Toronto’s Festival of Beer continues to carry on traditions that make it one of the best annual music festivals in the city. Every year, in beautiful July weather, they set up tents and bring hundreds of breweries from around the world to Bandshell Park, where festival attendees can spend the day sampling all those beers while taking in some live music at the Bandshell Stage. The festival goes on all weekend, and following tradition, the Friday night would be dedicated to Hip-Hop. Past performers I’ve seen headline the festival include Ludacris, Method Man & Redman (which I recently named one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to), and Naughty By Nature, but the 2019 edition of the festival would have the most Hip-Hop representation TFOB has ever had.
Rather than stick to the format of Hip-Hop music on Friday, and Rock and/or Country on Saturday and Sunday, TFOB opened up a second stage strictly for Country music for the whole weekend, and made the main stage on Sunday a second night of Hip-Hop. Fans of early 2000’s Hip-Hop & RnB could see the duo of Ja Rule & Ashanti headline on the Sunday, but Friday was still the go-to night for old school heads who like the traditional two turntables and a microphone approach. The Friday lineup was absolutely stacked, including Toronto Hip-Hop pioneer Michie Mee, Philly legend DJ Jazzy Jeff, and various members from three legendary New York groups: Boot Camp Clik (Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun, Rock), Wu-Tang Clan (Raekwon & Ghostface Killah), and Public Enemy Radio, which is basically Public Enemy minus Flavor Flav.
With their biggest, most epic Hip-Hop lineup to date, the concert portion of TFOB’s Friday was set to start early, within half an hour of gates opening. Things didn’t quite go as planned though, as the performances started about an hour late. Word around the festival started to spread that Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun didn’t make it across the border, leaving a big gap in the lineup. This didn’t bother us at all though, as it only meant more time to explore the festival grounds and try out more beers. In between grabbing some burgers, trying out some Polish beer, and checking out our favourite Delirium tent, we could see Michie Mee rocking the stage in the background, and eventually made our way over there by the time DJ Jazzy Jeff took over.
We continued to sample more beers in the area as DJ Jazzy Jeff performed (shoutouts to Barking Squirrel). We weren’t quite able to take in the turntablism while over at the beer tents, but could see he had the crowd rocking as he spun some Hip-Hop classics. Making our way into the crowd during Jazz’ set, we got a decent spot as it became time for Raekwon & Ghostface Killah to hit the stage.
When Rae & Ghost got on, they immediately got into some rarities that don’t get performed often, starting with their feature appearance on Mobb Deep’s “Right Back At You” (R.I.P. Prodigy). Having last seen them perform with the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan last September, this performance would almost entirely be filled with songs that they didn’t perform last time they were here. Besides the big hits like “It’s Yourz,” “Incarcerated Scarfaces” and “Ice Cream,” the majority of their set was all deep album cuts from their classic solo albums: Ironman, Supreme Clientele, and of course Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. They performed some of the standout songs off those albums like “Black Jesus,” “Criminology,” and “Mighty Healthy (Mighty Deadly),” but the dopest might’ve been seeing them perform the epic “Verbal Intercourse” in its entirety, including a cover of Nas’ verse before each rocking their own. As an avid Wu-Tang concert-goer, I can say this is the only time I’ve seen that happen on stage.
After a couple more mid-90’s joints including Mobb Deep’s “Eye For An Eye,” Ghostface’s “We Made It,” and Raekwon’s “Yae Yo,” they got into a Wu-Tang Clan segment, with Raekwon rocking his classic verse from “C.R.E.A.M.” followed by a cover of “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit.” The crowd of course got hyped and chanted along to the classic Wu track. Rae & Ghost then ran through a medley of memorable verses and hooks, including GFK’s first verse on “Run,” the hook from “Motherless Child,” and Rae & Ghost’s opening verses on “Bring Da Ruckus,” before eventually doing a cover of their Wu-Tang brethren’s verses on the classic “Triumph.” While Rae & Ghost like to bring fans on stage at their solo concerts to help them perform the Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck,” they skipped this segment and instead had a different surprise in store, bringing out the only member of Boot Camp Clik who actually made it into Canada, Rock of Heltah Skeltah.
While we couldn’t get the full Boot Camp Clik experience, Rock did his best bringing that energy to the stage with a solid 15 minutes. With his booming voice he went through several of his verses from B.C.C. songs as well as Heltah Skeltah, starting off with “Operation Lockdown.” Rather than cover Ruck’s verses on the song (R.I.P. Sean Price), Rock just mashed up his two verses into one monster verse, bringing mad energy to the stage. With Raekwon & Ghostface onlooking from the side of the stage, Rock would perform more Heltah Skeltah joints, leaning heavily on their classic Nocturnal album, and gave the crowd a salute after his short set. I would’ve liked to see Raekwon join Rock for a shortened version of Sean P’s “Clans & Cliks,” but was still happy with the throwback joints we got from Rock.
By now the sun had set, and Public Enemy’s iconic logos started to show on the screens on stage. With Public Enemy celebrating the 30th anniversary of their classic album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, the excitement in the crowd built as we knew we were in for a special performance. Performing under the name Public Enemy Radio, you still had the core members Chuck D and DJ Lord, with Jahi stepping in as Chuck’s hypeman in the absence of Flavor Flav. Joined by two militant looking dancers decked out in camouflage and bulletproof vests, Public Enemy Radio rushed the stage and brought all the energy right away.
Public Enemy Radio got started at the beginning, taking it all the way back to their 1987 debut Yo! Bum Rush The Show, with the classic “Miuzi Weighs A Ton.” They would quickly get into some It Takes A Nation… joints though, performing “Don’t Believe The Hype,” and getting the crowd completely energized with the loud “Rebel Without A Pause.” While the bass was so heavy that it even drowned out Chuck D’s booming voice at times, the crowd still brought all their energy as they ran through Public Enemy’s classic throwbacks. Chuck D would drop trivia about those first two albums throughout the set, including how some ideas were conceived during interviews with Toronto’s NOW Magazine back in the late 1980’s. He had a lot of love for the Toronto crowd, referring to us as “champions” in honour of the Toronto Raptors.
Known to be highly political, Chuck would also take time out to bash U.S. President Trump, getting the crowd to cheer, and would later bring out a surprise special guest, Daddy-O of the 1980’s group Stetasonic. While I’m admittedly unfamiliar with the music, as it was before my time, Daddy-O still put on a wicked show as he brought that classic 80’s vibe with his raw emceeing. Next, DJ Lord would get a segment to shine on the turntables, pulling off some wicked scratching while going behind his back. It was definitely a true-school Hip-Hop performance with the raw elements of DJing and emceeing on full display.
When Chuck D and Jahi returned to the stage, they continued through the years, performing 1989’s “Welcome To The Terrordome” and 1991’s “Shut ‘Em Down.” The crowd rapped along with Chuck to that iconic delivery of the lyrics “I got so much trouble on my mind, refuse to lose!,” getting hyped as Chuck ripped through that “Terrordome” verse. They would perform a few more songs off of the It Takes A Nation… album, including the energetic “Bring The Noise” and the certified head-nodder “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos.” The crowd remained hyped the entire time.
In one last salute to the city, Chuck D brought Toronto legend Michie Mee back to the stage, reminding the T-Dot crowd to appreciate its pioneers of the culture. They then turned up for one last song, “Fight The Power,” getting everyone to pump their fists to the beat before saying peace.
Overall, this might go down as one of the best years for Toronto’s Festival of Beer. While there was the hiccup of not having all the artists on the lineup make it into Canada, it was still such a stacked lineup that Hip-Hop heads definitely had a blast regardless. This was my third time seeing Raekwon & Ghostface Killah perform as a duo, and they continue to find ways to excite diehard Wu-Tang fans who’ve seen them perform multiple times over the years, digging deep into their solo discographies. It was my first time seeing Chuck D perform with Public Enemy, and they gave a hype performance paying tribute to the early years of the group’s music. Between all the legends sharing the stage, Beer Fest will definitely be remembered as one of the best Hip-Hop concerts of the year, as usual.
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