Concert Review: La Coka Nostra at Starlight Social Club in Waterloo, ON

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La Coka Nostra (left to right: Slaine, Ill Bill & Danny Boy)

Throughout the month of November, La Coka Nostra have reunited for a tour across Canada. Starting over in British Columbia and hitting every province on their way out east, they performed at Toronto’s Hard Luck Bar earlier in the week, and would be making their final stop of the tour in Waterloo, Ontario on a Saturday night. The Hardcore Hip-Hop group consisting of DJ Lethal and emcees Ill Bill, Slaine, and Danny Boy have released three albums together since 2009, and with the exception of DJ Lethal being swapped out for Non Phixion’s DJ Eclipse, they continue to reunite for tours in between their individual solo projects. While they haven’t released an album as a group since 2016’s To Thine Own Self Be True, the individual members have been busy with their solo and side endeavors in recent years.

This would be Ill Bill and DJ Eclipse’s second time touring in Canada this year, as they previously went on tour with their original group Non Phixion during the spring, with Ill Bill coming off of releasing his Cannibal Hulk album back in March. The man of the hour though would be Slaine, who just one day prior to this concert released his fourth solo album, One Day. Getting to listen to the new album just once before the concert, it has more of that raw aggression Slaine is known to deliver, but feels more focused on Slaine’s personal transformation in the last couple years, having completely given up drinking and focusing on his health. The transformation would be evident when he’d eventually hit the stage, having lost a lot of weight since the last time we saw him perform back in 2017. Between the brand new music just released by Slaine, the 10-year anniversary of La Coka Nostra’s debut album A Brand You Can Trust, and all the years of music in between, there would be plenty to celebrate with the group reunited for this last show of the tour.

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La Coka’s tour stop in Waterloo would be at Starlight Social Club, a small nightclub in the middle of downtown. We showed up just as things were getting started with a lineup of local emcees from the Tri-Cities area. The crowd was small to begin with, as it was just a handful of groups who came out early to support their local artists. Emcees like Oblivion Exx, host James Davis and his homie Hectic all had dope flows and good interaction with the slowly growing crowd, even spitting acapella at times to put an emphasis on their lyricism. The group BCK (Border City Kings) came out and put more emphasis on their energy than their bars, but they had a nice bounce to their beats.

The next few artists to hit the stage felt more seasoned on the mic, having strong flows, sharp deliveries and well-practiced execution. Diztrikt Apolo came correctly on the mic, spitting rapid-fire flows that fit perfectly in-pocket over his beats. He’d be joined by the duo Wiser Hip-Hop, and the three emcees showed great synergy on stage, even while trying not to trip over the microphone wires. They would be followed by Gamble The Greedy Grin, who pumped the crowd up by rapping over Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says” beat, and kept the energy high throughout his set. These emcees were all standouts when I last saw them open for Obie Trice in Guelph about a year prior, and they continued to show growth in their stage presence.

The last openers of the night would be a group called Nu Breed. They had three emcees in the group, each with their own distinct flows and deliveries, and the three personalities meshed well on stage. With dope hooks in their songs that stood out and dope flows in their verses, Nu Breed got the crowd energized and ready for the headliners of the evening.

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The club was now a packed house, and James Davis would get the crowd pumped up with some call-and-response and an acapella freestyle as DJ Eclipse got his gear set up. After a quick mic-check, Eclipse would take it back to 2009’s A Brand You Can Trust album, playing the beat from “Brujeria” to bring out Ill Bill, Slaine, and Danny Boy.

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La Coka Nostra

Keeping things in 2009, La Coka Nostra started off their set with another joint off their debut album, “Bang Bang.” The familiar Snoop Dogg hook played and the emcees each killed their verses in front of a hyped crowd. They would then alternate between their first two albums, getting into 2012’s Masters of the Dark Arts album with “Mossad” before getting the crowd all the way hyped with the classic “Fuck Tony Montana.” Ill Bill could be seen sipping Red Bull throughout the set, his eyes popping out as he ripped through that iconic opening verse. The new slim, sober Slaine looked extra energetic all on his own, moving around the stage as he killed his own verse. Slaine would rock his verse from the song “I’m An American” before him and Billy Brooklyn got into some solo material.

Rather than go through a wide range of his decade-plus discography, Ill Bill would focus in on his 2004 underground classic solo debut, What’s Wrong With Bill?, sprinkling a handful of songs off this album throughout the set. The first of these songs he’d perform would be “Peace Sells,” getting the crowd to chant the lyrics “but who’s buying??” in the hook, before giving up the front of the stage to Slaine. Slaine would waste no time promoting his day-old album, performing the first track off the new release, “Redemption.” He would absolutely shred that 50-bar verse, spitting every word and getting the crowd completely hyped as he nailed the flow.

They would then perform a couple more La Coka Nostra tracks, jumping from the throwback “It’s A Beautiful Thing” to their most recent work as a group, 2016’s “Waging War.” While La Coka Nostra did eventually become the fully formed group we know today, they initially started out as a loose collective of artists with their own careers already established, and this show would often reflect that with the performance of throwbacks from before they officially formed the group. Danny Boy would get to shine with a couple of his early 90’s classics with House of Pain, “Who’s The Man?” and “Shamrocks and Shenanigans.” Ill Bill would do another What’s Wrong With Bill? joint with “Overkill,” and Slaine would squeeze in his own solo throwback with “The Pusher.”

La Coka Nostra would take time out to acknowledge their fallen peers, having a rest-in-peace moment for Sean Price, Prodigy, The Notorious B.I.G., and Guru. They would pay tribute to the latter two by playing and rapping along to Biggie’s “Kick In The Door” and Gang Starr’s “Just To Get A Rep.” These songs were subtly a reference to producer DJ Premier, which of course led into a performance of La Coka’s own Premo-produced track, “Mind Your Business.” The crowd erupted, chanting along to the scratched hook: “dr-dr-drop that shit one time!”

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They would continue on with more of their individual classic throwbacks. With DJ Eclipse and Ill Bill representing one half of the group Non Phixion, they went ahead and got into one of those The Future Is Now joints, “The CIA Is Trying To Kill Me,” getting the crowd to jump to that heavy guitar riff as Ill Bill nailed his classic opening verse. The energy stayed cranked as Slaine then got the drinkers in the crowd to do a shot for him as he sipped water, right before performing his beer drinkers anthem “99 Bottles.” Bill would then do one last song off of his What’s Wrong With Bill? album, the classic “Anatomy of a School Shooting.”

Slaine would take some time out to thank the crowd for showing up to their last tour date before flying home. He would get the crowd to cheer for each member of the group as he introduced them, acknowledging the legacies of House of Pain, Non Phixion, Heavy Metal Kings, and Ill Bill’s solo career along with La Coka Nostra, before getting to himself with the phrase “Say I Was Slaine.” He of course performed the song of the same title. The group would then go out with a bang, performing the Non Phixion song “Black Helicopters” with Ill Bill nailing his verse, and Slaine recycling his own verse from La Coka’s “Gun In Your Mouth” to rap over the beat. The crowd would chant for one more song, and so La Coka Nostra would close out with the 2009 throwback “That’s Coke,” each member spitting four bars at a time and taking turns covering ex-member Everlast’s verses.

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Overall, this show was a dope celebration of classic hardcore, underground Hip-Hop. La Coka Nosta as a group has so many songs I wanted to see get performed, like “Gun In Your Mouth,” “Bloody Sunday,” and “Creed of the Greedier,” but it was still dope how they honoured the legacies of each member and their prior work. I was also looking to see more new material from the new Slaine album get performed, like the single “Still Got My Gun” which features Ill Bill, but the small taste we got with “Redemption” was enough to get the crowd hyped for this album. Slaine’s performance in particular was inspiring to see, as he has so much more energy now compared to how he was even just two years ago. Between the performances by the local openers and the years of classics La Coka Nostra went through, it was another night of dope raw rap.

 

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