There are many ways to ring in the summer in Toronto, and one of those ways would be the opening weekend of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival! On the first official weekend of summer, and for the entire week to follow, the Toronto Jazz Fest shut down a stretch of Bloor Street between Bay Street and Avenue Road, and set up a few stages to host some free, outdoor concerts. On the third day of the festival, a Sunday night, there would be a Hip-Hop showcase that was both curated and headlined by Juno award-winning emcee, Shad. With Hip-Hop producers often sampling Jazz music to create their beats, it’s only right that at least one of the ten days of the festival include a Hip-Hop showcase, and the Toronto legend Shad was a perfect pick to curate it.
Shad is coming off of releasing season 2 of his award-winning documentary series, Hip-Hop Evolution, where he takes us through the history of Hip-Hop culture dating back to 1970’s New York by interviewing several iconic and influential figures. With the way he’s able to connect the dots between the most prominent Hip-Hop artists all the way back to that 1973 rec room party hosted by DJ Kool Herc, drawing Hip-Hop’s ties to Jazz music would be a piece of cake for him. On the music side of things, Shad is also coming off of releasing his sixth full-length album, 2018’s A Short Story About A War. The album made our list for the best albums of last year, and Shad was able to go on an international tour off of it, including two shows at The Great Hall last December. While he’s known to perform in Toronto at least once a year, this would just be his third concert in the city since releasing the new album.
Before Shad would bless the stage, there would be an eclectic lineup of artists he helped choose to perform at this festival for this Hip-Hop meets Jazz showcase. We waited patiently as some of them came out early just for soundcheck, and eventually the host of CBC Radio’s Afterdark show, Odario Williams, came out to get the concert started.
Odario introduced a producer from Guelph, Ontario named Elaquent, who would use a sampler to play his own beats throughout the evening as the stage was prepped between performers. Elaquent got the show started with some smooth, J Dilla-esque productions that brought on some mellow vibes. It wasn’t quite a Hip-Hop setup with the way the first several rows of audience members were in fold-out chairs, with the standing crowd behind them, but it allowed for a relaxing setting for us to take in the music as the sun began to set.
After a short set by Elaquent, a Brooklyn Jazz/Soul/RnB crew called Make Jazz Trill Again would take the stage. The band consisted of a drummer, an upright bass player, and vocalist Melanie Charles behind a sampler center-stage. Odario had been joking earlier about how the sound check took forever, but it turned out to be no good, as Charles’ sampler gave some deafening feedback midway through the first song. They would pause the show and reconnect some wires, but Charles and her crew would persevere, performing their songs unfazed by the technical difficulties. Being on-point as the host, Odario actually took the time to let the crowd get to know Melanie, and we learned that she is of Haitian descent and that this was her first performance ever in Toronto.
The Toronto crowd showed a ton of love for Melanie Charles’ first concert in the city, so much so that she was given an extra 20 minutes on stage. She pulled out a flute at one point to play an instrumental track with the rest of the band, and delivered some soulful vocals as she sang throughout her set. The crowd gave her a standing ovation and a few shouts for an encore could be heard, bringing tears of joy to her face. Regretfully, she had to let the show go on, but it would only get more live from here.
After some more beats by Elaquent, Odario would introduce the next performers, Oddisee and his band Good Compny. Oddisee is of course an incredible producer in his own right, who does have some Jazz influence in many of his songs, and after seeing him and the band perform at Lee’s Palace back in 2017, we knew they were a great fit going into this festival.
Oddisee and Good Compny got their set started with a couple songs off of Oddisee’s most recent album, The Iceberg, performing the upbeat “Things” to bring energy to the stage right away, and had some dope choreography as the band all bounced in unison as they performed “Built By Pictures.” They showed off some of their Jazz influence with the way they appeared to improvise the tempo of each verse while performing “Strength & Weakness,” and Odd got the crowd involved with some call-and-response for “Hold It Back.”
Oddisee would take some time to speak on the threatening political climate of his father’s home country of Sudan, and what being an immigrant means to him, before performing one of his more conscious songs, “Lifting Shadows.” He would quickly brighten up the mood again though, performing his more upbeat, positive songs like “Want To Be” and “That’s Love,” with Good Compny providing some more improvisation with the beats and tempos. The timing of Oddisee’s flow was perfectly executed over the drums, and more of the crowd was getting out of their seats to dance.
To close out the set, Oddisee & Good Compny would perform a throwback with “Own Appeal,” the band switching up the beat for the hype third verse, and transitioned seamlessly into their tribute to their hometown Washington D.C., “NNGE (Never Not Getting Enough).” Odd would switch places with his DJ to let the DJ spit a verse, and the band all together mashed out a go-go dance to bring one last wave of energy out of the crowd.
I wrote it in my last review, but the synergy Oddisee had with Good Compny was comparable to seeing The Roots perform, as every band member was perfectly on-point with their execution. Odario and Elaquent would return to the stage while the crowd was still chanting “one more song!,” and although the host encouraged the chants, the show kept moving as Good Compny’s gear was packed up and moved off stage. Odario would spit a freestyle rap over Elaquent’s beats while we waited for the stage to be prepped, and soon after it was time for the headliner of the evening, Shad.
With a stripped down version of his band including only a drummer, keyboardist, and DJ T.Lo on the boards, Shad came out and started his set pretty much the same way he did his last show in Toronto. Starting with his tribute to the city with “Another Year,” Shad was forced to change some of his lyrics as this was not just any other year for Toronto; Raptors fever was still in the air and laughs could be heard as Shad spit the bar “no more dunks for Demar.” With the song being at a steady walking pace, Shad broke out into a freestyle towards the end of it, as he then transitioned into the lead single off of the new album, “The Fool Pt 1 (Get It Got It Good).” “Damn it feels good to be back!”
After the upbeat single, Shad would continue with more songs off the new album, including “Intro: Sniper” and the more aggressive “The Stone Throwers (Gone In A Blink),” spitting every word to every verse with perfect flow. While the new album takes you into a fictional universe that’s damaged by war, Shad of course had to brighten up the mood with some of his throwbacks, going back to 2007 with “Compromise.” The upbeat chunes got the crowd waving their arms as he continued with a string of his hits including “Rose Garden,” “Stylin,” and “Yaa I Get It.” The latter two songs had Shad put his raw emceeing skills on display, as not only are they filled with incredible wordplay as is, but he would improvise and flip some of the lyrics to include more Raptors references, replacing the MGD line in “Stylin” with “…but I’m twenty-three / that’s Lebron, that’s Jordan, either way or I’m undrafted… Fred VanVleet!”
After rapping his ass off into an acapella freestyle at the end of “Yaa I Get It,” Shad would perform what he called his metaphor for evil with another song off of the Short Story album, “Magic.” With the song being more serious and emotional, he would pause to cleanse the pallet and speak on how Jazz taught him about Hip-Hop and vice-versa, before highlighting some of his Jazz influence with the throwback “I Don’t Like To.” He’d then keep the party vibes going with more of his upbeat singles like “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins),” (DJ T.Lo shining with the way he chopped up that Jay-Z sample), “Keep Shining,” and “Remember To Remember.”
Nearing the final stretch of his performance, Shad would rock a couple more songs off the new album, cranking up the energy for the up-tempo “Peace/War,” and showing off the improvements he made to his singing voice for this album with the joyful “The Fool Pt. 3 (Frame of Mind),” singing the last note acapella so you know it’s real. Getting the queue to wrap it up, Shad went back to 2007 again with a familiar throwback, “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home,” getting the crowd to coordinate and clap the beat for him to spit the final verse. With an appropriately hype reaction to nailing every word to that last verse perfectly, Shad jumped up and got the band to do one last song with him before they were kicked off the stage, diving right into the uplifting closer to the new album, “All I Need.”
Acknowledging all the street closures and crowd gatherings Toronto has had between the record-breaking Raptors Championship Parade last week and the multiple Pride parades/marches this week, Shad thanked the crowd for gathering one more time to see the artists perform on Bloor Street before saying goodbye. He left the crowd in a joyful mood as everyone dispersed peacefully. Overall, this was a fun time seeing some live Hip-Hop and Jazz out on a sunny day, and it’s always a fun time seeing these particular artists. Melanie Charles made a great first impression with this crowd, and Oddisee & Good Compny damn near stole the show with their incredible stage presence. Shad had the hometown crowd in the palm of his hand though, as every time he blesses a stage in the city, to quote Odario earlier in the evening, “Toronto shows love!”
TD Toronto Jazz Festival continues all week long until this Sunday (June 30th), check out the full list of events at TorontoJazz.com!
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