It’s been an awesome 5+ years running this blog and reviewing as many concerts as I can possibly go to. I’m celebrating my 30th birthday this week, and it’s been over a decade since I went to my first rap concert and fell in love with live Hip-Hop shows, and that feeling of seeing one of your favourite artists perform just a few feet in front of you. To mark the occasion, I felt like reflecting on the years of concert-going, and just for kicks made an attempt to rank all of the concerts I’ve been to and narrow them down to the top 30 most memorable. With almost 150 concerts attended over the past decade, it’s a tough task picking just 30 of the most memorable to write about, but this is my attempt to paint a picture and remember some of the best shows I’ve been blessed to attend.
Here is Part 1 of the Top 30 Countdown, starting with #30 – 21:
*All concerts were in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unless otherwise noted*
30. Wu-Tang Solo Concerts at Dundas Square & The Sound Academy
(June 2012 – June 2013)
With a Top 30 being tough to narrow down, I’m starting this off with one big tie. In the months leading up to the Wu-Tang Clan’s 20th anniversary of their 1993 debut, the more notable members of the legendary crew performed solo concerts at The Sound Academy in Toronto, which has since been renovated and rebranded into Rebel Nightclub. After Raekwon & Ghostface Killah both headlined the 2012 NXNE Festival in Dundas Square (where Killer Mike and a pre-fame Action Bronson opened for them), GZA came to the Sound Academy in September to perform a Liquid Swords-themed concert, and this was the first time I remember deciding to attend a concert by myself, regardless if I had anyone to go with. It was a life-changing decision.
The following January, Method Man would perform a solo concert in the same venue, and would return in June for an epic performance alongside Redman. Ghostface Killah & Sheek Louch would perform together in February, promoting their brand new Wu-Block album at the time, but the most memorable in this series might’ve been Raekwon performing his entire Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album in track listing order in March, even covering the verses of the many Wu members who make guest appearances on the classic album. Between being able to meet Raekwon, Ghostface & Sheek, breaking my glasses in the mosh pit while Redman crowd surfed above, and buying a Wu-Tang shirt directly from Streetlife at the merch booth, these were some of the most memorable concerts for a young Wu-Tang fan.
29. Deltron 3030 at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
(October 16, 2013)
The legendary trio of Del The Funky Homosapien, Dan The Automator, and DJ Kid Koala seem to only come together once a decade, and around 2012-2013 is the last time they went on an incredible run surrounding their Event II album. After previewing the never-before-heard new music at the 2012 Luminato Festival with a concert featuring an entire orchestra, the group went on to release their sophomore album in 2013 and followed with a tour that would bring them to the more intimate Phoenix Concert Theatre. Minus the orchestra but joined by a band featuring Steve Aoki on guitar, this performance was more compact with fewer moving parts on stage, and the fans were better able to get into the songs now that the album had been released.
With the material known to everyone in the room, Deltron 3030 ran through favourites off of each of their two albums, plus did a surprise performance of their classic “Clint Eastwood” released as The Gorillaz – an extremely rare performance of the hit single with Del there to perform his verses. With the rarity of Deltron 3030 forming in the studio, let alone going on tour together, this concert is one that fans had waited years to see, and the lucky ones who attended will remember for years to come.
28. Rakim at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
(July 4, 2014)
For Hip-Hop enthusiasts, seeing Rakim perform live is a must at least once in your lifetime, and this was that one time for me. One of the all-time greats, Rakim is a classic emcee from a classic era, and he brings that style and swagger on stage when he performs. For this concert, he went through all the years of his classics, performing songs from the mid 1980’s up to his most recent release from 2009. In a showcase of true emceeing in its purest form, Rakim spit his raps with perfect execution, and his legendary status was acknowledged by the way he was able to stop and let the fans rap entire verses for him. It felt like a standard rap show at the time, but then you think about how all rap shows are derivative of the foundations guys like Rakim helped establish, and you realize you’re experiencing Hip-Hop in its purest element, with one of the original greats.
This concert was also one of my earliest memories of seeing local artists like Robbie G, Stacee Brizzle, and Marmel ENT, who have grown their presence in the GTA over the years and have become mainstays in the Toronto Hip-Hop scene if they weren’t already. I would go on to see Stacee Brizzle host and organize dozens and dozens of more shows over the years, and Robbie G grow both as an emcee and an influencer on the business side of the music scene.
27. ¡Mayday! at The Rockpile
(July 18, 2015)
¡Mayday! has to be one of the most underrated and underappreciated groups in Hip-Hop today, and so it felt like experiencing a well-kept secret when they performed their first ever concert in Toronto. This was as close as we’ve gotten to seeing all of the original members of the Miami band, as several of them have either dropped out of touring or left the band altogether over the years. You had the core members Wrekonize & Bernz on the mic, NonMS on drums & percussion, and Gianni Ca$h alternating between bass guitar and turntables (he would later discontinue touring with the band). Like most artists signed to Strange Music, ¡Mayday! has continued to release new music and tour heavily over the years, but this first tour north of the border was a special one.
As with most shows at The Rockpile, there were plenty of local artists performing with the openers. Standouts at this one included my first time seeing Team OBM, who have gone on to become a force in Toronto’s underground, and Aileron, a Vancouver group from which would birth the solo career of Joseph Rose. It was a humble night for all the artists, especially ¡Mayday!, who gave all the fans a meet & greet after the show where I got my Take Me To Your Leader CD autographed.
26. System of a Down at Molson Amphitheatre
(June 19, 2015)
Although this is a Hip-Hop blog, there are times I’ll branch out to other genres, and seeing my favourite Metal band had to be one of them. With this 2015 tour they were out to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, but System of a Down didn’t get preachy with any speeches and just let the music do the talking for them. They went through an epic two-hour setlist filled with rage and mosh pits, performing all the hits as well as several deep album cuts from four of their five albums (skipping over 2002’s Steal This Album!). It was great seeing them perform all the memorable hit songs they charted with, but it was especially satisfying to see the more rare cuts like “Soil,” “Tentative,” and “Lost in Hollywood” get performed too.
While you could say they were a decade past their prime, System of a Down still rocked out and gave the fans everything they had, looking like they were simply having fun going through years of memories together. Serj and Daron would cause laughter with the way they improvised and changed up the lyrics here and there, and Shavo and John killed it on bass and drums as usual. Long-time fans have been starved to hear more music from the band, but this concert was the ultimate celebration of their discography that has had no new additions since 2005, bringing us all back to rock out to these 10+ year-old classics.
25. CunninLynguists at The Opera House
(November 17, 2012)
Fans had been waiting for years to see the CunninLynguists go on their first ever Canadian tour, and after this incredible concert in 2012, we’ve been waiting to this day to see them return for a second run. Joined by close affiliates Sadistik and Tonedeff as their openers, the southern group hailing from Atlanta and Kentucky gave the fans everything they could during their only concert ever in Toronto. While Natti wasn’t able to make it across the border, Deacon The Villain & Kno still put on a wild show as a duo, taking the fans through their discography while leaning heavily towards their older throwbacks from before Natti joined the group. Kno would cover Natti’s verses on their newer songs post-2006, and they performed fan favourites like “Thugged Out Since Cub Scouts,” “Hellfire,” and “Since When.”
Tonedeff had a notable performance opening for his guys. Performing songs from his Archetype album and previewing unreleased songs that would eventually come out on 2016’s Polymer, Tonedeff put on a wicked show, jumping down at one point and forming a conga line in the crowd. It was an embarrassing moment for me when I was one of a handful of people who failed to catch Tone when he stage dived, landing on my ass, but we both got up and kept the party going. Tonedeff would return to the stage with CunninLynguists and perform several of his collaborations with them, including “616 Rewind” and “Love Ain’t,” and the team as a whole made it a classic Hip-Hop night to remember.
24. Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
(Oct. 2015, Sept. 2017, and Mar. 2019)
Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko are an elite duo within Hip-Hop when it comes to stage presence, choreography, and putting on a wicked live show. Known for setting world records with their hectic touring schedules and giving fans every opportunity to see them perform live, it’s hard to pick out any one particular concert to put on this list, as they are so consistently great. Within this past decade however, Tech N9ne’s star power has risen with more gold and platinum plaques, and consistently making the attention-grabbing Forbes list for highest earning Hip-Hop artists; the numbers have started to catch up to the greatness. This has also been reflected in his concerts north of the border, as he has been able to upgrade from performing at the Rockpile year after year to the larger Phoenix Concert Theatre.
Whenever Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko perform, it’s a celebration of independent excellence, and it’s been great seeing that celebration grow every year they return to Toronto. Ever since 2013’s Something Else album, Tech N9ne has reached new heights with every release, and he’s consistently had new music to perform every time he’s filled up The Phoenix. These concerts have been some of the most memorable with Tech being at the height of his fame, and he’s bound to keep this run going for years to come.
23. PRhyme at Tattoo
(February 25, 2015)
The pairing of Royce Da 5’9″ & DJ Premier was a Hip-Hop dream when they formed the group PRhyme, and their first tour together was my first opportunity to see one of my top 3 favourite emcees perform live. Whether you’re a fan of Slaughterhouse, Bad Meets Evil, or Royce’s solo career, you got a bit of everything with this show, as Royce performed some of his most standout verses from each of his musical endeavours, while focusing heavily on the new PRhyme album at the time. It was especially cool seeing his Eminem collaborations like “Scary Movies” and “Fast Lane” get performed in a small club setting as opposed to the massive stadiums Eminem would normally perform in. DJ Premier also killed it with his sample journey, taking us through the songs sampled to create some of his standout beats for Jay-Z, Nas, Biggie, and of course Gang Starr.
Royce lived up to expectations as one of my favourite emcees, as he absolutely slayed every verse he spit word for word. You hear stories of what it was like for guys like him, Eminem, Proof, and D12 coming up in the Detroit underground, but this show really gave you a feel for that, as it was an up-close, intimate setting where the emcees on stage leaned heavily on their mic presence to shine. The opening performance by relative newcomer Your Old Droog had the same approach, and overall this night captured the essence of raw, underground rap. I just wish I bought one of the PRhyme t-shirts when I had the chance.
22. GZA at The 2015 UNITY Festival in Dundas Square
(July 25, 2015)
In a birthday weekend celebration where I went to three concerts in three nights, this one stood out the most, as it was my favourite member of the Wu-Tang Clan performing as I had never seen him perform before. Fans who have seen the GZA perform live know he’ll typically rock several classic songs off of his 1995 Liquid Swords album, as well as his standout verses on Wu-Tang Clan songs, but this concert had a different energy that brought more out of him. First you have to take in the context: the annual UNITY Festival. UNITY Charity puts on their annual festival to celebrate their year-round work in helping build leaders in the youth of our community through Hip-Hop. The festival typically lasts about a week and features all the elements of Hip-Hop, including dance, beatboxing, graffiti art, and spoken word/emceeing.
With an outdoor concert at Dundas Square filled with fans of all ages participating in breakdance cyphers, and having knowledge and appreciation for spoken poetry and wordplay, it made for the most energetic and hyped performance I’ve ever seen GZA do (shoutout to Mississauga’s own Rich Kidd with the wild crowd surfing during his opening set). GZA rocked with a live band recreating his beats, and he went deep into his catalogue, performing rare cuts I had never seen him rock before like “Animal Planet” and “Crash Your Crew” on top of all the usual classics. He had enthusiastic impressions of his late cousin Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and even did some upside-down breakdancing with a young fan after his set – something I never thought I’d see this dude do in person. As many times as I’ve seen GZA perform both with the Wu-Tang Clan and solo, this concert has stood out as the most memorable of his.
21. Linkin Park at The Air Canada Center
(August 24, 2014)
First of all, rest in peace Chester Bennington. Little did we know it at the time, but this ended up being his last concert in Toronto before he passed away, and fuck did he put on a show! With the way he passed, it’s hard to connect the dots back to the way he was at this concert, as he was so lively and full of energy. He gave everything to the crowd, and even when the spotlight wasn’t on him, you could catch him behind the stage (from my vantage point at least) dancing as Rob Bourdon performed a drum solo. Back in 2014 though, we had no idea what was about to happen to him in the next few years, and it was all about checking off a bucket list item by seeing one of my favourite bands from my childhood perform.
This concert gave me pretty much everything I wanted to see from this band. They performed a lot of my favourites from their first three albums, while also leaning deep into their newest album at the time, The Hunting Party. The chemistry between Chester and Mike Shinoda as the primary vocalists was incredible, almost like watching Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, as Chester thrived as the frontman while Mike adapted and took on every role the band needed him to take to make this an awesome show. The band as a whole performed incredibly as they took the fans through every notable hit song they ever made, plus some deep album-cut gems, making this a very satisfying concert for those seeing them perform for the first and only time.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the countdown dropping at noon tomorrow!
(UPDATE: Click here to go on to Part 2 of the countdown!)
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.