele] in the middle of that tour. I didn’t want to leave that tour, but you have friends like Adam and Omar who say, “You better take that tour. It’s Adele.” I listened to Adele’s music, but I wasn’t listening to Adele. I knew “Rolling In The Deep.” Playing with her was a different approach for me because when I initially came, I had a setup and she said, “I only want what’s going to be playing in my songs.” I was like, “There’s really no percussions in any of your songs. There are only shakers, tambourines, and cow bells.” I ended up with the idea of a Coldplay-style of percussion. At the end of the tour, she told us, “If I ever did it again, I won’t do it without you guys.” So, hopefully (laughs).
Adele has diehard fans. Are there any moments that stick out to you that show how dedicated they are?
Her fans are diehard fans. They know her band members by name. This one time we were in London and I was walking from my hotel to Wimbley Stadium and this one fan walked up to me and said, “Hey Aaron.” I was like, “Uh, hey. Hi.” I spoke to her and she was cool.
How has your relationship with Adele evolved over the years?
Adele and my relationship is really cool. She really took care of us on that tour. The year of that “Adele Live 2017 Tour” was the year Trump went into office. So, she did her best to protect us and make sure we were good. That’s like little sis. I knew Adele before this Adele because a lot of people don’t know that Adele opened up for Jill Scott at [The Miles Davis Hall] in Switzerland [on July 12, 2008]. Jill Scott is on of Adele’s favorite artists. I joke with Jill about this all of the time, but at the time she kept calling her Estelle. I kept saying, “Her name is Adele” (laughs). I haven’t seen Adele since the last birthday party she invited us to. She invites us to her birthday party every year. But, some good friends you don’t need to see all of the time for them to still be good friends.
The artist who you have the longest touring history with is the incomparable Jill Scott. After touring with her for 11 years, how do you feel you’ve left your mark on her live show?
I added that record sound and that extra seasoning that’s going to glue our arrangements and what we’re playing together. That was my role as far as percussion. A lot of parts I played, still are played ‘til this day. I can play the show right now and know where everything goes because I’ve played it so long.
You did a bunch of shows with Jill, but I remember her opening up for Chris Rock on New Year’s Eve in 2007. What was that like?
That was an incredible, energetic, fiery night. It was New Year’s Eve going into New Year’s. We had just finished a tour and found out we were opening up for Chris Rock. It was amazing. I was a ball of sweat and if I’m a ball of sweat, that means it was a good show (laughs). He took pictures with us and laughed with us. It was a magical night leading into a new year.
What do you want your legacy to be when it’s all said and done?
I want to be known for always being that guy who brought something extra to the table and helping out everyone that I loved. I want to inspire people to take it to the next level.
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