When it comes to Hip-Hop and R&B, Nas & Mary J. Blige can be considered royalty of their respective genres, each having legendary careers lasting over 25 years, and now they have joined forces for The Royalty Tour. Celebrating 25 years of Nas’ Illmatic album and Mary J. Blige’s My Life album, the two legends have been on the road performing all summer, and for the third-last show of the tour made their only stop in Canada at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage.
With no opening performers joining them on tour, this show would have local Toronto DJ Killa Kels holding it down for those who arrived early, and Toronto emcee Haviah Mighty performing at the River Bar stage before the show. We showed up right on time to catch the headliners themselves, and thankfully the rain held off for the entire show despite a thunderstorm in the forecast.
The show started with the jumbo screen showing a montage of highlights from each of Nas & Mary J. Blige’s careers, reflecting on their 25-year legacies, before the lights came on to reveal a live band on stage and the duo standing on a platform above them. Nas & MJB then walked to the opposite ends of the platform and kicked off the show with a performance of their new 2019 single together, “Thriving.” Having only done a handful of collaborations together over the years, they walked down to the front of the stage and continued with their second most recent song together, performing Nas’ Life Is Good track “Reach Out.” After setting things off with a bang, Mary J. Blige ran backstage and left Nas to carry out his own solo set.
Unlike the last time Nas performed here while on tour with Lauryn Hill in 2017, this would be a very linear concert. Rather than going back and forth sharing the stage, Nas would simply rock the stage for almost an hour, followed by an hour of Mary J. Blige. Nas’ solo set would start chronologically too, as he got into several tracks off of that classic Illmatic album he’s always performed at nearly every concert of his for the past decade. With the live band backing him, Nas would run through favourites like “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” “Life’s A Bitch,” “Halftime,” and “The World Is Yours,” still as dope as ever, and would then start to take us through the years.
Flames would shoot out from the top of the stage as Nas performed the aggressive “Hate Me Now,” and he would continue to jump between the late 90’s and early 2000’s for the rest of his set. The crowd was totally on board for the journey, singing along to the chorus of “I Can,” waving their arms to “Nas Is Like” and “Got Yourself A Gun,” and dancing to “Oochie Wally” and “You Owe Me.” He would next take it back to 1996 with some classic It Was Written joints like “Street Dreams” and “The Message.” We thought Mary J. Blige might come back out to do a cover of Lauryn Hill’s singing on “If I Ruled The World,” but Nas would simply perform that track solo, with Lauryn’s vocals being played by the DJ.
For possibly the dopest moment of Nas’ set, he would get the crowd hyped with a performance of 2002’s “Made You Look,” getting everyone to dance and wave their arms. In a tribute to the late fellow Queensbridge legend Prodigy, Nas would flip the beat for the second verse of the song to rap it over Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm,” making for a really dope mashup.
In terms of new music, Nas has released two new albums since the last time he performed in Toronto: 2018’s NASIR produced entirely by Kanye West, and 2019’s The Lost Tapes 2, comprised of extra songs that didn’t make the cuts for his albums released between 2006-2018. The closest he would get to performing any of those newly released songs would be teasing the chorus of the Lost Tapes 2 intro “No Bad Energy,” thanking the crowd for bringing nothing but good energy for him before abruptly switching to his Stillmatic classic, “One Mic.” Seeming to just be going through the motions for this last song, Nas performed while leaving a lot of blank spaces in his verses, maybe intentionally so that the crowd could rap with him, but doing it so often that it came off as a lazy, routine performance. After that anticlimactic end to his set, Nas left the stage to make way for Mary J. Blige.
A video played on the screen with a younger P. Diddy bigging up Mary J. Blige, and the queen of R&B herself came out to the 1997 throwback “I Can Love You.” Backed by her live band and a few dancers, Mary went through years of her hits, performing some newer songs I wasn’t familiar with, but also rocking some classics like 1992’s “Real Love.” She would have smoke machines going off around her as she danced and sang, getting the crowd to groove to her slow jams. Nas would also return to the stage to join Mary for their only remaining collaboration together, “Love Is All We Need,” nailing his guest verse on the song.
The lights would go dark and there would be another video interlude, this time showing some of Mary’s classic Hip-Hop collaborations like her feature on Method Man’s “All I Need” and Jay-Z’s “Can’t Knock The Hustle.” When she returned to the stage, she would be wearing a fly red outfit, and with the album title My Life written on the jumbo screen, she got into a performance of the 1994 classic “Mary Jane (All Night Long).” Between all-time hits like “Not Gon’ Cry,” “Share My World,” and the upbeat “Everything,” Mary would take time out to reflect on her 25-year journey, thanking the fans who stuck with her all this time.
Mary would rock a few more hits, including the 2001 throwback “No More Drama,” and Nas would rejoin her on stage, playing her hypeman as she closed out the concert with the bouncy “Family Affair.” By this point, my squad was on our way to the exits to dodge the massive crowd, and could hear pyrotechnics going off in the background.
Overall, this was a fun time, but the execution could have been better. With the way they simply went on one at a time rather than having any back and forth, fans who weren’t as familiar with either Nas or MJB were left looking uninterested for half the show, some even leaving early. Nas also came off like he was just going through the motions for some songs, leaving a lot of blank spaces in his lyrics and feeling routine with the end of the tour approaching. Mary similarly had moments where she was expecting the crowd to sing for her, and if the fans joined in, we couldn’t hear them all the way up in the 400 level. Still, the music between these two artists is undeniably classic, and the songs themselves kept most of the crowd engaged throughout the concert.
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