It was another night of tough decision making for Toronto Hip-Hop heads. On a Friday night there were two major Hip-Hop acts performing at two different venues at the same time: Danny Brown, who had recently released his fourth album Atrocity Exhibition, and Atmosphere, who released their eighth album Fishing Blues this past summer. I had never seen Danny Brown perform live before and was planning on attending that show, but some last minute changes led me to Rebel Nightclub to catch the Freshwater Fly Fishermen Tour featuring Rhymesayers Entertainment artists Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and deM atlaS (fun fact: all of them are from Minnesota).
I had previously seen Atmosphere celebrate the 20th anniversary of founding Rhymesayers Entertainment at the 2015 Riot Fest, where they opened for the Wu-Tang Clan. This would be my first time seeing a real Rhymesayers show, with a showcase strictly of artists signed to the label, and of course the headliners being the co-founders, Slug and Ant of Atmosphere. It would also be my first time back at the former Sound Academy since it renovated and rebranded to become the new club known as Rebel.
I got to the venue shortly after doors had opened, and everything about Rebel seemed to be upgraded from what I remembered of the old Sound Academy. Besides putting new materials, designs and equipment on the old layout, new features included poles for pole-dancing, a more open stage, better access to exits, and an entirely new balcony level surrounding the entire club. The stage had a cool design, with props to fit the whole “fishing” theme. The DJs were spinning some classic Hip-Hop until eventually deM atlaS came out to get the show started.
I knew next to nothing about deM atlaS going into this, but the dude put on a good show. He brought a ton of energy to the stage, getting the crowd involved right away, as he both rapped and sang with a lot of passion. Some of his songs were made over familiar MF DOOM productions, and his vocals gave new vibes to those beats. One highlight was him getting the crowd to go crazy over what sounded like an old KMD beat. Overall it was a real dope opening set. After he wrapped up, the DJ spun some more tunes for a few minutes before diving right into Brother Ali’s “The Preacher.”
The only other time I’ve seen Brother Ali perform was when he opened for Shad at the Danforth Music Hall back in 2014, except I showed up late to that set. This time I was there from the very beginning as he started off with one of my favourite songs of his. He of course performed several of his hits from all of his albums, including “Truth Is,” “Uncle Sam Goddamn” and “Mourning In America.” While he hasn’t released much new material in a while, he did perform some unreleased songs off of an upcoming album produced entirely by Atmosphere’s Ant, which is set to be released in 2017.
While Brother Ali wasn’t jumping around on stage with the same energy as deM atlaS, he put an emphasis on expressing positive vibes, referring to the event as a party rather than a show. He also made sure to let the crowd know that he’ll be headlining his own tour once that album drops, and he took the time to meet the fans at the merch booth after his set.
Shortly after Brother Ali’s set, it was time for the headliners, Atmosphere. DJ Ant joined the other DJ behind the turntables, and they brought out Slug to the intro track off the new album, “Like A Fire.” I had only gotten to listen to the new album for the first time on the way to the venue, and my first impression was that it might have some of the best production on any Atmosphere album. They didn’t strictly stick to Fishing Blues though, as the next song they performed was “Shoulda Known” followed by “Kanye West,” from 2008 and 2014 respectively. The crowd was into it immediately, waving their arms as Slug commanded and cheering for every song.
They did another new single with “Seismic Waves” before bringing Brother Ali back out to perform a couple of their collaborative songs together. The two MCs showed mutual respect for each other, as Slug took off his hoodie to reveal that he was actually wearing a Brother Ali t-shirt. After rocking the crowd as a team, Slug took over on his own again, performing older hits like “Puppets” and “Fuck You Lucy.” He also did some new 2016 songs in between the throwbacks, including “Pure Evil” and “Perfect.”
The rest of the show was mainly older classics including “The Woman With The Tattooed Hands” and “Yesterday,” and Slug took some time in between songs to tell some stories. He spoke on how when he was a kid idolizing LL Cool J, there were no 40-year-old rappers, and now he’s able to perform his “dad rap” without making any compromises. He also reflected on how he’s been able to perform in Toronto while on tour for fifteen years, before performing the 1995 song “God’s Bathroom Floor.”
After rocking the crowd for a good hour, Slug and Ant left the stage, only to return after a strong encore chant. Slug hung his hoodie on the DJ booth so we could read the “Black Lives Matter” written on the back of it, and then brought out his Rhymesayers comrades Brother Ali and deM atlaS to spit some off-the-dome freestyles. They then finished with a bang, performing one more song with all three MCs on stage and setting off a bubble machine.
Overall, this was a real fun party (as Brother Ali would have me put it). People of all different backgrounds and beliefs came together for the love of Hip-Hop, and that’s what Rhymesayers Entertainment is all about. It was cool seeing Atmosphere dive deeper into their catalogue as a headliner, as opposed to doing a shorter 40-minute set as an opener. Atmosphere & Brother Ali showed twenty years of skill when it came to commanding the crowd, while the younger deM atlaS left it all on stage so his performance could speak for itself.
The transformations undergone by Rebel have reinvigorated it as a favourable concert venue in Toronto. The washrooms are cleaner, the look and feel of the venue is fresh, and small things like using the coat-check are more efficient. Now if only it was easier to get to via transit…
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.