This show came up last minute, but it’s hip-hop and it was free, so of course I’d check it out. I may be putting myself in an embarrassing position here, but going into this show I had not heard any full-length albums by any of the artists on the bill, with the exception of listening to Maestro’s 2013 album (Orchestrated Noise) earlier this week. I have an Alec Baldwin-like voice in my head saying “you call yourself a Canadian hip-hop fan, you son of a b****???”. I don’t always go to shows with artists I’m unfamiliar with, let alone write reviews for them, but I’ll give it a shot.
Of the names on the bill, I’m completely unfamiliar with Michie Mee and Jelleestone. I’ve heard a couple Choclair and Saukrates songs before, but never took the time to check out any of their albums. I’m probably most familiar with Saukrates, as I’ve heard a lot of his collaborations with Method Man, Redman, Shad, K-Os, and Kardinal Offishall. I’ve actually seen him perform with Shad back in January. And then there’s Maestro Fresh-Wes, the Canadian hip-hop legend. The truth is I first got into hip-hop around 2001, by which time Maestro had stopped making music and wouldn’t release another album until 2013. People my age probably know him better as the gym teacher in the TV sitcom Mr. D, or any of his other acting roles, but I did check out his most recent album before going to this show.
First up on stage was Choclair, who went through some hits most of the crowd knew. The one song I knew in his set was “Northern Touch”, but even the ones I didn’t know were hype. While Choclair’s set was good to set things off, it also reflected his lack of material as he spent some time going through short covers of other artists’ hits like M.O.P., Pharoahe Monch, Busta Rhymes, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and others. Michie Mee came on next and showed us why she’s considered a Toronto legend. She performed some songs from the 1980’s and delivered a wide variety of flows effortlessly. Her speedy flows and Jamaican slang had the crowd hyped, and she can sing too.
Next to get on stage was Jelleestone. I wasn’t familiar at all with his music, and to be honest I didn’t take much of it in as I spent most of the time during his set meeting friends, using the washroom and buying drinks. I do remember the music being dope and the crowd still engaged though. Shortly after Jelleestone left the stage, Saukrates got on. Saukrates kept the crowd hype with a bunch of his hits, including “On The Run”. Maybe it’s just me, but his stage presence and mannerisms reminded me of Redman (in a good way).
While this show was meant to showcase some of Toronto’s hip-hop veterans, Maestro Fresh-Wes got to headline it, as he has the most seniority with his first album coming out in 1989. He started things off with his early single “Let Your Backbone Slide” and kept the crowd live throughout his set. While Maestro was on stage, I ran into Saukrates in the crowd and got to take a photo with him. I would also get to meet Maestro after the show and let him know that he has fans who were just being born when his first album dropped. While he didn’t perform any of his newer songs, he kept the party going with his old school hits and closed the show with his 1991 hit “Conducting Thangs”.
Overall this was a fun show, with this being the first of many G98.7 FM apparently has planned for the city. It was good (especially for younger fans like myself) to see the older Toronto acts that helped pave the way for the ones I grew up on. Each artist had around equal-length sets and they all shined in their own way. The Hard Rock Café also proved to be a great venue for hip-hop, and I hope to see more shows there in the future. While the restaurant itself is a natural tourist attraction, the separate stage area upstairs has a nice atmosphere for live shows. As long as you don’t show up late and get stuck watching from behind the bar (although this show didn’t seem that packed), there’s not much to complain about.
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