Time Festival is one of the most diverse single-day music festivals in Toronto, with a lineup of artists representing several different genres. As the name may suggest, they tend to get artists that represent the musical landscape of current times. As such, Time has developed a reputation for being an EDM-heavy festival, but they also include artists that represent Rock, R&B, and in recent years have especially stepped up their Hip-Hop representation. It’s the type of festival that will probably include several artists the average fan is unfamiliar with, but will have at least a couple artists that genre-specific fans will find more than worth the ticket prices.
As a Hip-Hop head writing for a Hip-Hop blog, I was of course most excited to see the main headliners of this year’s festival, Run The Jewels, as well as Joey Bada$$ and his Pro Era comrades Kirk Knight & Nyck Caution. As far as Hip-Hop goes, these are some of the most talented groups to debut in this current decade (and before you hardcore fans start, I’m fully aware of Killer Mike & El-P’s respective solo careers before forming RTJ). I’ve been to every single Run The Jewels concert in Toronto, from their very first one at the tiny Hoxton nightclub in 2013 to now headlining this all-day festival at Fort York. They’ve continuously grown their fan base with every tour and every (free) album, and their upcoming third album is one of the most anticipated.
This would be my first time attending a festival at Fork York, and it would be Time Festival’s first time expanding to two stages. I got to the festival a bit later than I had wanted to and ended up missing out on Kirk Knight & Nyck Caution’s set on the OverTIME stage, which seemed to host all EDM artists with the exception of these two. It would be a few hours until the next Hip-Hop artist performed, so I spent some time exploring the festival grounds. There were plenty of vendors between the OverTIME stage and the main stage, including several food trucks, merch, and even a massage tent. The sun was scorching, but thankfully there were some trees to provide shade for those sitting and relaxing on the lawn.
I had a meal and a few drinks while catching sets on the main stage by a rock band called Everything Everything, and an EDM group named Cold Cave. They were cool, but a lot of the crowd stayed sitting in the shade until it was time for Joey Bada$$ to take the stage. I last saw him perform at the 2013 NXNE Festival, where he opened for Ludacris in Dundas Square. The 21-year-old has since become a household name when it comes to current Hip-Hop artists.
A large crowd gathered in front of the stage as DJ Statik Selektah set up his equipment and began to play “Greenbax (Introlude)” off of Joey’s B4.DA.$$ album. This of course transitioned into the DJ Premier-produced “Paper Trail$”, and Joey had the crowd hyped right away. He did another hit off of that 2015 debut album with “Big Dusty” before getting into some throwbacks. He took it back to his Summer Knights mixtape with “95 Til’ Infinity,” and then went even further back with his verse on A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train.”
Next was a segment off the 2012 mixtape that started it all, 1999, as Joey rocked some of his throwbacks with “FromdaTomb” and “Hardknock.” After reminding us where things got started for him, he brought it back to the present with some more cuts off of B4.DA.$$, mellowing out the crowd with “Hazeus View.” Things didn’t stay mellow for long though, as he then did “No. 99” and got everyone to jump and shout the lyrics “Badmon!” at him. Despite the scorching hot weather, the crowd continued to jump and even had some crowd-surfers as Joey attacked the mic during “Christ Conscious.”
With Kirk Knight & Nyck Caution having their own set earlier in the day, it was no surprise to see Joey bring them out on stage during his set. Kirk Knight came out first and rocked a couple solo tracks, getting the crowd to jump, followed by Nyck Caution, who did his verse from Pro Era’s “Resurrection of Real” and went accapella for part of it. With the three Pro Era MCs on stage, they of course did a tribute to the late Capital STEEZ, rocking the Statik Selektah-produced “Like Water” off of the group’s 2012 mixtape Peep: The Aprocalypse. They also did one of Joey’s biggest hits with Capital STEEZ, “Survival Tactics,” and the crowd had the mosh pit in full effect.
Joey Bada$$ ended his set with a new single he’s been pushing recently, “Devastated,” getting the crowd to sing along with him on the chorus. It was definitely the most hype the crowd had been all day, as they chanted for an encore and Joey came back out to perform the single a second time. The set was dope overall; you can tell Joey has put in the work perfecting his craft as an MC and has established great stage presence. He’s also established a strong fan base, as most of this crowd knew all the songs – even the older ones! It’s going to be exciting to see where he takes his career in the next few years.
R&B singer Kehlani was next to take the stage. I don’t know any of her songs, but she can sing really well, and her choreographed dancers gave her that extra stage presence. Although she’s a relatively new artist, her songs had a bit of a 90’s vibe to them, in a good way.
Next up was a band called BROODS, who I also know nothing about. I spent the time during their set getting more drinks and chatting up some Hip-Hop heads. BROODS drew a good crowd, but there were a lot of us sitting off to the side as the sun set and we waited for the main headliners, Run The Jewels. The last time Run The Jewels were in town, they did a sold-out show at the Danforth Music Hall on a cold night in November 2014, and the crowd was absolutely turned up the entire time. A hot summer day like this seems to suit them more, with all the energy they bring.
The first thing I noticed about this Run The Jewels set is that their budget has gone up; they had huge inflated hands in the shape of their logo on stage! DJ Trackstar set up his gear and Killer Mike & El-P came out to their familiar intro with Queen’s “We Are The Champions.” The crowd got immediately turned up as they did the first song off the first album, “Run The Jewels,” followed by the second song off the second album, “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” The mosh pit was in full effect as the high-energy tracks kept coming, with “Blockbuster Night Part 1” and “Banana Clipper.”
As if the crowd wasn’t already hyped, El-P paused to give everyone a warning to put away their phones and expensive items before starting another mosh pit with “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck).” Up to this point, everything about this set was very familiar, with the turn-up tunes, mosh pits and jumping. Next was something new, as they performed the DJ Shadow single released earlier this year, “Nobody Speak.” They then did another familiar throwback with “Sea Legs” before taking some time to talk to the crowd.
Mike made some comments on politics, and the crowd started a “fuck Trump!” chant, which led up to a performance of Run The Jewels’ more politically and socially-driven songs, with “Lie, Cheat, Steal” and “Early.” They then continued in the same sequence of their second album, transitioning to the fun “All Due Respect” and the silly “Love Again.” El-P joked that he’ll retire the day he can perform the latter song without laughing.
Next was a song they didn’t perform last time they were in town, and one of my favourites, “Crown.” The crowd clapped along to the beat as Mike and El-P sliced through their verses. Continuing with new, unseen performances, they did a preview of a new song that will appear on the upcoming Run The Jewels 3, before closing out the show with “Angel Duster.” If the song they previewed is any indication of what the new album will sound like, Run The Jewels are in for another amazing cycle with even longer & larger shows in the future.
Overall, this was one of the best concerts of the year, as expected anytime Run The Jewels are on the bill. The crowd gave a lot of energy, and the headliners gave that energy right back. Fort York is as good of a location as you can get in the city for a festival as diverse as Time; even with a lot of artists not everyone is familiar with, it was good to be able to sit back on the lawn with a beer during their sets. There may be some criticism for not catering to any one specific genre, but the diversity at Time Festival makes it a unique experience with all types of fans coming together for a good time.
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