Concert Review: Coast Contra at The Drake Underground in Toronto (2022.09.27)

Coast Contra

There’s a new Fantastic Four team-up making waves in Hip-Hop’s underground. Consisting of the bilingual, Columbian-born Rio Loz, the high-energy Philly native Eric Jamal, and the twin sons of west-coast rap legend Ras Kass, Ras & Taj Austin, the group known as Coast Contra have been building a buzz online and have now been able to take their music on tour.

The group spent several years living together and perfecting their craft in the 505 Apartments in Los Angeles, and now in 2022 have released their debut album, Apt. 505, showcasing a synergy that can only be built over time and practice. Further adding to the hype has been a string of live freestyle videos on YouTube, where they all sit around a table and spit energetic, raw raps over familiar beats, some standouts including JID’s “Never” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” Some might even say the freestyle videos have done more to blow them up than the album itself, as they show off witty lyricism, perfectly timed execution, and an appreciation for the foundations of Hip-Hop, all in a live setting that displays their raw talent. Their all-raw, no gimmicks approach has led them to their first international tour, and they would be wrapping up the Apt. 505 Tour with this final, sold-out show at the Drake Underground in Toronto.

Opening for Coast Contra would be another L.A.-based group who were also on their first ever tour, Villain Park. The group’s DJ Coly Cole warmed the crowd up by spinning some southern Hip-Hop, and he had a good laugh with the crowd when he played the intro to Villain Park’s set before the emcees were ready to come out. After spinning some more tracks, he eventually got the timing right and brought out emcees Smoke & Bunge, who damn near stole the show with their performance. Many in the crowd (including myself) hadn’t heard of Villain Park before, but the group was able to instantly win them over with the way both emcees displayed impeccable breath control as they spit their rapid-fire raps.

It wasn’t just the fast rapping, as both Smoke & Bunge came with bars, and DJ Coly Cole let them spit acapella in some key moments to show that they were here to really rap. With many in the crowd experiencing their music for the first time, they made an incredible first impression, engaging the fans and getting them to chant along to their hooks and bounce to their beats. I didn’t know any of the songs at the time, but doing some digging after the show led me to find many of the songs they performed were from their 2019 album, The Recipe, including “Visions,” “Cold Game,” and “We Out Here.” They also performed some standalone singles like “Double Up,” and previewed some new music I couldn’t find online anywhere. Between DJ Coly Cole hyping up the crowd with his energy throughout the set and Smoke & Bunge each rocking the mic with great coordination, Villain Park put on an incredible show that would be tough for any act to follow.

Also opening for Coast Contra on the Apt. 505 Tour was a duo from Brooklyn called Girll Codee, who similarly have gained attention by rapping with a new twist over classic Hip-Hop beats. They mysteriously never made it to the stage; one can only assume they had problems crossing the Canadian border. Instead, Coast Contra’s DJ got set up, getting the bass turned up loud enough to shake the room, and got the crowd hyped to see the main act.

Left to right: Eric Jamal, Rio Loz, Ras & Taj Austin

With the crowd turned up, all four members of Coast Contra came out rapping to the intro track off their album, “APT,” followed immediately by “Intentional.” They would lean heavily on that Apt. 505 album throughout their set, although the DJ did ask the crowd early on how many knew the group from their freestyles. The crowd cheered and this of course led into a dope routine for their “Scenario Freestyle” performance, the four emcees moving with perfect choreography to capture the energy as the beat built up and the drums dropped, all while emulating that shouting technique Leaders of the New School used to back each other up on the original song. They would later on perform their “Never” freestyle as well, but with both freestyles they would only get through the first member’s verse on the track (Taj & Eric respectively) before cutting it off.

While the freestyles are a big part of what put many fans on to Coast Contra in the first place, the group heavily favoured performing their own original songs, putting the spotlight on their new album. They would continue on with tracks from the first half of the album, getting the crowd to wave their arms to “Get The Worm,” the ladies in the house grooving to “My Lady,” and getting the energy cranked with “AF1.” One cool, unique moment came when they took some time to rap acapella, almost in a spoken word format. This would be their “True Story” interludes that appear throughout the album at the end of certain songs, hidden from the track listing. Each of the four emcees took turns to spit their “True Story,” with the other three backing them up with adlibs, and they’d rap about the struggles of living in that grimy 505 apartment with some comedy thrown in, even acting out some scenes. “Another roach dead…”

Eric Jamal & Rio Loz

Coast Contra would pick the energy back up, performing songs from the second half of Apt. 505 including “Explicit” and “On Tap,” the crowd still with them and turned up all the way, especially whenever Rio Loz spit a few bars or a verse in Spanish. They’d get the entire crowd to make a fist and wave it like they were turning a steering wheel as they performed “Coupe Dreams,” and got everyone chanting along to “Pimpin’ Benjamin,” which features a dope interpolation of the hook from The Notorious B.I.G. & Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money.” With the latter song being a standout on the album for the way it updates the old message of simply getting money to focus more on financial freedom and generational wealth, Coast Contra took this moment to pause and share some lessons.

They spoke on the foundations of Hip-Hop, with “Hip” meaning “in the know” or “to have knowledge” and “Hop” meaning movement, then got into a segment of knowledge sharing. Ras & Taj talked about lessons they learned while living in the 505 apartments, including brotherhood and unity. They then invited fans from the crowd to give answers on what family meant to them. We thought this would turn into a performance of their song “Family,” but they let the fans take the spotlight this time, some answering the question with Coast’s lyrics from the song. Coast Contra would then wrap up with one more banger, turning the lights down as they performed “Legacy,” getting the crowd energized once more as all four members spit their verses.

Coast Contra & Villain Park

With this being the last show of the tour, Coast Contra took some extra time to celebrate, bringing Villain Park back on stage with them for some photos. They made sure Villain Park got their props too, as most of the crowd cheered when asked if the openers did their thing on stage. All the members of both groups would then take turns stage diving, including their tour photo/videographer who went first, the crowd carrying every member to the back of the club as the beat from “Scenario” played. Before leaving, Rio Loz would reveal that the Coast Contra t-shirts sold at their merch booth had a hidden puzzle piece in the design, and they’d be rolling out new designs with additional puzzle pieces for fans to collect – this puzzle piece only being available for this tour. DJ Coly Cole would then spin some tracks to keep the party going into the night, as some fans stayed to party while others cleared out.

After seeing Coast Contra perform live, I’m super hyped to see what the future has in store for them. Their live show is as dope as you’d expect just from seeing their freestyles on YouTube. Not only do they individually have their stage presence, breath control and lyricism up to par, but they’ve mastered the synergy between the four of them, with their timing and execution laid out perfectly, putting that little extra into their choreography to make them stand out among other rap groups. The dynamic of the group is dope to see live too, with Rio Loz bringing the deep-toned bass in his voice, turning the crowd up whenever he adds a little Spanish flavour, Eric Jamal bringing the high-pitched, high-energy vocals with comedy thrown in, and the twins Ras & Taj both bringing a middle ground between the other two. This is easily one of the illest new Hip-Hop groups out right now, and they have years of success still ahead of them.

Special thank you to Embrace Presents for putting this show together and letting me review it.

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