North By Northeast, or NXNE for short, is one of the biggest music and art festivals in Canada. On top of the many wrist-band concerts and shows put on throughout Toronto every June, there is also a set of free concerts in Dundas Square, with different days dedicated to different genres. I’ve previously attended their free hip-hop showcase, seeing Action Bronson, Killer Mike, and Raekwon & Ghostface Killah in 2012, Smith-N-Wesson, Joey Bada$$ and Ludacris in 2013, and now this 2014 show would be headlined by Juicy J.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of Juicy J. I enjoyed some of his hits with Three 6 Mafia when I was in high school, like “Stay Fly” and “Doe Boy Fresh”, but I haven’t heard much of their material. I also only decided earlier this week to check out his solo album, 2013’s Stay Trippy, just so I wouldn’t be completely out of the loop at this show. The album doesn’t really fit my tastes, but I can see the strip club appeal it has. The fourteen-year-old version of myself would love Stay Trippy.
Even though I’m not the biggest Juicy J fan, this show caught my interest with the guys opening for him: Run The Jewels. Together as Run The Jewels, Killer Mike and El-P have released one of the best albums of 2013, and they also went on tour with one of the best shows I attended last year. They are currently working on a follow-up to their self-titled debut album from last year, and as I had predicted, they have returned to Toronto on a much bigger stage.
When I got to Dundas Square, Ratking was just wrapping up his set, as I tried to find my way around the slightly altered layout from previous years. For 2014, NXNE added a special balcony for wristband purchasers to go along with the usual barricaded section to the left of the stage for alcoholics of legal age to drink in. I found my way into the 19+ section and got a beer with a few minutes to spare before Run The Jewels hit the stage. I didn’t like the new process NXNE made where you had to purchase a drink ticket before being able to actually purchase your drink, but it wasn’t a big deal.
Unlike their own independent tour last year, where Killer Mike and El-P each had solo sets before they got on stage together, Run The Jewels came out all at once to “We Are The Champions” by Queen before getting into the title track off their self-titled album. They then proceeded with the rest of the album, performing most of it in order from front to back. Killer Mike’s microphone was a little low on volume to start, but they brought enough energy to overcome that issue. While I was hoping to see some of their solo songs performed, they simply stuck to the Run The Jewels album, ending with “A Christmas F***ing Miracle”. They did however replace the song “Twin Hype Back” with a brand new one they’ve only performed two other times ever, and they announced that we won’t have to wait long for their second album to come out.
After the awesome Run The Jewels set, Juicy J came out with a live band to recreate his beats. While Juicy J was dope with the energy he brought, his fans were really lame, elbowing people in the back of the head to push their way to the front. His female fans were pretty cool, trying to maintain the peace, but his male fans reeked of “ratchetness” as they had no regard for the people around them. I’m used to the fun mosh pits at Wu-Tang and Tech N9ne concerts, and I expect stupid behaviour from teenagers (like at the Classified concert last week), but this show had grown men using their body language to say “f*** you, get behind me or get knocked out”.
Anyway, in between dealing with Juicy J’s douchebag fans, I noticed he performed a bunch of songs off Stay Trippy like “Smokin’ Rollin”, “So Much Money”, “Bounce It”, and “Scholarship”. He also did some old Three 6 Mafia hits like “Stay Fly”, “Poppin’ My Collar” and “Tear Da Club Up”, as well as his newer guest features on Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus songs. You could tell Juicy J was all about the “ratchet” folks, as people got more turned up for his teases to offer shots from his bottle of Hennessy and even his gold chains than the actual music. While he used a lot of empty offers like this to get the crowd involved, Juicy J did sign a pair of Jordan sneakers and threw them into the crowd at one point, because Juicy J fans seem to be cookie-cutter stereotypes.
Overall, I think NXNE has been slowly declining over the past couple years, at least on the hip-hop side of things. While the opening acts have always been solid, the headliners have gone from hip-hop legends to stereotypical pop rappers. Juicy J isn’t such a bad artist, but his fans really make him look bad, and I think NXNE needs to think about what type of crowd they want to attract going forward. To me, this didn’t seem like a music-loving crowd but more of a brain-dead, materialistic type of crowd (at least when Juicy J got on stage). Juicy J had a good set, but I feel like he’s not quite a good fit as a festival headliner.
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