After a very successful debut at Echo Beach last year for their tenth anniversary party, Manifesto has returned for the second year in a row with an even more eclectic lineup! They’ve spent over a decade building up and supporting Toronto’s Hip-Hop community by mentoring young artists, providing a platform for them to develop & showcase their skills, and putting on the annual festival every September. Now entering their second decade of existence, they’re switching things up by splitting up their events throughout the year, with the ticketed Echo Beach party in June and the free Dundas Square concert in September, with several smaller events in between. The move allows their party at Echo Beach to actually have beach weather, and for them to focus on developing Toronto-based artists throughout the year, instead of jamming it all into one week.
Their evolution as a brand is also evident in this year’s festival lineup. While Manifesto’s roots are planted deeply in all varieties of Hip-Hop, recent years have seen it shift its focus towards younger, up-and-coming artists as opposed to veteran all-stars, as well as a shift towards other genres like RnB and EDM. The 2017 lineup shows another shift in focus towards Toronto-based artists, with several emcees from the GTA performing opening sets, some international acts in the middle, and the headliner at the top of the bill being hometown RnB duo Majid Jordan. This may be the first time (at least in my memory) that Manifesto has decided to have a hometown artist headline the festival.
Much like last year’s festival, I wasn’t all too familiar with any of the artists going into this, having listened to one album from each in the month leading up to the show, and went in to this with no expectations. For Hip-Hop heads, the headlining Majid Jordan are probably most known for their co-writer credits on Drake’s 2013 triple-platinum single “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” Signed to Drake’s OVO label, their self-titled debut album was released last year and is strictly Pop and RnB, with minimal Hip-Hop flavour to be found. This might be the biggest gig they’ve had the chance to headline. Before Majid Jordan though, there were several dope artists to hit the stage.
My squad was running late, so we missed all of the local Toronto openers, and barely showed up on time to catch the first international act, Wisconsin’s own Jidenna. He’s probably most known for his Grammy-nominated single “Classic Man,” and he just released his debut album The Chief in February of this year. Although early in the lineup, Jidenna is the artist I was most excited to see, as his album showcases a great combination of the catchy, mainstream appeal of Pop music and the technical lyricism of Hip-Hop, not to mention the awesome production on the beats. You can hear a strong Bob Marley influence in the way he sings, and you can tell he’s studied the greats with the way he puts together his rap verses.
Jidenna came out with an entire band behind him playing the single “Chief Don’t Run,” and they moved into a medley of tracks off of his debut album. He of course did my favourite track off the album, “Long Live The Chief,” dedicating the song to his late father. The high-energy tracks got the DJ to come out from behind the booth and act as a hypeman, and you could tell the band was enjoying the set just as much as the crowd. Another cool part of Jidenna’s set was when he performed “Helicopters,” and all the band members left their instruments to harmonize background vocals into one microphone behind him. By the end of the set, the clouds were clearing, the sun was shining, and Jidenna left everyone with positive vibes.
Next up was one last dose of Hip-Hop before things would switch to RnB for the evening, with Top Dawg Entertainment signee Isaiah Rashad taking the stage. His set was stripped down to a more traditional Hip-Hop setup, with just one DJ and one emcee. He came out to the high-energy “Wat’s Wrong,” performing both his own and Kendrick Lamar’s verses on the song, and did several tracks off his 2016 debut album, The Sun’s Tirade. I found the album doesn’t quite fit my tastes, but there are definitely some standout tracks like “Free Lunch,” “Stuck In The Mud,” and “Tity and Dolla,” and Isaiah performed all of them with a ton of energy.
He took some time to talk to the crowd, recognizing that it’s an all-ages show and telling everyone to keep the kids safe during the high-energy tracks – a real classy move. The crowd was with it, as they turned up with Isaiah but didn’t start any mosh pits (at least near the front). One moment I was looking out for that never came was a performance of the song “Silkk Da Shocka,” which features the lead singer from The Internet, Syd. The Internet were up next, and I thought there was a great opportunity for Syd to perform her collab with Isaiah, but it never happened. Still, this didn’t take anything away from Isaiah’s set, and it was fun overall.
The Internet is a band I’ve known about for a long time, but just never bothered to check out until now. They’re originally part of the larger hardcore Hip-Hop collective known as Odd Future, but they’re style of smooth RnB and Soul music seemed so out of place among the rest of the artists in the group. You almost have to take them out of that context of being associated with Odd Future to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate their music. Their most recent album, 2015’s Ego Death, might be my second favourite album from any artist on this lineup (after Jidenna’s The Chief).
My crew decided to get some food before The Internet hit the stage, and we ended up missing the majority of their set. I could hear in the background they started things off with my two favourite songs off of Ego Death, “Special Affair” and “Under Control.” Even from all the way back by the food trucks and eating area, you could tell Syd’s vocals are just as smooth in person as they are on the studio recordings. We made our way back to the crowd as The Internet performed more favourites off that album like “Just Sayin,” getting the crowd to sing the lyrics “you fucked up” with Syd, and by the time we got back near the front they were wrapping up with the lead single off of Syd’s 2017 solo album, “All About Me.” I kind of wish I was in the crowd for the entire set.
The Internet gave the crowd a nice mellow vibe during the sunset, and by the time all the gear was set up for the headliners, it was officially night time. Smoke machines went off, and Majid Jordan appeared on the stage, with Jordan Ullman behind his DJ equipment and Majid Al Maskati behind the microphone. Their self-titled album didn’t really connect with me, and so I didn’t recognize many of the songs, except for when they performed “My Love” and Majid sang both his own and Drake’s verse on the song. They had some cool lighting effects and visuals to go with the electro-pop vibe, but the gimmicks ended there, as they straight up performed song after song and Majid showcased his vocal range.
While the music wasn’t for me, there’s still an appreciation for the skill it takes to nail those vocals on stage by yourself, with minimal pre-recorded background vocals and no one else with a microphone. You kind of expect pop artists to be more gimmicky, but Majid Jordan are as raw as it gets when it comes to performing live.
Of course, there can’t be a Manifesto Festival without any surprise appearances. Mid-way through their set, Majid Jordan left the stage and brought out another OVO artist, dvsn. I don’t know anything about dvsn, but his songs seemed to be more of that soft RnB/Pop music – the ladies in the crowd at least enjoyed dancing to it. After dvsn rocked a few songs, Majid Jordan returned to the stage, and this is around when my crew decided to leave early to dodge the traffic.
Overall, the first outdoor festival of the year was a fun one! In all my years of concert-going, this might be the first time I went to a show at Echo Beach where it didn’t rain. As a Hip-Hop head, Manifesto keeps pushing me further and further out of my comfort zone, but the majority of the time it pays off with dope new artists being put on. It was good to see some emcees back in the festival lineup, and I’m looking forward to what they have in store for the rest of the year.
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