The Strange Music roster is slowly building their presence north of the border. Label head Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko have spent years consistently selling out the Rockpile every time they tour Canada, upgrading last year to the larger Phoenix Concert Theatre, and Rittz and ¡Mayday! each had their first shows in Canada in 2015, hitting this same venue for their Toronto stops. 2016 has seen Rittz release a new album, Top of the Line, and it has been his first time specifically touring through all of Canada, starting on the west coast and ending with this show in Toronto.
Rittz has released three albums on the Strange Music label, although I’m personally only familiar with two of them: his 2013 debut Life & Times of Jonny Valiant, and his new album he’s currently promoting, Top of the Line. He has a similar skill set as the rest of the Strange Music roster with his ability to spit rapid-fire flows and harmonized vocals. The way he’s able to stand out is his albums get real personal, and he rarely includes guest features from his label mates, with the exception of Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko. This would be my first time seeing him perform live.
As with most Rockpile shows, there was a ton of local talent there to warm up the crowd. I got to the venue about two hours after doors had opened, and while the crowd was still kind of small, they got hyped for some of the openers. MCs like Brad Shank and Gamble The Greedy Grin had good mic presence, spitting rapid-fire verses and having some dope hooks for the crowd to chant along to. Smooth’s set didn’t go so smoothly as there were technical difficulties, but the crowd hyped him up and he spit some accapella rhymes while the DJ equipment got reconnected (shoutouts to host Stacee Brizzle for keeping the vibe chill). He rocked a solid set and was followed by a California duo called Billionaire B, who didn’t exactly get as big of a reaction from the crowd as the Canadian openers, but were still dope.
There wasn’t much of a wait, as Rittz shortly came out to the title track off his new album. The crowd wasn’t large enough to fill the whole dance floor, but they were still hyped as they seemed to know most of the songs Rittz performed. I really only picked up the songs off his new album like “The Formula,” “Diamonds & Gold,” and “Day of the Dead,” but Rittz’ hooks are catchy enough to guess the song titles. Just based on a Wikipedia search I can tell that several of the songs he did were off that second album I haven’t heard, including “Bounce,” “LAF,” “Call 911,” and “In My Zone.” There were obviously much bigger fans in the crowd than me, as a lot of the crowd knew all the songs and sang along to the choruses.
Rittz had some fun with the crowd, doing a short accapella Meat Loaf cover to see how many fans were up on music from the 1980’s. He then dove back into his discography, doing some tracks off his debut including “Switch Lanes” and “For Real,” and also did some new tracks like “My Window” and “All Night,” the latter song really getting the crowd moving. He also went back to that second album with the lighthearted “Crown Royal” and the more emotional “Turning Up The Bottle.” After briefly leaving the stage, the crowd gave a strong chant to bring him back out for an encore, and so he did the mellow “Inside of the Groove” off the new album, and an older track called “High Five.”
Before leaving, Rittz thanked the crowd and told us that he’s been going through rough times at home, but performing in front of cool crowds like us makes him happy. The rough times may have to do with a close friend of his who was recently diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of cancer, and who has a GoFundMe page that Rittz recently shared on Facebook. While a lot of the songs he performed were party tracks, he’s definitely more versatile when it comes to getting emotional in his music, and it would be cool to see him experiment more with his set list in the future.
Overall this was a fun show, and I’ve learned that I need to check out Rittz’ 2014 album, Next to Nothing, as he performed several songs off of it and the crowd was hyped for them. As with most artists on his label, Rittz is the real deal, as he performs all his verses without a hypeman and even does his own singing too. The Rockpile has done a good job of bringing Strange Music artists across the border. I’ve seen Rittz and ¡Mayday! perform in front of moderately sized crowds here; I think if they can get Ces Cru to make the trip and test the waters next, there can be potential for a larger Strange Music Canadian tour in the future!
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