It’s been a long time, but concerts are finally coming back to Canada. The COVID-19 pandemic effectively killed the live event scene, and for many this would be the first time seeing a concert in person in over a year and a half. The re-opening of the economy with the vaccine rollout has been shaky, with the province seeing multiple lockdowns after easing up on restrictions too early. This concert in particular was originally scheduled for May, before being pushed to August, and booked at a brand new drive-in stage in what used to be the parking lot across from Rebel Nightclub. Just a couple weeks before the concert though, it was decided that instead of having to watch the show from inside your car, the event would be changed to an open, general admission format that we haven’t seen since before the pandemic.
Toronto Hip-Hop icon Kardinal Offishall kicked off the return of live music in the city with a free concert on this same stage back in June, and now it would be time for more Canadian Hip-Hop royalty to bless the stage. The show would be hosted by DJ Skratch Bastid, who’s still not quite able to bring back his annual Bastid’s BBQ music festival the way it used to be pre-COVID, but would come close with this concert. He would be joined by several Bastid’s BBQ alumni, including re.verse, a band known to rock instrumentals along with his cuts on the turntables, 2019 Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty, and veteran Canadian Hip-Hop icon Shad. It would be a night filled with local Canadian talent in various stages of their careers, and what better way to return to live music!
We got to the concert fairly early and were able to take advantage of the free parking available to those who originally purchased tickets back when it was meant to be a drive-in concert. There were of course new screening measures in place for COVID contact tracing before you could enter the concert grounds, but it all ran smoothly and fans were even given free popcorn upon entry. Skratch Bastid was cutting up some Wu-Tang and Sean Price records on the turntables as we drank some beer and took in the sunset behind the Toronto skyline in the background. With this being a stage for other drive-in events besides concerts, the floor was still marked for each parking space, and fans seemed to use these early on to mark their bubbles and keep socially distanced.
Skratch Bastid would soon be joined by the band re.verse, who consisted of a drummer, bass player, guitarist, and keyboardist. They would play familiar Hip-Hop instrumentals with Skratch Bastid cutting up subtle vocal samples to match the beats. It would be a groovy set with familiarities and references to A Tribe Called Quest, k-os, Jay-Z and Pharrell, but the dopest part of their set had to be their 6-song tribute to the late MF DOOM. The live instrumentation put a whole new twist on MF DOOM fan favourites like “One Beer,” “All Caps,” “Figaro,” “Rhymes Like Dimes,” “Raid,” and “Doomsday.” You could tell this band could go in with a deeper DOOM tribute, but of course they had to switch it up to bring variety, and brought in some west-coast, Dr. Dre-inspired beats. It was my first time experiencing any of re.verse’s music, and they made a dope first impression with their performance, the band members playing completely in sync.
Next up would be Haviah Mighty, who’s been nothing but dope since winning the Polaris Prize for her 2019 debut album 13th Floor. While the Toronto native has yet to release a follow-up to that album, she has been putting out several standalone singles and music videos during the pandemic. She would start off her set with a few of those new singles, including “Antisocial,” “Good On My Own Tonight,” and the high-energy “Protest.” I imagine the energy from some of these songs could have had the crowd in a mosh pit if we weren’t so concerned about COVID and keeping socially distanced. Haviah didn’t hold anything back though, inviting those who felt safe and protected (with masks) in the crowd to get closer to the stage and vibe with her. She was glad she at least had people to interact with rather than rows of cars.
As the larger crowd formed closer to the stage, they still kept relatively distanced within their own bubbles, and Haviah got them grooving as she brought out her sister Omega Mighty to perform their Reggae-influenced “Wishy Washy.” The occasional dance chune aside, most of Haviah’s set was up-tempo, high energy tracks, getting the crowd to bounce as she killed her verses word for word on songs like “Squad” and “Blame.” Haviah would seamlessly maneuver between rapid-fire raps and melodic singing throughout her set, displaying incredible breath control. Another standout moment would be when she performed her verses from the first track off of 13th Floor, “In Women Colour,” but had her DJ flip between classic Hip-Hop beats like Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says,” Dr. Dre’s “What’s The Difference,” and 50 Cent & Lil’ Kim’s “Magic Stick” for her to rap over. The crowd gave Haviah the right energy for her to come back for an encore performance before giving the stage back to Skratch Bastid & re.verse.
When Skratch Bastid returned with re.verse for a second set, it would be a much more RnB-influenced performance. The band would play the instrumentals live and Bastid would let the full vocals play from the turntables, starting off with Silk Sonic’s 2021 romantic anthem “Leave The Door Open” to bring everyone together. The band would keep the crowd grooving throughout their set, whether it was by playing behind iconic vocals by Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, or referencing dope vocal samples used in beats by Just Blaze and J Dilla. They would also keep the vibes going by playing the instrumentals by themselves for songs like “Umi Says” by Yasiin Bey (f/k/a/ Mos Def) and “The Learning (Burn)” by Mobb Deep. re.verse provided good energy for the crowd to keep vibing as we waited between emcees to take the stage.
Skratch Bastid would spin a couple more tracks as re.verse got their gear packed up and made way for the next emcee, Shad. He introduced him as the dopest rapper ever, and the crowd was ready.
Before COVID-19, Shad had a tradition of performing at least one concert in Toronto every year, and having seen so many of his shows, I can say this set list would be unlike any other of his past performances. This mostly has to do with his recent output of new music, as he’s spent much of 2021 working on the rollout of his upcoming album TAO, set to drop this October 1st with four singles already released. Another factor would be the rare collaboration between him and Skratch Bastid, who would be DJing this set for him, as opposed to past performances with live bands and/or DJ T.Lo. Skratch Bastid has of course produced several songs for Shad over his career, and this would be a rare opportunity to see some of those deep cuts get performed lived.
Skratch Bastid brought out Shad to the 2018 single “The Fool Pt. 1 (Get It Got It Good),” and the positive vibes spread to the crowd immediately. “Damn it feels good to be back!”
After the perfect song selection to set the tone, Shad brought a balance between the new and the familiar, performing the classic certified head-nodder “Stylin.” The crowd vibed to the familiar first verse before Shad switched it up and spit a completely new verse as his second verse, and went accapella for yet another new, never-before-heard third verse. You could tell we were in for a treat with the way he switched it up early. Next he would perform the new TAO single “Out of Touch” before getting back to some familiarity.
Shad would next go back to 2014 with “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigins),” but Skratch Bastid would take a pause before restarting the track to tell a behind the scenes story, having produced this one himself. After the cool story about some of the sampling in the song, they rocked the track as a celebration of Toronto’s diversity, and got into another Skratch Bastid-produced single, “Limoncello.” The rarity of seeing this loosie single performed by Shad & Skratch Bastid together was an epic moment for the Hip-Hop nerds. The positive summer vibes continued with the throwback “Rose Garden,” and from there on out Shad would focus on his newer material.
Shad gave a shoutout to Kaytranada before performing their 2018 single together, “The Fool Pt. 3 (Frame of Mind),” a song that shows off his incredible breath control and vocal range that he’s developed in his newer releases. Looking to the future, he next performed what’s probably the most hype track we’ve heard so far off of the upcoming TAO album, “Body (No Reason).” The rapid-fire barrage of rhymes is filled with so many quotables, with lines calling out the business infrastructure of Genius.com, flexing his cultural reach with a subtle reference to the documentary series Hip-Hop Evolution (“see me on Netflix with Ozark”), and of course the dope, clever sports references he’s known to do (“How come they calling me Joe Carter? ‘Cos so far who’s hitting the ‘Dome harder?”). Shad killed the track and of course had to spit an accapella verse afterwards to further flex his lyricism as an emcee.
Next would be another TAO single, this one produced by Skratch Bastid, “Work.” The bass-heavy, certified trunk-rattler had the crowd rocking as Shad killed his verses which dissect the hypocrisies the working class has to face in the current economy. Between “Body” and “Work,” the new album is definitely shaping up to be the most hyped and energized we’ve seen Shad yet.
Shad would close out his set with a couple more songs, both off of his 2018 album A Short Story About A War. He would perform the first half of “Peace/War,” not to be confused with “Peace” off of The Spring Up EP he did with Skratch Bastid back in 2013 (I wish they performed some joints off of that EP together). After grooving to the bouncy 808s on “Peace,” Shad then closed out his set with the album closer “All I Need,” leaving the crowd with positive vibes to depart with. The show wasn’t quite over yet though.
While the crowd did chant for an encore, Shad didn’t return to the stage. Instead, Skratch Bastid got to perform his own DJ set and got the crowd dancing. His set included a dope chop-up of UGK & OutKast’s “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You),” showing a lot of love to that iconic Andre 3000 verse, followed by several funk grooves. We danced the night away and had ourselves a blast. Skratch Bastid would respectfully decline the crowd’s encore request to stay within the show’s timeline and would come to the front of the stage to thank everyone before ending the show.
Overall, this was an incredibly fun way to return to live music in post-COVID conditions. CityView Drive-In definitely had enough space to allow the crowd to enjoy themselves, have a nice view of the stage, and still be socially distanced and safe. One improvement could be adding some hand sanitizing stations around the bar and food areas (unless I just didn’t see them), but otherwise the environment was both fun and safe.
As the headliner, I can see how some fans may have wanted to see Shad perform some of his older classics like “The Old Prince Still Lives At Home” and “Yaa I Get It,” but having seen him rock several stages over the years, the new setlist focusing in on the new material was refreshing. With Hip-Hop currently championing emcees who stay true to the craft after seeing that LOX vs. Diplomats Versuz event, we need to point out that every emcee who touched the stage at this concert rapped every word of every verse without any hypemen, and had minimal use of backing vocal tracks (only for melodic layering). Not only was this a celebration of live music returning to Toronto, but it was also a celebration of Toronto Hip-Hop excellence, both from vets and relatively newer artists. While we look forward to international artists returning to Canada, this was a reminder of the talent we have right here in Toronto.
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