Another year, another top ten! Our third full calendar year saw more connections made, more recognition received, and while fewer concerts were covered than previous years, the shows covered were bigger. I have to thank all the media teams and organizers who granted me access – I had more media passes this year than any other year – and all the artists and fans who read and shared my reviews. I saw a lot of my favourite artists, some of them in new situations, others with familiar sets, and also covered some new artists for the first time. Here’s my top ten for the year.
Click here to check out 2015’s Top 10.
**All shows were in Toronto, ON, Canada, unless otherwise noted
Honourable Mentions (in chronological order):
Hopsin at The Danforth Music Hall
Rittz at The Rockpile
Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa at OVO Fest at Molson Amphitheatre
Elzhi, A-F-R-O + more at The Cookout Festival in Hamilton, ON
Nitty Scott, MC at Blank Canvas Gallery
Atmosphere, Brother Ali & deM atlaS at Rebel Nightclub
Alpha Omega at The Rockpile
10. Shad at The Mod Club
It’s become a tradition at this point to see Shad perform in Toronto at least once a year. After seeing him do some large shows in 2015, it was refreshing to see him go back to his roots and perform in one of the smaller clubs from earlier in his career. Little did we know at the time though that Shad would really return to that zone of being a fresh new artist, as he would go on to begin a new chapter in his career by releasing a Pop-Rock album under the name Your Boy Tony Braxton. This show was a standard set of the rap classics the Juno award-winner is known for, which was highly appropriate considering now he’ll be taking some time to push the new brand he’s created.
9. Del The Funky Homosapien at Revival Bar
While I’ve seen the group Deltron 3030 draw massive crowds, seeing The Funk Man himself perform solo in a small, intimate venue was a great way to start the year. Not only was it cool to see him dive more into his solo discography, but it was also fun celebrating Toronto’s Hip-Hop Karaoke’s nine-year anniversary. It was my first time attending a Hip-Hop Karaoke event, and it turned out to be a fun party all on its own before the headliner even showed up. The intimate setting of Revival Bar made it so that fans could meet Del after his set, and so I was able to add another autographed CD to my collection.
8. ¡Mayday! at The Rockpile
After performing in Toronto for the very first time during the summer of 2015, ¡Mayday! returned this past November to get a taste of Canadian winter. The Miami band had new material to perform off of their fourth album on Strange Music, Future/Vintage, as well as Bernz’ debut solo album See You On The Other Side, and they also hit us with several of the same classics performed last year. They know how to rock a crowd with raw talent and no gimmicks, and are slowly building up their fan base with every tour. They’re scheduled to release a new album in 2017, along with a potential Wrekonize solo album, which means another tour is bound to happen in the near future.
7. Prophets of Rage at Molson Amphitheatre
The supergroup made up of Public Enemy’s Chuck D & DJ Lord, Cypress Hill’s B-Real and the band Rage Against The Machine (minus their lead singer Zack De La Rocha) was all the hype in the first half of the year. While new, original music turned out to be minimal, it was cool seeing all the old classics between Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and Rage Against The Machine get performed by the new group. B-Real and Chuck D may not exactly be able to do justice to Zack De La Rocha’s vocals, but this is the closest we can get to a full RATM reunion. Not to mention the epic surprise of seeing rock legend Dave Grohl make a completely unexpected appearance on stage!
6. Schoolboy Q, Ghostface Killah + more at NXNE Port Lands Festival
NXNE reinvigorated itself this year by opening a new outdoor venue, the Port Lands. Rather than having their big-name artists perform in Dundas Square, they moved things right by the lake and away from the downtown core, with ticket sales as opposed to free entry eliminating the censorship issues they had in 2015. The new location showed a lot of potential, and the artists put on great performances. Ghostface Killah brought out Sheek Louch as a surprise guest, and also had fun inviting several fans on stage with them. Schoolboy Q was also dope as the headliner, turning the crowd up with hits off his previous two albums and giving a bit of a preview of the new and acclaimed Blank Face LP about a month before its release.
5. Banks & Steelz at The Mod Club
Paul Banks and RZA are both used to performing at large, outdoor festivals with their respective groups Interpol and the Wu-Tang Clan, but together as Banks & Steelz they started fresh, performing in small nightclubs. Their debut album together, Anything But Words, is one of my favourites of 2016, and their live show rocks too. For Hip-Hop heads, it’s cool seeing RZA in a new element, performing both on the mic as the frontman as well as on the keyboards. It’s also fun when he gets more interactive with the crowd, spraying champagne and pouring fans in the front row shots of vodka. With the Bad Boy Records Reunion Tour in town on the same night, this was probably the most underrated show of the year.
4. Anderson .Paak & Kaytranada at Manifesto Festival – Echo Beach
It’s been a few years since I attended Manifesto Festival since they shifted away from Hip-Hop and more towards RnB, but their 10-year anniversary party at Echo Beach turned out to be a lot more fun than expected! It was my first time seeing a live set by an EDM artist with Montreal’s Kaytranada, and the headliner Anderson .Paak and The Free Nationals really put their all into their performance. I’m not the biggest fan of Anderson .Paak’s music, but the showmanship and raw talent can’t be denied. He did it all, from surprising the fans during Kaytra’s opening set, singing while playing the drums, crowd surfing, and doing two encores.
3. Kanye West at The Air Canada Centre
(second of two back-to-back nights)
While it can be argued that 2016’s The Life of Pablo is the weakest album in Kanye West’s extensive discography, the Saint Pablo Tour might be the most visually and logistically innovative concert Kanye has designed. Before Trump happened, and before Kanye had his medical issues on tour, he was putting on the most fun and drama-free shows I’ve seen him do. This was nothing but hit after hit after hit – a fun party from start to finish, and seeing the stage design in full use is breathtaking. From a business standpoint, it’s genius having a stage design that allows you to literally sell every seat in the building and maximize the floor space used for general admission. It’s also really cool seeing the stage light up like a spaceship and carry Kanye around the arena as he performs, ensuring no one has a bad view. Here’s hoping he makes a full recovery and a triumphant return in 2017.
2. Run The Jewels, Joey Bada$$ + more at Time Festival at Fort York
The musically diverse Time Festival was an awesome way to take advantage of the beautiful summer weather in Toronto. Clear skies, cold beer, dope artists and energetic crowds made this the best concert in Toronto this year. Joey Bada$$ put on one of the most energetic performances of the year, and somehow the headliners Run The Jewels topped that energy afterwards. This was a display of some of the best artists to debut in this current decade, and pretty much every artist on the bill has a bright future ahead of them. Run The Jewels previewed the new single “Talk To Me” several months before its release, and they’re set to release their third album and perform an already sold-out show in Toronto early 2017.
[UPDATE: Run The Jewels just leaked the new album for Christmas! Download for free here]
1. The Roots Picnic at Bryant Park in New York City, USA
The Legendary Roots Crew (my favourite band) and eight out of nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan (my favourite rap group) performing together on the same stage at the same time. Usually this would be enough said, but there were so many more epic holy-shit-moments during this two-day festival. Nile Rodgers going through five decades of Disco classics he’s had his hand in, from 1978’s “Le Freak” to 2013’s “Get Lucky.” An all-star cypher including legends like Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, Royce 5’9″, Pharaohe Monch, and of course The Roots’ own Black Thought. Not to mention the management and execution of two stages, making it so that all fans in attendance never had to choose between one stage or another, and got to see every artist on the bill and more. For lovers of Hip-Hop and music history in general, this has to go down as one of the most memorable concerts of the decade!
A big thank you to all the readers and everyone who supports this blog! It’s been a blast reviewing all these concerts, and I’m looking forward to doing more in 2017. For those who missed it, I contributed five picks to CulturedVultures’ Top 45 Albums of 2016 list, check it out here.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.