Tour Tales | Ravi Shelton explains the miracles behind Drake’s biggest live show moments
For this installment of “Tour Tales,” veteran tour manager Ravi Shelton talks hitting the road with Drake, Cardi B, Lauryn Hill and more.
Ravi Shelton is more than a tour manager, he’s a live show magician able to make problems disappear for artists like Drake and Cardi B. For nearly 20 years, he’s seen first-hand what it takes to get A-list artists to make unforgettable moments on the stage.
“About five or six people knew about it when he brought out JAY. He would say, ‘I’m going to bring my guy, we’re going to do our record, and I promise it’s going to shut it down,’” Shelton told REVOLT of his time working with Jeezy. “But he wouldn’t tell us who it was until two days before. I think we had to give him $75,000 for the jet and he covered all the other costs.”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Cardi B and Drake’s tour manager explains how LeBron James ended up on Drake’s stage performing with Travis Scott. He also talks Cardi B climbing the rafters at Made in America and why none of your favorite live show moments would’ve happened without a good team.
When did you get started in live shows?
Birthday Bash has produced some amazing live moments. What were your favorite moments from Birthday Bashes you produced?
There have been a couple. We had one where Usher brought out T.I., Nelly, Lil Wayne, Kelly Rowland and a bunch of people. We had Jeezy bring out JAY-Z once. We had Jeezy bring out Kanye West. 2 Chainz brought out Drake once. It was always about the shock factor.
How do you prepare for that as a producer when it comes to bringing out an artist of JAY-Z’s stature?
We were working with Jeezy’s management at the time, Kinky B. Jeezy used to always nickname himself ‘Mr. Birthday Bash’ for years because he’d always bring someone out every year, and it would be a crazy experience. About five or six people knew about it when he brought out JAY. He would say, ‘I’m going to bring my guy, we’re going to do our record, and I promise it’s going to shut it down.’ But he wouldn’t tell us who it was until two days before. I think we had to give him $75,000 for the jet and he covered all the other costs. We got the money to him, and I remember meeting with him and Kink at Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles restaurant. I was also with this woman who was helping me produce it. He was like, ‘Yo, I’m going to bring JAY-Z.’ We looked at each other like, ‘What?’ They had the song ‘Go Crazy (Remix).’ JAY comes out and gets maybe eight bars in at the show before the whole arena is in an uproar. He couldn’t even finish his verse. At that point, they stopped the song and Jeezy was like, ‘Do you want to do something else?’ JAY was like, ‘I’ll do a little something.’ Then, he performed a few songs. The only time you were getting a JAY-Z show is if JAY came there on tour. We had those relationships where we give the platform, and the artist just delivers.
It was the same thing with 2 Chainz bringing out Drake. Chainz was like, ‘Yo, I want to bring Drake. I just need y’all to cover the jet.’ I had a great relationship with Drake; I’ve known him and his crew for years. When I was talking to his manager at the time, he was like, ‘We want to come. We’re going to make it happen. Y’all just have to keep it a secret.’ There were only two or three people who knew.
You can’t predict everything that’s going to happen on tour. So, what are some problems you had to handle on the fly at a show?
When we did Bonaroo with [Cardi B], we all wear in-ear [monitors] when she’s performing, and I have a mic I can talk to her on that she can hear. I told her while she was performing, ‘Your ass is out.’ She looked over when she was performing like, ‘What?’ I was like, ‘Next song, go to stage left.’ She goes stage left, and her stylist is there and tells her, ‘Just take this outfit off.’ Moments like that stay burned in your brain.
How do you adapt to crucial moments like that so quickly?
You have to have an amazing team. The motto is always, ‘The show must go on.’ You never want to upset the patron that’s coming to see the artist. In those moments, Cardi’s stylist was like, ‘I need two minutes.’ By the time Cardi got to the side, the stylist was already ready with two outfits and two robes. Her DJ played two songs and she was back on stage. You have to be able to move on the fly and anticipate the craziest stuff. It’s all about the team.
Let’s back up a bit. I know you did Birthday Bash for seven years. How did you get into touring?
I got into it through Tina Farris. I met her in 2011 and we became really good friends. I would tell her, ‘I’m going on the road’ and she’d be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever.’ I remember she called me asking, ‘Can you fill in for me for two weeks?’ I was like, ‘Cool,’ thinking it was going to be a little baby act. Then she told me, ‘The client is Lauryn Hill.’ At first, we did a show at some bar in L.A. Then, we went to Austin, Texas. Ms. Hill and I hit it off instantly. I never look at artists like they’re on this pedestal. I just treat them like regular people. I’m not a yes-man. I’m not here to just say ‘yes’ and give you whatever you want. We had a great working relationship. I worked with her from 2015 to 2017. We still talk ‘til this day. Whenever I’m in Jersey, I try to go see her.
You’ve made the impossible possible for so many shows. What’s been your favorite miracle you’ve made happen?
Drake and Meek Mill performing after the beef on the ‘Aubrey & the Three Migos Tour’ in 2018. We wanted to do it in Philly, but we had to first do it in Boston. We did it in Boston and it was insane, so we had to do it in Philly. When we got to Philly, everyone was thinking it was going to happen, so we didn’t do it the first night. When we did it the second night, it was insane. On that tour alone, I probably had four [miracles]. The night we had Travis Scott perform with Drake at the Staples Center when LeBron came on stage with them is one. JAY-Z and Beyoncé were watching the show. LeBron and his squad were watching the show. When we took LeBron backstage, he told Drake, ‘I want to come on stage when you guys do ‘Sicko Mode.’’ He was so hyped. I remember going to get him and JAY was like, ‘What are you doing?’ LeBron was like, ‘I’m going on stage to be a rapper for 10 minutes.’ He was so excited to go on stage for that part.
What goes into making a Lauryn Hill show?
It’s like a pot of gumbo. It’s going to be good, but you have to take your time with it (laughs). With Ms. Hill, we have the band and everybody there, but talent is going to go on stage when talent wants to go on stage. We were getting her on stage on time from the end of 2016-May 2017 before I left. I don’t know what happened, but there was a show she came out an hour late. The next time was an hour and a half. I started seeing all of the articles. This lady was our tour director, Rebekah Foster, and I’d go to her like, ‘OK, today, who’s going to be the bad cop and who’s going to be the good cop?’ We worked out this system where she’d go in like, ‘Hey, we need to start moving’ and I’d come in like, ‘Hey, they’re not going to pay you if you don’t go on stage in the next 20 minutes.’
When did you start working with Drake?
I started working with Drake in 2018. Before I was with Drake, I was with this kid SuperDuperKyle. He was about to go on tour with Logic and he was doing Coachella. At the top of 2018, they asked me if I would go on tour with him. They had a guy who was working with him by the name of Jesus. That was his best friend and he wanted to learn how to be a tour manager. He didn’t really know. They asked if I would come in for six months so this kid could learn from me. I did Coachella with them and showed him how to break down a set. I guided him through production and how to become a tour manager. Now, Jesus is his tour manager. I was with them until August 2018. The last show I did was August 1, 2018 and then I went straight into the Drake shit. We started in Missouri or something. I remember us doing 2 1/2 weeks of rehearsal and then we started. I remember Drake saw me and was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I told him, ‘I’m tour managing this tour.’ He was like, ‘You’ve been on so many tours with us. How is this your first time as tour manager?’ I used to go on tour with them because my guy and I used to do all of their afterparties. ‘Would You Like A Tour?’ in 2013, ‘Summer Sixteen,’ we did all of them. So, Drake was like, ‘You’re going to be the tour manager? Oh, this is going to be the most lit tour ever.’
What were some of the biggest responsibilities you had working with Drake?
He’s one of the most hospitable people when he has guests coming in town. For example, the same night JAY and Beyoncé came to his show, LeBron and his crew came. We had a VIP riser that held maybe 150 people on two different tiers. For JAY, Beyoncé and LeBron, he put couches up there. He put their favorite wine. He had bartenders on each side to cater to them. He got JAY and Beyoncé’s rider and gave them a dressing room with all of their shit on their rider. He put their favorite wine. He put the apple juice she likes. If you’re an invited guest of Drake’s, you’re getting the best experience. We’ve had almost everybody come to see his show. Michelle Obama came to the show in London. One of her daughters came when we were in D.C. Secret Service met with us and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to bring Sasha.’ Sasha came backstage. We did our prayer before every show and Drake was like, ‘Hey, I want Sasha to be in the prayer with us.’
When we got to Chicago, Virgil [Abloh] came because he and Drake were good friends. We made sure Virgil could pull his truck all the way in. Virgil chilled in Drake’s dressing room until the show started. Then, we escorted him to the VIP riser. These are Drake’s friends. At the end of the night, Virgil was like, ‘Y’all were really on point. Y’all took care of me. I’m going to try to come back for the next few nights.’ He was like, ‘Can I just hit y’all?’ He would hit me every night and we’d set it up. We did that for so many people. It got crazy in Paris because you had the soccer players. In London, we had soccer players.
Ravi Shelton with Drake’s engineer/producer Noah “40” Shebib
How dedicated is Drake to his live show?
We had three creative teams working on content when he built this show. We had people living in this arena doing this content and building out the show. That full LED stage took us two months to get to that point. Two other stages got built and then scrapped. He was thinking they could project so many different, crazy content things that’ll look amazing. He wanted it to be seamless. He’s hands-on involved with everything. If the show is in two hours, he’s like, ‘Let’s look at the content. I’ll tell you what I don’t like and what I do.’ On the Drake staff for that tour, we probably had 170 people on staff. He and Future would come up with some of the concepts, and then they’d sit down with the design team, content team, video team, production team, lighting team and pyro team. It literally takes a village to pull off all of this stuff. Everybody has to be involved with every aspect of it to pull it off. It’s crazy. I think we had two issues on the U.S. tour where the pyro caught fire twice and we had to bring the stage down to put the pyro out. Other than that, I don’t think we had any issues after that.
How did you connect with Cardi?
The Migos were on the Drake tour and I’ve known Coach K for 18 years. I knew Coach K when he used to manage Jeezy. Coach was like, ‘You’re so organized. I love the way you move. I’d love to bring you in for Cardi.’ I was like, ‘Alright, cool. Let’s set up a meeting.’ The Drake tour ended in November and he was like, ‘Let’s have a meeting at the top of January.’ I went and met with them around the time the Super Bowl was in Atlanta. She was like, ‘What can you do?’ I broke it all down and she was like, ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ They were going to the Grammys in a few weeks and Coach and P were like, ‘Come to the Grammys, assess everything that’s going on, and tell us what needs to change.’ I went to the Grammys and saw her entire show. I go back to Atlanta and I send them this 10-paragraph email. I don’t hear from them for a month. I was thinking, ‘I guess I didn’t get the job,’ so I went on the European run with Drake. That went from March until the end of April. Coach and P hit me at the end of April like, ‘Yo, we didn’t hear from you.’ I told them, ‘I sent you guys an email.’ They told me, ‘The email went to spam.’ They wanted to do a conference call when they saw it and they hired me to join Cardi’s team. I came in and the first few things I did with her were in June when we did BET Awards, one-off shows, and Bonaroo. We built a rapport. I always kept it 100 with her. I never sugarcoated anything. She’d ask me, ‘What do you think of this song?’ I’d tell her, ‘It’s cool but it’s not a hit.’ In 2019, we did so much. We went to Africa together. In 2020, the pandemic hit.
What was going through your mind when she climbed the side of the Made In America stage in 2019?
I was like, ‘If this motherfucker falls.’ The day before, we were at rehearsal and her security was on the stage. I usually stand on the stage but off to the side. I thought I’d stand near this ladder for some reason so she doesn’t climb up it during the performance. In rehearsal, she was like, ‘I might climb this ladder.’ I was like, ‘No, you’re not.’ She was like, ‘Yes, I am.’ I was like, ‘No, you’re not.’ She was like, ‘You’re not the boss of me.’ I thought she was joking. Sure enough, I’m standing on the side of the stage and she comes running over there and starts climbing the ladder. I told security to get his ass over there, so he ran over there. It was crazy. I was literally freaking out while my phone was blowing up from Live Nation people while this was happening.
Cardi still hasn’t had a nationwide tour yet.
We’re actually planning the tour now, and we were talking about it. She was supposed to go on separate tours with Post Malone, Maroon 5, and Bruno Mars but couldn’t because she got pregnant and had other reasons.
What do you have coming up for the rest of the year?
Drake is tentative; we’re trying to map out his tour now. Cardi is going to do festivals this summer, like Wireless Festival, and then we have some stuff to plan for the fall. I don’t just do touring for Cardi. I oversee all the business stuff for her. Tina hit me recently like, ‘Do you want to do Something In The Water with me for Syd?’ I told her, ‘I probably could do it for you.’ Then she said, ‘Do you want to work at The Roots Picnic with me?’ I told her, ‘I can’t do all of these.’ I can do a few days, but I can’t when it becomes more than that. I have too much going on.
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