HOUSTON -- Hip hop superstar Drake has sold out plenty of shows during his time as a rap artist, but he'll never forget his first sellout -- and that's one of the reasons why he's in Houston this week.
Warehouse Live, less than a half-mile from Minute Maid Park, was the site of that first sellout five years ago. Though he was born and raised in Toronto and has no family ties here, Houston is special to Drake. Not only did he have that first memorable performance, this is where he flew to meet Lil Wayne, who told a then-unknown Drake that he was interested in his music and wanted to meet him.
Drake booked a flight to Houston, waited about eight hours to meet the rapper and the rest, as they say, is history.
"It's where I birthed my entire career," Drake said of the Bayou City.
Clearly, Drake's ties to Houston run deep, and they're sincere. He even has the body art to back it up -- "I have it tattooed on my skin, and in my heart," he said to a roomful of kids at Minute Maid Park prior to the Astros' game on Thursday.
Drake hosted more than 50 children from the Astros Urban Youth Academy and RBI program for a special meet-and-greet in a room near the Astros' clubhouse, where he gave an impromptu speech and answered a few questions from the crowd.
The event, during which Drake provided the kids with dinner and tickets to the game, kicked off the singer's three-day Houston Appreciation Weekend, which will continue on Friday with a concert at Warehouse Live.
Caitlin Moerbe, a 19-year-old college student, asked Drake what keeps him coming back to Houston.
"It's just a culture that doesn't exist anywhere else that exists here," Drake answered. "It's about how proud people are to be from Houston."
He compared it with how Jamaicans feel about their native land.
"You go to Jamaica, and all anyone wants to talk about is Jamaica," he said. "All they want to do is listen to music from Jamaica, they're going to tell you where the best places are to go eat food in Jamaica."
Houston, Drake said, is "a lot like that."
"They're very proud of the culture here," he added. "You can play the biggest rap record in the world, but nothing's going to get more of a reaction than something that's classic Houston music, and I love that. It shows a loyalty to me."
Houston is also where Drake met longtime Astros supporter and rapper Bun B, who offered early encouragement as Drake built his music career.
Since then, Drake has been outspoken in his support of Houston-based organizations, sports teams and initiatives.
In fact, his song "November 18th" is about Houston.
"I was really nervous, because I made a song for a city that I wasn't from, a brand of music that didn't necessarily belong to me, because I'm from Canada," he said. "And I got accepted. They listened to it, they loved it, they made it one of their anthems here."