After forming a group and releasing one of the best Hip-Hop albums of 2014 just a couple months ago, Royce Da 5’9″ and DJ Premier have gone on tour together to promote their PRhyme album. While this is their first album working together as PRhyme, Royce and Premo are both legends in this genre, each having been releasing music for over 15 and 25 years respectively. DJ Premier is often regarded as one of the greatest Hip-Hop producers of all time, who made his name as part of the group Gang Starr through the 1980’s and 90’s, and also produced tracks for Nas, Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Apathy, Vinnie Paz, Joey Bada$$ and Royce himself, to name a few. Royce Da 5’9″ however, is one of my personal favourite MCs.
Royce’s style, attitude, values and sense of humour make him very relatable, and his sharp rhymes and clever punchlines make him likeable for any true Hip-Hop fan. He has a strong solo discography, and has also released projects with Eminem as Bad Meets Evil, with Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz and Crooked I as Slaughterhouse, and now with DJ Premier as PRhyme. While I’ve been trying to see Royce in concert for years, I did get to see DJ Premier perform as a guest during Nas’ headlining Illmatic set at the 2011 Rock The Bells festival in New York. Slaughterhouse also performed at that same festival, but I was only able to catch the last 30 seconds of their set. They were also supposed to perform here at this same venue about a year ago, but cancelled the entire tour to continue to record new music.
Tattoo is a small nightclub in downtown Toronto, and the only other time I was here was to see a DJ set by Questlove last summer. The last time I was here, I remember it being so packed that it was hard to move, and I was hoping that even though the tickets for this show were sold out, they didn’t over-sell the venue again. When I got to the venue though, it was evident that they over-packed it; the line to get inside stretched over a block away and it took over half an hour of standing in the cold to get into Tattoo.
By the time we got inside, the local openers Notes To Self were already on stage, and they were gone by the time we worked our way through the crowd to get to the bar. After we warmed up with an ice-cold beer, the main opener Your Old Droog got on stage. Droog is a new artist on the Hip-Hop scene, originally gaining popularity last year because people thought his songs were by Nas using a different name, until he revealed himself to be a Ukrainian-American man from Brooklyn, New York. While his voice can sound similar to Nas at times, his style, energy and stage presence makes him stand out.
Your Old Droog performed songs off his new Kinison EP, which I haven’t had the chance to hear yet, and tracks off of the original Your Old Droog EP including “You Know What Time It Is” and “Bad To The Bone”. Unlike Nas (at least the Nas in this decade), Droog spits pretty much every word in his verses, and delivers crisp vocals so even the uninitiated can pick up his lyrics. He also has simple enough hooks for the crowd to chant along with. After a solid half-hour set, Your Old Droog left the stage, and about another half-hour later it was PRhyme time.
DJ Premier came out first and got the crowd hyped up before Royce came out to one of their classic songs together, the highly appropriate “Hip Hop”. Next, they immediately dove into the title track off of their PRhyme album, with Royce spitting all three verses. They continued with an unreleased song that may be on the upcoming deluxe edition of PRhyme called “Shot In The Heart”, before getting back into more songs off the new album including “U Looz” and “Courtesy”. Next, DJ Premier did some scratches to remake the hook from “Y’all Ready Know” off of the new Shady XV compilation album, which turned into a Slaughterhouse segment.
Royce performed his verse from “Y’all Ready Know” followed by some classics off the first Slaughterhouse album, “Sound Off” and “Microphone”. Hearing those Slaughterhouse tracks reminded me of the time I saw Joell Ortiz nail his verses from the same songs at another small-venue show almost two years ago. After Royce nailed his own verses just as good, Premo took the time to quickly talk about the first time he ever heard any music by Royce Da 5’9″. This led us into a Bad Meets Evil segment, as they went back to 1999 with “Scary Movies” before jumping ahead to 2011 with “Fast Lane”. While Royce was performing his verses from “Fast Lane”, his brother Kid Vishis came out and played a hypeman role.
A small mention was made that Shady XV is in stores before they got into the mega hit “Detroit Vs. Everybody”, with Royce nailing his verse from the original song and Kid Vishis spitting his verse from the remix. Royce then walked off stage and allowed Kid Vishis to take over with a dope acapella freestyle verse. Vishis also walked off, and it was time for DJ Premier to take us on a sampling journey. Premo got into a DJ segment where he’d play a song that was sampled by either himself or another producer, and follow it up with the classic Hip-Hop song the sample helped create.
Premo’s DJ segment got into some real classic Hip-Hop, showing us the samples from his own productions like Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind” and “Nas Is Like“, Jay-Z’s “A Million and One Questions“, Biggie’s “Ten Crack Commandments“, and Gang Starr’s “Mass Appeal“. Every time he got into the actual Hip-Hop song the sample ended up making, the crowd would rap every word to the song with him. Aside from his own beats, he also showed love to Havoc’s beat from Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Part II“. After this segment, Royce Da 5’9” came back on stage and rocked another Premo beat, “Shake This” off of 2009’s Street Hop.
Royce took some time to talk to us, saying that he’s come a long way getting to know himself after being two years sober, and that he wanted to tell us a story so we could get to know him better. He told a story of his childhood, how he was always a bad kid in school, but one day got in trouble because of a homework assignment where he had to rework a nursery rhyme. I won’t spoil the ending since they’re still on tour, but it’s hilarious. As Royce was telling the story, Premo was working on building up a beat, and this turned into another PRhyme performance with “You Should Know”.
Next, Royce and Preem said they would do a traditional MC-DJ segment where they would perform off each other’s queues, and this led into my favourite song off the new album, “Wishin'” (and what better song to showcase the MC-DJ connection?!). This immediately turned into “Underground Kings” before they closed the show with their obvious classic hit together: “Boom”! The crowed really got energized, knowing this was likely the last song of the evening. Royce thanked the crowd, saying that this was the best show of the PRhyme Tour so far, and Premo and Kid Vishis clapped hands with the fans in the front row.
Overall, while Tattoo had its flaws as a venue, it was still an awesome show. Royce and Preem did all but three songs off their new album together, and also got into a fair amount of their older classics. While the Slaughterhouse songs were cool, I would have liked to see more of Royce and Preem’s collaborations over the years get performed, like “Hit Em”, “My Friend”, “Writers Block (Remix)”, and/or “Second Place”. Regardless, it was still a great overall performance touching on most of Royce’s albums, with a strong focus on the new material. It was my first time seeing Royce perform, and the man nailed damn near every word in every verse he spit. He is a true MC who raps as good in person as he does in the studio, and does a good job at moving the crowd.
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