2018 was another epic year in concert-going. It marks the most concert reviews written on this blog in any year so far, with over 30 shows attended and reviewed. We also got to expand beyond Toronto and cover shows in other cities, travelling out for some fun times in Kitchener, Guelph, and Buffalo. Between the large stadium shows and the more intimate bar/club performances, it was an action-packed year with almost non-stop new music and concerts. We counted down our Top 30 favourite Hip-Hop albums of 2018, with a lot of them being enhanced by seeing the new songs performed live, and now it’s time we count down our Top 10 most memorable concerts of the year. Once again, we have to thank all the promoters, organizers, media companies, artists, and of course the fans for filling this year with amazing events and allowing me to capture the moments on the blog!
Click here to check out 2017’s Top 10.
(All shows were in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unless otherwise noted)
*Indicates a show I did not write a review for
Honourable Mentions (in chronological order):
Connect The Dot 2017 Championship Round at Revival
Jay Electronica at The Danforth Music Hall
Mind Ya Brizzness Showcase at Nocturne
Lorde & Run The Jewels at The Air Canada Centre
BADBADNOTGOOD at The Danforth Music Hall
Saukrates at Less Than Level in Oakville, ON
Isla Craig at The Garrison*
Connect The Dot 2018 at Less Than Level in Oakville, ON
2 Chainz at Rebel Nightclub
Rittz at The Rockpile
Joey Bada$$ at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
Snow Tha Product at Adelaide Hall
T.D.E. at Budweiser Stage
Hip-Hop Saturdays Showcase at DelRay Music Lounge*
Otherwise Known at Filar Monica Lira Bom Jesus in Oakville, ON*
Kyle & NF at Budweiser Stage*
Childish Gambino at Scotiabank Arena
J. Cole at Scotiabank Arena
Kool G Rap at Revival
Classified, Maestro & Choclair at The Opera House
The Beatnuts at Hard Luck Bar
Murs at The Drake Hotel
Obie Trice & Swifty McVay at Dstrct in Guelph, ON
Shad at The Great Hall
Onyx at The Opera House
10. RZA at The Royal Theatre
Technically this wasn’t a concert in the traditional sense, but it was one of the best Hip-Hop experiences of 2018. Seemingly emerging out of nowhere last summer with their #NeverJaded marketing campaign, Hexo Cannabis booked The Wu-Tang Clan’s own RZA to do a live score of one of the films that inspired the entire Wu-Tang movement, 1978’s The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. From the free gift bags, food and drinks, including Chinese noodles that put you in a Shaolin state of mind, down to the theatre’s subtle Wu-Tang decorations, Hexo made this an ultimate Wu-Tang experience for the diehard fans and got every detail right. RZA seemed truly inspired taking one of his favourite films and recreating the score with his own Wu-Tang production, and the fans got a kick out of watching the kung-fu action over Wu-Tang beats. It was also an intimate experience getting the fans to participate in interviewing RZA after the movie.
9. Tyler, The Creator & Vince Staples at Ricoh Coliseum
This was Tyler, The Creator’s biggest concert in Toronto yet, and he made it an epic experience for both the longtime fans and the newcomers who started paying attention after the acclaimed, Grammy-nominated Flower Boy album. It was quite possibly the very first rap concert ever held at Ricoh Coliseum, and Tyler and Vince both brought some unique stage designs to the arena, with Vince Staples’ opening performance having an eye-catching set of moving screens, and Tyler’s set bringing to life the lush, grassy scenery of the Flower Boy album art. Not only did the stage look fly, but the crowd was energetic as Tyler performed nearly all of his newest album while also sprinkling some epic throwbacks in between. Tyler continues to rise as one of the most creative rapper/producers in this new generation of artists, and seeing what he can do with a bigger budget and bigger venue was a huge payoff.
8. Jeru The Damaja at Hard Luck Bar
2018 was the first time I caught a show at Hard Luck Bar, and it’s become one of my favourite venues in the city. The intimate setting gives the show more of a house party vibe, with the performers being able to interact directly with the audience, and this particular performer was a straight pro when it came to rocking a crowd. Jeru The Damaja took it back to the golden age, rocking the mic with no gimmicks, and proving to be a true example of Hip-Hop ageing gracefully. Without any special lighting effects, stage props, or jumbo screens, Jeru spit his raw raps perfectly in-pocket and had the crowd completely engaged in his performance. As we should come to expect from veteran emcees, Jeru executed his timing to perfection, knowing exactly when to pause and crack some jokes, when to crank up the energy to get the room electrified, and all the ways to get the crowd participating rather than just observing.
7. Apathy & Celph Titled at The Vatican Gift Shop
Every single photo I took at this concert shows nothing but chaos. With their near-constant touring, seeing Apathy & Celph Titled in Toronto is nothing new, but for this show they helped open the doors to a brand new venue in the east end, The Vatican Gift Shop, and had the crowd extremely energized off the new material from Apathy’s The Widow’s Son album. New songs like “STOMP RAPPERS” had a mosh pit going even in such a small space, and this may have been the most hyped crowd I’ve seen them perform in front of. Ap & Celph’s team of touring artists running the merch booth made you feel welcome as soon as you walked in the Gift Shop doors, and the local Toronto emcees put on a wicked show behind the dungeon doors before The Demigodz even entered the building. Shoutout to NME The Illest for being one of the dopest hypemen in the game.
6. Connect The Dot On A Yacht – The Empress of Canada
The annual Connect The Dot tournament brings all of the GTA’s best local emcees together to compete by getting them to perform their best songs live, and they went big for 2018. After crowning the 2017 champion early in the year, Toronto legend Saukrates joined the entire 2018 tour to judge all of the showcases throughout Ontario, and it all culminated in this championship round aboard The Empress of Canada. Having the showcase aboard a yacht with a set departure and docking time made it so that every head present was there to witness every performer, and able to form a proper opinion on who the champ should be. There was also a tight sense of community, as every fan was there to hear some raw raps from emcees they may not be familiar with, and every artist was among the crowd with them, taking turns performing in the center of the circle on the top deck. It may have been freezing out in the middle of Lake Ontario on a September night, but Toronto’s Hip-Hop community definitely brought that heat.
5. Ludacris at Beer Fest – Bandshell Park
Always one of the best summer festivals the city has to offer, Toronto’s Festival of Beer was an awesome time yet again. Hundreds of breweries from around the world set up tasting tents and games all over Bandshell Park, and capping off the Friday night of the weekend-long festival was a performance by rap superstar Ludacris. It may have been slightly spoiled by the rain, but that didn’t stop a sold-out crowd from having a good time and getting rowdy with one of Atlanta’s best to ever do it. While he’s been spending recent years making movies, Luda proved he can still rock a mic with charisma and maintains his rep as a world-class entertainer. If TFOB keeps bringing us parties like this where we get to taste every beer imaginable in the summer heat and cap off the night with a live performance filled with classics, there’s no way they won’t keep making this list every year.
4. Busta Rhymes at Rebel Nightclub
Immediately after Ludacris ended his set at Beer Fest, we took a cab over to Rebel Nightclub, where the legendary Busta Rhymes would be doing a late night performance. This show may have had its issues, from Lil’ Kim being removed from the lineup due to flight cancellations, to the 2-hour wait for Busta to hit the stage, and then Busta having issues with the soundman when he did get on stage, but the performance itself was epic as to be expected. In a rare appearance north of the border, Busta Rhymes hit the Toronto crowd with hit after hit, running through all his classics over his 30+ year career, and living up to his reputation as one of the best live performers ever. He really can flow live in person as fast and with the same impeccable breath control as he does on his studio recordings, and it’s a sight to see him pull it off with such fly choreography and style.
3. Wu-Tang Clan at Bingemans On The Grand in Kitchener, ON
The Wu-Tang Clan hit a milestone in 2018, celebrating the 25th anniversary of their classic debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). With all nine living members dedicated to the world-tour to celebrate the occasion, they spent the year headlining music festivals around the world and performing on epic stages abroad. For Canada, their only stop in Ontario was initially supposed to be this show in Kitchener (more on that later), which made sure only the most dedicated fans would make the trip from cities like Toronto and London. While Method Man had to bail for a last-minute film obligation in Hollywood, the other eight members came out and performed one of the most well-structured setlists I’ve seen them do, although cut a bit short due to curfews. Despite some sound issues ongoing throughout the night, the energy at this show was still cranked, as thousands of fans came out mostly dressed in black and yellow Wu-Tang attire and filled the field just off of the Grand River to celebrate this milestone.
2. Jay-Z & Beyonce at New Era Field in Buffalo, USA
Of all the large stadium/arena shows I went to in 2018, The Carters had the coolest stage design, and they made sure to put nearly every inch of it to use. They also had the best sound quality, not relying on any arena’s sound system and bringing their own gear to these NFL stadiums. Then you had the performers themselves, Jay-Z & Beyonce, who were fresh off of releasing their very first full-length album together, Everything Is Love, and were the talk of the summer with their coinciding On The Run II Tour. While they only performed three songs off the new album, the show was still epic as the couple took turns going through years of their solo hits, putting together a well-executed setlist that took you on a journey through their ups and downs together. With the level of star power they have, the extravagance was as you’d expect, with no shortage of fireworks, pyrotechnics, levitating platforms, and dancers, all helping make this one of the biggest concert tours of the year. “Have you ever seen a crowd going apeshit?”
1. Wu-Tang Clan at Rebel Nightclub
Every year we have some form or variation of a Wu-Tang concert near the top of our list, but this is the only one in all these years where all nine members of the legendary group showed up. After Method Man bailed on the Kitchener show, Hexo Cannabis gave Wu-Tang a second chance to give their Canadian fans a proper 25th Anniversary concert by booking them as part of their #NeverJaded event series. This ended up being the ultimate redemption, as the Toronto fans got a free concert, with all nine members being on the same stage together for the first time in the city, plus joined by two of the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s sons covering their father’s songs. Young Dirty Bastard has mastered his ability to channel his late father’s energy on stage, and was the last piece to make this the most complete-feeling Wu-Tang concert I’ve seen. They performed the entire Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album in tracklisting order from beginning to end, plus did almost an extra hour performing songs off their other classics. They often say at their shows “the energy you give to us, we’ll give back to you,” and the Toronto crowd brought exactly the right energy to make this an epic, historical Wu-Tang experience.
And that caps off 2018! Thank you to all the readers on this blog, and here’s looking forward to more concerts in 2019!
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.