Don’t you just love it when something great happens that you didn’t plan for, and it fits perfectly with everything else going on in your life? That’s exactly what happened here, as this isn’t even one of the four shows I said I had planned in my previous blog post, but it came together at the last minute. Tickets for this show were given away for free and were already gone by the time I heard about it, but luckily some people couldn’t make it and had extras on Kijiji.ca. It’s very rare to see an indoor venue with limited capacity host a free show, so let’s get into what’s so special about this one.
Those who already follow me know I saw Ghostface Killah perform in Scarborough just this past November. He’s been really busy since then, releasing A Better Tomorrow with the Wu-Tang Clan, a solo album 36 Seasons with The Revelations, and just a few days from now he will release yet another solo album, Sour Soul with Toronto’s own BADBADNOTGOOD. This would be my seventh time seeing Ghostface Killah perform, and each show has been different in its own way. This show would be unique in that Ghost would be previewing the unreleased new album with BBNG, in possibly the smallest venue I’ve seen him perform in. I had previously been to The Opera House twice in 2012 (before I started this blog) to see Heavy Metal Kings (Vinnie Paz & ILL Bill) and CunninLynguists, but had not been back since.
BADBADNOTGOOD is a jazz band from Toronto that has a major Hip-Hop influence, and this Sour Souls collaborative album with Ghostface may very well be their biggest full-length project to date. Before this show, my only other time seeing them perform was at the 2012 Manifesto Festival, where they backed Pharoahe Monch for his headlining set. They can definitely rock out when they perform live, but I was especially excited to hear these new songs off Sour Soul. I had only heard the lead single “Ray Gun” featuring DOOM at this point.
After a short line outside in -25 degree weather, we got inside The Opera House and Brampton’s own Raz Fresco shortly got on stage to open for the main headliners. He did a good job getting the crowd pumped up as we hit the merch booth and I picked up an early copy of the new Sour Souls album. After Raz Fresco’s half-hour set, the venue started to get filled to its capacity. There was a short wait before the original three members of BADBADNOTGOOD got on stage and rocked some of their instrumental tracks on drums, keys and a bass guitar. While I’m not familiar with their instrumental albums, they did say that some of the songs were from the album III, and some were brand new and never heard before.
About halfway through their set, occasional collaborator Leland Whitty came out to join them on saxophone, as they went through even more original instrumental tracks. The crowd got really involved, clapping along to the beat for some songs during the 45-minute set. After BBNG’s awesome blend of Jazz, Hip-Hop and Rock, Leland switched from saxophone to guitar, and they stayed on stage to get right into the next part of the show: their collaboration with Ghostface Killah.
Ghostface Killah, accompanied by Killah Priest, walked on stage epically as BBNG played the instrumental from Wu-Tang Clan’s “I Can’t Go To Sleep“. After a quick greeting, they got right into a medley of Ghost’s solo hits including “Run”, “Daytona 500” and “Nutmeg” to start. Ghost showed off his vicious flow on these tracks while Killah Priest performed hypeman duties. It was really special hearing BADBADNOTGOOD play live versions of these classic instrumentals, as Ghost and Killah Priest sang along to “Irons Theme Intermission” before doing some more Supreme Clientele hits like “One” and “We Made It”.
The band would take short breaks between segments of songs, and Ghost would use the time to talk to the crowd. He told us how he felt he was just beginning the second half of his career, comparing it to hitting and breaking through “the wall” in a marathon. Next, BBNG played an amazing live version of “4th Chamber” that Ghost and Killah Priest both rapped their verses to. While they didn’t do any of the new songs off Sour Soul, they did play the instrumental from “Ray Gun” which Killah Priest spit a freestyle to. After this, they did a cool segment where they performed the first verse of “Mighty Healthy” and transitioned smoothly into Kanye West’s “New God Flow”, where Ghost performed his verse to the epic keyboard.
Ghost was so impressed by BADBADNOTGOOD’s live interpretation of classic rap beats that he got them to perform Nas’ “The World Is Yours”, and he rapped the first verse of the song. They kept it in 1993 with a medley of Wu-Tang Clan hits including “Tearz” and “Can It Be All So Simple”, where Ghost performed RZA and Raekwon’s verses respectively. They even did The Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps In The Dark” (which is famously sampled in Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day”) and Ghost rapped his verse from “Wisdom Body” over it. Ghost then got into a speech comparing Michael Jackson’s popularity to Jesus, and how he was in Australia when he heard of Michael’s death, before BBNG played a great cover of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”.
Continuing with the theme of dead legends, Ghostface of course started telling stories of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, how ODB used to drink with his mom and that time he rode a limousine to pick up welfare cheques. They kept up the tradition of playing his two biggest hits as tribute to the fallen Wu-Tang member, but it was even more special seeing the beats from “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” recreated by BADBADNOTGOOD. They then ended the show with a couple more Wu-Tang Clan classics: “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin Ta F’ Wit” and “C.R.E.A.M.”. Again, Ghostface rapped RZA and Raekwon’s verses before the band played him out, and he closed with the usual Peace chant.
Overall, this was an awesome show. Having seen Ghostface perform in many different settings and with different artists, this one was special because of the live instrumentation from BADBADNOTGOOD. Although they didn’t do much of the new album at all, it was still great seeing BBNG nail those classic beats. It was also cool hearing the stories and comments Ghostface had for us between segments, including how he plans to buy a home here in Toronto and how Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry is his favourite album of his. He also mentioned some key plans he has for Canada this year: he’s supposedly going on a 17-day tour of Canada this spring with GZA and Cappadonna, and he’ll also be promoting an event to find new, undiscovered Hip-Hop talent around the country.
While Ghostface was the frontman on the microphone, BADBADNOTGOOD were the real stars of the show. They rocked some wicked instrumentals on their own, making me want to check out their albums, and they showed great chemistry when Ghostface joined them on stage. The future looks bright for the young, hometown band. The Opera House proved to be a solid host for small-venue shows, although it was hard to see the stage if you were stuck in the back of the main floor and not above the stairs. The vintage look of the building suited this evening of classic Hip-Hop well.
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