Concert Review: Jeru The Damaja at Hard Luck Bar in Toronto

Old school Hip-Hop heads in Canada have been in for a treat this month, as Brooklyn MC Jeru The Damaja has traveled from his home in Germany to embark on a tour across the country. Starting off in Quebec and making his way out west, Jeru is out celebrating his near 25-year career with some intimate shows at small venues, reconnecting with his old fans and giving new, younger fans a chance to see him perform live. On just the fourth show of the tour, Jeru’s stop in Toronto would bring us to Hard Luck Bar.

It’s no secret that Toronto loves its authentic, original Hip-Hop, as a decent crowd had already accumulated at the beginning of the night to support a lineup of local artists that represented just that. First up was Mohammad Ali & Hack Of All Trades, and they were already on stage performing a familiar routine over M.O.P.’s “Ante Up” beat when I showed up. Many of the fans were lounging in the chairs at the back of the club or hanging by the bar, but some of them got close to the stage to rock with Ali, as he spit a crisp accapella freestyle to close out his set.

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Next would be a couple artists I was unfamiliar with.  An MC by the name of Marcus Starks got on stage and performed some songs with a more rap-singing style of delivery. He had a cool track that sampled some Raekwon vocals for the hook, and did a seemingly off-the-top freestyle while still on beat. After him would be a duo from up north called Muskoka Nostra, who had a more hardcore style of rap that reminded me of Army of the Pharaohs. They had hard-hitting beats, rapid-fire flows, and sharp rhymes that got heads nodding.

With no delays between performers, the party kept rocking as Guelph’s own Robbie G hit the stage. He had just had his album release party for his new album, Fire, at Jeru’s previous show in Guelph, and he made the trip with Jeru to celebrate the release with the Toronto crowd. His set had a couple songs off the new album like “Decade” and “Reach My Peak,” and also songs off his previous releases like “Rope-A-Dope” and “Nothin’ To Do With Me.” After a raw, energetic set that included him jumping down into the crowd a few times and leaving the mic covered in sweat, he would meet fans by the merch booth to chop it up and sell some gear & CDs.

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Lee Ricks and his squad from Scarborough would be the last local openers before the touring artists hit the stage. Rocking an eye patch like a pirate, he got into some rugged raps over boom-bap beats with his crew, and got the crowd moving. There would be a bit of a wait before the next performer, and so host Stacee Brizzle got the crowd to open up a dance cypher as the DJ played some 90’s classics (shoutouts to Stacee for shouting out the blog while on stage!).

The final opener before Jeru would be the artist who booked this show through his Landmine Entertainment company, Klee Magor. Joining Jeru for the entire tour, the Toronto MC gave a lot of energy to his hometown crowd, calling it the biggest crowd of the tour so far. He had some high-energy songs that got the crowd moving, and while he mentioned his new single with Jeru called “The Beast,” they never performed it together. After a solid set by Klee Magor, Jeru The Damaja would take the stage right around midnight, as scheduled.

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DJ Sensi took over the turntables and Jeru got right to business when he got on stage, rapping perfectly in-pocket over the boom-bap beats. He hit the crowd with some songs off his classic 1994 debut album, The Sun Rises In The East, getting everyone to chant along to “Da Bitchez” and cover RZA’s laughing sample on “Ain’t The Devil Happy.” Between songs he would talk to the crowd and crack jokes, and also spit a freestyle verse. Touching on 1996’s Wrath of the Math album, he performed “Tha Bullshit” before getting into a little Gang Starr segment.

Having first rose to fame with his features on Gang Starr’s albums in the early 90’s, Jeru performed his verses from the songs “I’m The Man” and “Speak Ya Clout,” and the entire crowd got hyped! After hitting the crowd with the first songs they heard him on, he jumped ahead to his most recent work, performing “So Raw” off his 2014 EP, The Hammer. He then took it back to his 1994 debut with the first and last songs off that album, “D. Original” and “Statik,” with the crowd shouting out the words to the DJ Premier cuts.

There would be more breaks between songs where Jeru would rest his voice by just talking to the crowd. It was as if he was performing stand-up comedy, as he’d have the crowd laughing one minute, then bouncing to the beat the next. He performed songs off of a variety of his albums, including “99.9%,” “Can’t Stop The Prophet” with an updated verse to the story, and “One Day.” He then performed some of his biggest hits, getting the crowd to chant along to “Ya Playin’ Yaself,” before really putting the time in to organize the crowd so that different sections would yell different parts of the chorus to “Come Clean.” The crowd was into it, and it made for an epic performance of the classic track.

Going against predictable clichés, Jeru The Damaja chose not to end the show with his biggest hit, and continued on into some deep album cuts from The Sun Rises In The East. After signing some autographs for some fans up front, he got the crowd rocking to “My Mind Spray,” and contemplated ending the show on that high note, but opted to let DJ Sensi pick out one last song for him to perform. He ended his mic performance with “Brooklyn Took It,” but the party was far from over, as he decided to get behind the turntables himself and rock a little DJ set. The crowd tore up the dance floor as Jeru spun some classic songs by Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Nas, Mobb Deep, Pharaohe Monch and Busta Rhymes, to name a few.

This show ended up being a lot more hyped than I expected it to be. Jeru The Damaja may be twenty years removed from his heyday in the 90’s, but he still puts on a great show that’s true to the Hip-Hop spirit, keeping the crowd engaged and energized. His MCing skills are true to form, as he effortlessly flows perfectly in-pocket without the need for a hypeman or backing vocals, and knows all the techniques to get the crowd involved. Between his rapping and his comedy between songs, he kept the crowd entertained for over an hour before giving an extra half hour behind the turntables, and also took the time to sign autographs. It was overall a fun night filled with positive classic Hip-Hop vibes.

As of this posting, Jeru has one last show in London, Ontario before heading out to the western provinces.

 

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