Often considered the greatest rapper of all time, your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper’s favourite rapper, The God MC, Rakim has returned to Toronto. While I didn’t grow up on his music, I studied his work years after I got into hip-hop, with my first couple times hearing him being on Eminem’s 8 Mile Soundtrack and Jay-Z’s Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse albums. I’ve since listened to his entire discography, and I even caught a glimpse of his presence at the 2010 Rock The Bells festival in New York, but this would be my first time seeing him perform live. People say his set gets repetitive over time because he rarely releases any new music, but there are still plenty of younger folks like myself who have yet to witness the greatness.
The only other time I’ve been to The Phoenix Concert Theatre was for the Deltron 3030 show last October, and it proved to be a great venue. This time was no different, as I got in early and waited for the opening acts to get things started. All local Canadian acts, the openers had both some new and familiar faces. Alex Dewitt came out and did his thing, and he was followed by Harvey Dentist and Gene One, who were at The Cookout last week. After Harvey Dentist rocked out with their live band, another band called Intoxicated Prophets rocked the house with a blend of rock and rap. Next was Marmel Entertainment, who I had seen perform at least three other times in the past year.
A note to any up and coming rappers: opening acts are easy to forget, but guys like Suspect and his Marmel ENT crew become familiar by doing so many shows. After Marmel was a rapper called Made Wade and a group called THC, and then the final opening act was Robbie G. He brought a few guests with him to perform, including two DJs, one working an MPC and the other working turntables, and Molly Gruesome, who I’ve seen perform almost as much as the Marmel Entertainment roster. While all of the opening acts were dope (especially the ones with the live instruments), you could tell the crowd just wanted to see Rakim. The hosts did a good job at keeping the crowd entertained while we waited, even spitting their own acapella verses (and shoutout to them for pointing out how fly my shirt was).
Rakim came out showing love immediately, taking time to clap hands with the people up front before even beginning his set. He began by showing us both his oldest and newest work, starting with “My Melody” off his 1987 album Paid In Full, and then going right into “Holy Are U” off 2009’s The Seventh Seal. Next he did “Guess Who’s Back” and “It’s Been A Long Time” before diving into his older work with Eric B. Of his four classic albums from 1987-1992, he performed hits like “In The Ghetto”, “Move The Crowd”, “Don’t Sweat The Technique” and “Microphone Fiend”.
Like most hip-hop legends I’ve seen, Rakim’s performance is executed masterfully with years of practice. With no hypeman, he raps every lyric of his songs unless he wants the crowd to shout them, during which he might act out what the lyric says. He also controls the stage gracefully, showing equal love to both sides of the stage and sometimes even rapping into people’s cameras. He continued the show with a softer section for the ladies, performing “What’s On Your Mind” and “Mahogany” before getting back to the more hype tracks. He did “I Know You Got Soul”, “I Ain’t No Joke”, “Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em”, and even performed his verse from Jay-Z and Dr. Dre’s “The Watcher 2”.
At one point Rakim said he was going to bring his dog on stage, and I started thinking maybe DMX somehow made it into Canada and they would perform that new track together, but then Rakim literally brought his pet dog on stage. After letting his dog run around on stage for a bit, he got into the final segment of his set, performing some of the biggest hits of his career. He performed “Know The Ledge (Juice)” and then did “Paid In Full”, except once the verse hit, he let the crowd rap the entire thing while he acted out the lyrics. He finally did a bit of “When I B On The Mic” before clapping hands with the crowd again and walking off stage.
Overall, this was another dope show and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to see the legendary Rakim perform. He took a traditional approach with just himself and his DJ on stage, but that’s all you need when you have as much classic material as Rakim. His performance was damn near flawless, and the crowd helped make it that way by knowing the right lyrics to shout out. The Phoenix was a great venue as usual, and I think everyone there seemed to have an awesome night.
Bonus vid (not from the concert, but Rakim’s latest release from this year):
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