Concert Review: Apathy & Celph Titled at The Vatican Gift Shop in Toronto

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One of the hardest working duos in underground Hip-Hop, Apathy & Celph Titled have made their way across Canada and are just about to wrap up what they’ve dubbed The Canadian Cousins Tour. Similar to last year, when we saw them perform in the middle of Little Italy at Smiling Buddha, Toronto would be one of the last few stops of the tour as they went from west to east. Not only have they been touring consistently, but Apathy in particular has been releasing new music every year for the past five years, and has released two new albums since they last performed in Toronto. With it being a few years since their groups Army of the Pharaohs or The Demigodz joined forces for a full-length album, Ap & Celph have kept the brands alive with their consistent touring and their output of solo material.

One unique thing about this show in Toronto would be its location. The Vatican Gift Shop is a brand new venue in the east end of the city, and this would be their first time opening their doors for a live concert. The outside of the venue actually looks like a gift shop, with the tour merch hung up in the windows and the merch booth being in the first room you enter before finding the dive bar behind a dungeon-like door. If you’re like me, rocking a fly Army of the Pharaohs shirt, you might’ve gotten props as soon as you walked in by the guys running the booth for Ap & Celph (more on them later). You might’ve also been given the option to upgrade to a VIP, which would include a meet & greet with Ap & Celph, and an exclusive CD that wouldn’t be sold anywhere else.

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After entering the dungeon doors, we found the venue itself to be a darkly lit dive bar with VIP booths around the corner, and a small stage anyone could walk on at the far end. DJ Chino was behind the boards setting the underground vibe by playing some deep Wu-Tang album cuts, and pretty soon the first local opener would hit the stage, Scarborough’s own Lee Ricks. Rocking an eye patch and not quite having the traditional look of a rapper, Ricks stunned the fans in the crowd who weren’t expecting the local openers to move them the way he did. Spitting raw raps over boom-bap beats, he got the crowd moving and chanting along to the hooks as he clearly spit his rhymes to songs like “Break Neks.”

The next local opener would be Muskoka’s own Taktikz, who we just saw last month put up some steep competition at the Connect The Dot tournament. Taktikz was an ideal opener for Apathy & Celph Titled, as he has songs produced by Army of the Pharaohs collaborator C-Lance, giving him a similar style and sound to AOTP. Another dope emcee spitting his rhymes raw, Taktikz got heads nodding to songs like “Paint Fumes (Pot Smoke),” and repped that Muskoka culture with “Hunter Rapper.” Landmine Entertainment did a great job picking out the local openers for this show, as Lee Ricks and Taktikz both set the bar high with their raw, unfiltered Hip-Hop, and would make it tough for the touring acts to follow.

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With AOTP repping the east coast, they of course brought some up and coming east coast emcees on tour with them, this being the first time in Toronto for many of them. First up would be Bobby Beansack from Boston, whose music would be an acquired taste after the traditional boom-bap and hardcore vibes of the local artists. He had some jazzy instrumentals and an unorthodox, purposely off-beat flow, but came with a ton of energy. He would be joined on stage by Rhode Island emcee Jessy Piff, who would rock his own set afterwards.

Jessy Piff had a whole squad with him, as the three emcees on stage got a mosh pit going in the crowd. They would climb up on ledges and even jump down into the crowd to spark some energy, although their performances were hindered by the way they had recorded vocals drowning out their actual live vocals. For first time listeners, you could barely pick up on any of their rhymes or bars. Following them would be Connecticut duo Rowdy City, who also rapped over their recorded vocals for some songs, but flowed at a pace where you could at least pick up on the lyrics. They got the crowd waving their arms right off the bat with their boom-bap vibes and sharp rhymes on songs like “I Declare War,” and later gave away a custom bottle of liquor while performing “Shots of Rowdy.”

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Bringing back the raw rap would be Oregon emcee Endr Won, who got asked by Apathy to join the tour after opening for him at a local show in Portland. He got heads nodding to his songs “Chain Breaker” and “Hallelujah” before stunning the crowd with an epic acapella freestyle touching on government issues, ethics, justice, and systematic racism. Spitting every word to every verse without a hypeman or recorded vocals backing him up, Endr Won stood out on the already stacked lineup of talented emcees. His humble performance showing a genuine love for Hip-Hop brought even more energy out of the crowd, and would be followed by a well-deserved break for everyone.

After giving the crowd some time to refresh, hitting the stage would be Toronto emcee Klee MaGoR, who of course put this show together through his Landmine Entertainment company. He would be joined on stage by Big Stretch, and together they’d put the energy back in the room with their Onyx collaboration “Hardcore Rap.” The hometown crowd showed them love as they rocked a new joint, “Lunch Money,” and premiered an unreleased track called “Rap Titan.” They’d then pass the mic to the big jacked guy who had been running the merch booth all night, NME The Illest.

NME had also joined Ap & Celph on their last two Canadian tours, and so we knew what was coming. He had spent all night personally greeting every fan who walked in the building, selling merch, and coordinating the VIP meet & greet, making it so you felt like you were supporting a new friend when he got up on stage. With a genuine passion for Hip-Hop culture, along with old-school Punk/Metal, he delivered an authentic vibe and created a sense of community with his performance. He rocked a song produced by Apathy, “Let The Good Times Roll,” getting the crowd to sing along to the hook, and would close out his set with the booming “Injustice For All.” Letting the instrumental play out, he picked up two mics and ran through the crowd towards the exit, returning with both Apathy & Celph Titled following behind him before the song ended.

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Apathy, NME The Illest, Celph Titled

After bringing the most energy to the stage out of anyone all night, NME The Illest would stay and play hypeman during Apathy & Celph Titled’s set. With no backstage green room, he guided them to the stage from outside, and they got right into it, starting the set with the new single off Apathy’s 2018 album The Widow’s Son, “STOMP RAPPERS.” The high energy track had a mosh pit break out right away, with the entire crowd jumping to the beat. The crowd was so chaotic that you could barely see Ap & Celph on stage ripping through their verses if you weren’t right up front joining in on the mosh pit.

This Toronto show would be a special stop on the tour, as Apathy would use it to film an upcoming music video for a yet to be released single, “Ap Is Back.” He would perform the song twice, letting the cameras capture the crowd going insane, everyone jumping to the beat. Next, they’d get back to their regularly scheduled program, sticking to the new material by performing “Live From The Iron Curtain” off of Apathy’s 2017 collaborative album with O.C., Perestroika. With Ap rocking a couple solo tracks, Celph Titled would get some shine next, pulling out a deep cut throwback with “Mad As Fuck” before both he and Ap performed “Amon RAW.”

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Apathy & Celph Titled would take turns rocking verses from their solo tracks. Ap would spit his rapid-fire verse to “Moses,” and Celph would follow with the violent, punchline-filled “SMD.” Apathy would quiet the crowd down to spit an unreleased freestyle verse acapella, telling one fan to “shut the fuck up!” so we could take in the lyrics, and Celph would get the crowd jumping again to his Nineteen Ninety Now single, “Mad Ammo.” Continuing to go back and forth with their solo tracks, Apathy performed the classic White Stripes-sampling “It Takes A Seven Nation Army To Hold Us Back,” and Celph Titled followed up with the rugged “Murder Death Kill.”

Having now performed several older throwbacks, Apathy & Celph did one more together, “Swashbuckling,” before returning to Ap’s newest material with the groovy Pete Rock production, “I Keep On.” They would then do something we’re not used to seeing from them: a tribute to other artists they’re either closely associated with or who they look up to. The crowd went wild when they did a Jedi Mind Tricks tribute, performing the hooks to “Heavenly Divine” and “Heavy Metal Kings.” This transitioned into Cypress Hill’s “How I Could Just Kill A Man” and “Hand On The Pump” followed by a cover of Prodigy’s “Shook Ones Pt. II” verse over the beat from Non Phixion’s “Black Helicopters.”

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The last tribute they did ended up being a brilliant transition into their songs with The Demigodz, as they covered Big Pun’s iconic verse from “Twinz (Deep Cover 98),” which of course was sampled and looped for their hook to Demigodz’ “Dead In The Middle.” Ap & Celph continued to perform more songs off of that Demigodz KILLmatic album that they both appear on, including “Raiders Cap” and “Demigodz Is Back.” Being students of Hip-Hop themselves, Apathy tested the crowd by asking who the greatest producer of all time was, to which most shouted out DJ Premier. Having worked with Premo on a few songs, Ap & Celph performed some of the songs he produced for them, starting with the new Apathy track off of The Widow’s Son, “The Order.”

DJ Premier’s unmistakable boom-bap style of production had the crowd bobbing their heads and waving their arms, as Celph Titled performed the first quarter of his track “Primo’s 4 Course Meal.”  Closing out the Premo tribute would be a throwback both Ap & Celph appear on, Apathy’s 2011 track “Stop What Ya Doin’.” After showing love to the greatest Hip-Hop producer of all time, Apathy then got the crowd to cover what he called the greatest verse of all time, Will Smith’s theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Everyone knew the words and continued rapping along as the beat flipped to Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.”

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With their tributes to other artists out of the way, Apathy & Celph Titled got into the final segment of their show, where they’d perform some songs by Army of the Pharaohs. They’d start with 2014’s “God Particle” and slowly turn back the clock, performing their rapid-fire verses from 2010’s “Spaz Out” before going back to 2006 and 2007. With AOTP’s distinct style of rugged battle-oriented raps over war music, the mosh pit was in full effect again. Celph Titled really got to shine here, performing his standout verses on AOTP’s Ritual of Battle album, including “Seven,” “Swords Drawn,” and “Dump The Clip.” The crowd would often finish Celph Titled’s bars for him, as his verses are filled with violent standout punchlines.

Ap would rejoin Celph to perform one last AOTP song, the underground classic “Battle Cry,” and the crowd would stay hyped, chanting “A-O-T-P!” in unison during the hooks. With no backstage to go to, Apathy decided not to play any games and go straight into the encore performance, rocking his 2014 single “The Grand Leveler” before closing out the show with one last acapella freestyle. Having to get through the crowd in order to reach the exit, Ap & Celph decided to stick around on stage to take pictures with the fans.

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Overall, this was another classic night capturing the rugged underground spirit of Hip-Hop. The Vatican Gift Shop is a great venue for small, intimate shows, and Apathy & Celph Titled were a great fit to open it up. As usual, Ap & Celph were top notch performers, finishing each other’s lines and displaying an appreciation for sharp lyricism. Whether they were moshing and raging out to some AOTP and Demigodz tracks, taking in the acapella verses, or straight jamming to the new material off Apathy’s solo albums, the crowd was fully engaged even after giving a ton of energy to the openers. The mosh pit did get a little dangerous in such a small space, but there’s a sense of community in Toronto’s Hip-Hop scene, and cooler heads prevailed in making this a fun night for everyone.

We’ll be sure to keep an eye out for that “Ap Is Back” music video!

 

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