The annual Just For Laughs Festival has returned to Toronto, bringing some of the world’s most prolific comedians to the city over the course of ten days. Along with its usual string of comedy shows taking place throughout the city, the 2022 edition of JFL would also introduce its inaugural Street Festival for the weekend of September 23-25, taking over the stretch of Front Street E by Berczy Park with food trucks, bars, art installations, and a stage set up for a free block party.
With many comedians, DJs and artists hitting the stage throughout the weekend, the Saturday night of the festival would be headlined by hometown comedy legend Russell Peters hosting a specially curated set of old-school Hip-Hop and dance music. Being an avid fan of the old school, having produced the award-winning documentary series Hip-Hop Evolution, Russell made sure to fill this set with legends he and many Gen Xers grew up listening to, including Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, House/Dance singer Crystal Waters, RnB’s Renee Neufville of the group Zhane, iconic duos Nice & Smooth and EPMD, and one of the most prolific emcees of the late ’80s/early ’90s, Big Daddy Kane.
While there were many comedians and DJs performing on stage throughout the day, we got to the party late in the evening, just as DJ iKhan was wrapping up his set and it was almost time for the headliners. DJ Starting From Scratch could be seen getting his gear set up, and soon the backdrop behind the stage would display several throwback concert posters from Toronto Hip-Hop shows in the ’80s and ’90s (shoutout to The Flyer Vault). This effectively set the tone, as Russell Peters came out to greet the crowd and didn’t waste any time introducing his co-host, Flavor Flav, whose Public Enemy posters were among the many on display. Rocking his signature bling’d-out clock on a chain, Flavor Flav would set it off by performing a couple songs, including his solo track “Can’t Do Nuttin’ For Ya Man” from Public Enemy’s 1990 album, Fear Of A Black Planet.
Things would move pretty quickly on stage, as the duo Nice & Smooth came out to rock the crowd right after Flavor Flav warmed things up. They came out to their 1991 track “How To Flow,” which worked nicely as a set-off track with Greg Nice and Smooth B each introducing themselves in the opening lyrics, and the beat-drop for Greg’s opening verse getting the crowd hyped! They’d continue with a couple tracks off their 1989 self-titled debut album, performing the upbeat “Early To Rise,” and Greg Nice jumping down into the crowd as they rocked “Funky For You.” The crowd was hyped the entire time during the duo’s short set, but it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of them.
Russell Peters & Flavor Flav would give Nice & Smooth their props before moving things along quickly, next bringing out another iconic duo, EPMD. Erick Sermon & Parrish Smith both came out spitting sharply as they rocked a couple tracks off their 1988 debut album, Strictly Business, including the funky “It’s My Thing” and the classic single “You Gots To Chill.” They’d next move it along to the ’90s, rocking the ever relevant “Crossover,” which mocks Rap’s transition into Pop music, and “Rampage,” with Erick Sermon spitting the last verse of the song acapella. As expected, EPMD put on a display of authentic, raw Hip-Hop, spitting their verses with no backup and rocking the mic with perfect coordination.
With it being so rare to see these ’80s legends perform live in Canada, real Hip-Hop heads knew how epic this concert was going to be. Russell and Flavor Flav would shoutout some of their celebrity guests there just to witness the moment, bringing out comedian Deon Cole to greet the crowd before the next artist graced the stage, Renee Neufville of the RnB duo Zhane. Renee would start with a smooth transition between the Hip-Hop and RnB, performing her hook from the Busta Rhymes throwback “It’s A Party” while showing off her “Rakim vs. Kane” battle t-shirt. She’d also perform several of Zhane’s hit singles, getting the crowd to dance as she rocked hits like “Sending My Love,” “Groove Thang,” and of course “Hey Mr. DJ.” After Renee killed her vocal performance, Flavor Flav would speak on the sentiment myself and many others may have been feeling in the moment, saying he didn’t know who Renee was before tonight, but now we all knew the name and legacy.
Russell Peters would join Flava Flav on stage with Deon Cole, and of course had to do a comedic bit to introduce the next artist. He’d establish that Flava Flav had 8 kids, Deon Cole had 1 kid and he himself had 2 kids. The punchline to his joke went along the lines of the three them having so many kids between them were because they all “liked it ___.” The beat for Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw” dropped, and the crowd erupted as the legend graced the stage to perform the song, decked out in an all-leather outfit.
“Here I am, R-A-W…”
Flowing with precision and flawless breath control, Big Daddy Kane rocked the crowd with his classic raps, getting everyone to groove as he moved into “Smooth Operator.” Russell Peters and Deon Cole could be seen vibing at the back of the stage as BDK performed, and Flava Flav had his phone out recording the moment. Although it was epic seeing BDK grace the stage, his set was short-lived, as he just performed one more classic with “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’,” getting the crowd to rap the chorus with him, then abruptly left the stage. Flava Flav would take some time between sets to spit an acapella freestyle, keeping the crowd entertained before he brought out the next artist.
Next up would be a House/Dance music set by Crystal Waters, who I was admittedly unfamiliar with before this show. Joined by a couple male dancers on stage, Crystal Waters had incredible choreography as she danced and sang her way through her throwbacks, including 1991’s “Gypsy Woman (La Da Dee La Da Da)” and 1994’s “100% Pure Love.” Despite a forecast that called for rain, the weather tastefully held up until Crystal Waters’ set before the light showers started – the crowd all dancing in the rain to the electronic chunes.
Russell Peters would briefly return and made it a point to big up Crystal Waters, calling her the Queen of Dance music and telling the crowd how he bought her single “Gypsy Woman” on vinyl at Toronto’s now historic record shop Play De Record back in the ’90s. He’d give the stage back to Crystal for one last song, as she closed out with a more modern track, 2006’s “Destination Calabria.” Being a relatively younger head in the crowd, the saxophone sample that was later used in Enur’s “Calabria 2007” hit a similar nostalgia to those who knew Crystal Waters’ original.
By now, every artist who was featured on the bill had blessed the stage, and the rain predicted for the evening had came and went. Russell Peters and Flava Flav gave some more shoutouts, thanking DJ Starting From Scratch for holding down the music and the crowd for coming out, but we all knew the crowd wanted to see more Hip-Hop. Russ & Flav would bring back EPMD to perform a second set, Erick & Parrish setting it off with the classic “So Whatcha Sayin'” and rocking the crowd with their raw raps. With a legacy that includes 7 albums released over the span of 20 years, EPMD took some time to acknowledge the 25th anniversary of their fifth album, Back In Business, before performing the classic single off of that album, “Da Joint.” The crowd rapped along to the chorus with them – “da da da da da daaa, it’s the joint!”
EPMD would continue on with more funk grooves, Erick Sermon performing his solo “Music” with the Marvin Gaye sample shining on the track. They’d rock one last throwback, 1990’s “Gold Digger,” and spoke on their legacy before leaving the stage – shouting out the 30th anniversary of Business Never Personal and the near 35th anniversary of Strictly Business. It’s truly incredible seeing EPMD still killing these songs live with perfect timing and mic presence all these years later. Russell Peters would take a moment to shoutout how he saw EPMD perform live in Toronto in 1999 and had their posters on his bedroom wall back in the day.
Next to return to the stage would be Nice & Smooth, and they’d start off their second set with a ton of energy, keeping it in 1991 and getting the crowd turned up as the beat dropped to “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow.” Fully engaging the crowd, Greg Nice would jump down onto the street again as they continued into “Hip-Hop Junkies,” this time making his way far back down Front Street to start a mosh pit. He’d maneuver through the crowd as he continued to rap, and would keep going as far back as possible for the rest of Nice & Smooth’s set. Nice & Smooth would close out with the Gang Starr classic “DWYCK,” with Greg Nice spitting his standout opening verse from within the crowd, and Smooth B nailing his flow on stage.
Greg Nice would keep everyone entertained with his antics, bigging up the energy of the fans surrounding him, giving an RIP shoutout to Guru, and shouting out Russell Peters for his love and support even as Russell tried calling him back to the stage. Flavor Flav would also continue the shoutouts, and eventually with the pause in music starting to take long and the show needing to go on, Big Daddy Kane returned to the stage without an intro and snatched the mic like a boss.
Now wearing a tracksuit and ready to move, Big Daddy Kane got right into 1989’s “I Get The Job Done,” the track being appropriate for the way he stepped in to keep the show going. He’d be joined by a b-boy on stage who captivated the crowd with some incredible breakdancing, Flavor Flav taking time between tracks to express his approval. BDK would then show why he’s still considered one of the GOATs, getting into the fast-paced “Set It Off” and nailing every word in his rap with no backup – still killing it in his mid-50s! Not to mention the synergy and coordination needed with the DJ to pull off the timing and execution of that particular track, plus the stage presence, choreography, and showmanship put on display. He’d then tease a few bars off of “The Wrath of Kane” before moving abruptly into “Warm It Up, Kane,” getting the crowd to groove to one last track. Russell Peters could be seen off to the side of the stage mouthing the words to every song BDK performed.
In one last show of class, Big Daddy Kane gave an RIP shoutout to Pat Stay, a Canadian battle rap legend who was tragically killed earlier this month.
Just as Big Daddy Kane wrapped up, Russell Peters brought back everyone who had previously performed to take some pictures at the front of the stage. He’d thank all the artists and all the fans for coming out, and gave shoutouts to even more celebrity guests who came to witness the moment, including Canadian NBA legend Jamal Magloire and boxing legend Lennox Lewis. Wanting to keep the show going, Greg Nice (now having returned to stage) started beatboxing into the mic, and Flavor Flav spit some freestyle raps to his beatbox. Russell Peters grabbed a fan’s t-shirt from the crowd and brought it on stage to get autographs signed on it. While Russell wanted to continue his thank-yous and bring his wife on stage, the city had a strict 11pm curfew for the outdoor concert, and the microphones and lights ended up being cut off mid-speech for an abrupt ending.
Despite that tiny hiccup at the end, this was still an incredible concert that was more than anyone could ask for, given the free admission. From a strictly Hip-Hop perspective, Toronto fans have been waiting years if not decades to see Nice & Smooth, EPMD, Flavor Flav and Big Daddy Kane perform north of the border, and they all made sure their performances more than made up for all the missed years. All of the emcees absolutely crushed the mic, showing why their era is widely considered the greatest era in Hip-Hop history.
The curated showcase by Russell Peters was extremely well put together, with the RnB and Dance artists bringing a nice diversity to the mostly Hip-Hop set list. Russell effectively captured the era of music he grew up on, and you could tell he was having a blast throughout the entire show, joining the artists on stage to mouth the words and dance with them. This event was a big part of the success of Just For Laugh’s inaugural Street Festival, and it proved to be something the fans would like to see return for future years.
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