After being postponed two years in a row from the COVID-19 pandemic, Toronto’s Festival of Beer makes its triumphant return in 2022, bringing one of music & beer fans’ most beloved summer events back to Bandshell Park. The weekend-long festival is known for bringing hundreds of breweries from around the world to taste samples from, and having world-class musicians with iconic legacies perform at the Bandshell stage. Usually reserving the Friday night of the festival for Hip-Hop, past performers in recent years have included Public Enemy Radio, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah, Ludacris, and Method Man & Redman. This year would feature an emcee whose legacy speaks for itself, Nas.
Nas was originally announced to headline the 2020 edition of the festival, before COVID cancelled it. Back then he was just preparing the rollout of his fourteenth solo album, King’s Disease, which would go on to earn him his first Grammy award for Best Rap Album. He’s since gone on to release King’s Disease II, earning another Grammy nomination, and most recently released his critically acclaimed sixteenth album this past December, Magic. Often being celebrated for his work in the ’90s, particularly 1994’s Illmatic, the recent renaissance Nas has experienced in his career left fans wondering going into this show if we would get another typical Nas performance filled with ’90s and early 2000s hits, or if the set list would give a worthy celebration of the newer music he’s released. Before we get to that, we’d first get to experience the main attraction of Beer Fest, and that’s the beer itself.
Those who held on to their original tickets for the 2020 festival this whole time got to enter through a priority access gate, receiving double the amount of beer tokens upon entry, although the priority access didn’t make much of a difference as the general admission line moved efficiently. Once inside the festival grounds, we got to explore and taste some beers that haven’t been available at our local liquor stores for some time, particularly Belgium’s Delirium Red. We also checked out beer tents for Trinidad’s Carib, which was blasting Caribbean chunes ahead of Toronto’s Caribana festival, Founders Original, which had delicious tequila and gin cocktails, and Palm Bay, which had sweet vodka mixes and a nice lounge area. One particular brewery that caught our attention was Hamilton, Ontario’s own Collective Arts, which just recently unveiled a collaboration with Run The Jewels, and had a large RTJ mural at their beer tent.
While most fans were here to see Nas, it was announced just the night prior that Run The Jewels would be the surprise special guest opening for him. The announcement came in a timely fashion, as we found out just as RTJ finished opening for Rage Against The Machine at Scotiabank Arena that they would be coming to Beer Fest as well, on the day off they had between back-to-back arena shows on the Public Service Announcement Tour. They would also get to promote their new beer with Collective Arts, a tasty blonde ale named after their 2013 song “Get It.” Some fans could be seen around the festival wearing new RTJ merch they got at the arena show the night prior, and were ready to see them rock the festival stage.
The crowd slowly accumulated by the stage area as Run The Jewels had their RTJ4 hand logo balloons inflated and raised to the rafters, and Killer Mike and El-P came out to greet the crowd holding cans of their Collective Arts beer. Their set list was a similar but shortened version of what they performed at Scotiabank Arena the previous night, opening up with the Zack de la Rocha collab “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck),” and keeping the energy cranked with “Yankee And The Brave” and “Blockbuster Night Pt. 1.” They took some time between songs to shoutout Collective Arts, and Killer Mike sang an improvised acapella expressing his love for beer. RTJ would rock a couple more classics, getting the crowd moving to “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” and “Legend Has It,” and would close out their set with that 2013 throwback I hadn’t seen them perform in years, “Get It.”
As always, Run The Jewels brought a ton of energy to the stage, and kept the crowd entertained with their jokes and dance moves. As a day-one fan, it was dope to see them pull out that 2013 throwback to celebrate their new beer, although I would’ve liked to see more of the new RTJ4 album get some love (songs like “Out of Sight” and “Goonies vs. ET” sound like they’re made for the live stage!). Killer Mike and El-P acknowledged that we were all here to see Nas perform, Mike saying he was looking forward to seeing “If I Ruled The World” get performed live, and after a bit of a break, it was time for the man himself to bless the stage.
The sun was setting just as a live drummer along with DJ Green Lantern got set up on stage, and the crowd erupted as they brought Nas out to the classic “The World Is Yours.” With much of the crowd putting up their phones to get their own footage of the legend, Nas continued with “The Message” and followed by teasing the hook from “Street Dreams.” Just as the beat was about to drop though, they abruptly flipped it to “N.Y. State of Mind,” and the energy got cranked as the live drums added an extra punch to the beat, and Nas ripped through both monster verses of the iconic song. While the ’90s classics were hitting hard, Nas showed early on that he wasn’t going to strictly stick to that era, as he performed the King’s Disease II track “Death Row East,” as well as “Adam and Eve” off of 2018’s NASIR, both songs being performed for the first time in Toronto.
Nas would move seamlessly between the old and the new, performing one verse each from 1994’s “Halftime,” 2021’s “40-16 Building,” and 1999’s “Nas Is Like,” capping off the medley with the hook from his latest Magic single, “Wave Gods.” Taking us through years of classics, the crowd got more hyped with every beat that dropped, chanting along to the hook as Nas performed 2002’s “I Can” and the Illmatic classic “Represent.” He’d tease a bit of “Stillmatic Intro,” spitting a few bars from the track before abruptly flipping into another classic with “It Ain’t Hard To Tell,” DJ Green Lantern giving Nas an alternate beat to rap to for the second verse. Next would be a segment for the ladies, as Nas performed the Don Toliver-assisted slow jam “Replace Me,” followed by his throwback club records “Oochie Wally” and “You Owe Me,” getting the crowd to dance.
While generally only performing one verse or a hook from each song to get through more material, there were some standouts where Nas performed the full track, and some of these came back to back as he rocked another Magic joint with “Ugly,” followed by the classics “Hate Me Now” and “If I Ruled The World.” The crowd’s energy was turned up for the throwbacks, as we all sang along to the P. Diddy and Lauryn Hill choruses, and Nas returned the love. Being sure not to get stuck in the ’90s for too long, Nas next performed some newer songs from within the past decade, grooving to the King’s Disease bonus track “Spicy,” and getting the crowd to jump to 2014’s “The Don,” that Super Cat sample on the hook bringing on Caribana vibes. He’d follow this up with the KDII track “40 Side,” really nailing that fast-paced chopper flow on the new joint.
Nas would describe his song selections as turning to different chapters in a novel, and he’d next turn to an old classic with a new twist, pulling out another Illmatic joint with “One Love.” While he rocked the familiar first verse, DJ Green Lantern flipped the beat to Biggie’s “Sky’s The Limit” for Nas to rap over for the second verse, the surprise mashup bringing added energy to the song. Continuing to make tributes to his peers, Nas would next perform 2002’s “Get Down,” grooving to the James Brown sample in the beat and giving a subtle nod to Slick Rick with a “heeeeeere we go!” before getting into his storytelling verse. After throwing in a performance of 2021’s “Rare,” Nas and DJ Green Lantern would continue the tributes, getting the crowd as hyped as they’d been all night by performing “Made You Look,” and flipping the beat for the 2nd verse to Mobb Deep’s “Quiet Storm.” They’d bring back the original hype beat for the 3rd verse, and Nas would kill that ending acapella just like the original album cut.
“I’m a leader at last, this a don you with / My 9’s will spit, suckers lose consciousness”
With the last few songs putting him in a competitive space, Nas spoke to his longevity by performing the King’s Disease track “27 Summers,” restarting the song midway to get that extra energy from the crowd. He’d then turn another page in the novel, as he put it, and rocked another Illmatic throwback with “Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park).” While Nas has been known over the years to leave plenty of gaps in his live performances for the crowd to fill in the lyrics, this time he stepped up and spit the entire second verse acapella, word for word to show that he’s still got it. After killing the verse, he took a seat at the back of the stage as DJ Green Lantern played an interlude. This would eventually turn into “One Mic,” with the beat slowly building up and Nas synchronizing his energy levels with his drummer, going from quietly reciting rhymes from his seat to eventually jumping up and shouting them at the crescendo, with all the flashing lights going off behind him.
With “One Mic” being one of the most epic songs in his catalogue, Nas put all his energy into this last song, and ended his set by rapping the chorus from 2020’s “Ultra Black” and letting the beat play out for the rest of the song as he thanked the crowd. There would be no encore, as Nas ended his set with precisely five minutes left for fans to get one last beer before taps shut off.
Overall, the return of Toronto’s Festival of Beer was a major success for the first night of the festival. The diverse selection of beers was back to their pre-COVID standards, as they had representation from multiple countries, alternates such as cocktails and seltzers, and had free water and non-alcoholic beer readily available to stay hydrated during the hot, sunny day. The music was also top notch; while both Run The Jewels and Nas have been doing arena and amphitheater-sized shows in recent years, this gave fans a rare opportunity to see them up close and personal at the festival stage. Usually touring with RnB co-headliners, it was also a great opportunity to see Nas own the stage by himself, giving an epic performance and touching on each era of his multi-decade career.
By limiting some songs to just one or two verses, Nas was able to get through a ton of material in such a short time and touch on the vast majority of his albums, bringing balance between his throwback classics and the new material being performed for the first time. Notably, while he did still keep up his reputation by leaving a lot of gaps in the lyrics for the crowd to shout out (some might say he forgot some lyrics), he did nail the flows on the new joints, even going acapella at times to remind us that he’s one of the greatest lyricists of our time. Never underestimate the mighty Nas.
As of this posting, Run The Jewels will perform in Toronto again tonight (July 23rd) at Scotiabank Arena with Rage Against The Machine, while Nas will return with the Wu-Tang Clan at Budweiser Stage September 4th. Toronto’s Festival of Beer continues all weekend long (get tickets here)!
Check out this playlist of Run The Jewels concert videos from all the times I’ve seen them over the years.
Check out this playlist of Nas concert videos from all the times I’ve seen him over the years.
Remember to check out the SYpherSights Youtube channel for more concert videos.