It’s a blessing to even be able to write this kind of article, with this being possible for the first time since 2019. After only having a handful of concerts being able to take place in each of 2020 and 2021, we’ve finally had a meaningful, long-lasting return of live music in 2022 with COVID-19 restrictions being fully lifted in Canada since March. Normally I do a Top 10 countdown of the best concerts I attended every year, but since this stretch during the COVID years has had the fewest concerts reviewed on the blog since I first started it in 2013, I decided to expand this year’s edition to a Top 15 and include concerts from all the missed years. I’m super thankful to be back reviewing the best Hip-Hop concerts Toronto has to offer, and hope to get a full year’s worth of coverage again in 2023!
Click here to check out the previous Top 10 from 2019.
(All shows were in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, unless otherwise noted)
*Indicates a show I did not write a review for
Honourable Mentions (in chronological order):
Alternative Symphony – Dr. Dre Tribute at The Opera House
Shaggy at Fall BeerFest*
Dave Chappelle – “Untitled” at Scotiabank Arena
Shad at Longboat Hall
Unplugged North July showcase at El Mocambo*
The Offspring & Simple Plan at Scotiabank Arena*
YASSiN & Sean Terrio at The Moonshine Cafe in Oakville, ON*
15. Young Money Reunion at Budweiser Stage
(August 6, 2022)
For the tenth iteration of Drake’s OVO Fest, Drizzy decided to take it back to square one and reunite the label that helped him blow up at the beginning of his career, Young Money Entertainment. The show included solo sets by the label’s founder, Lil Wayne, its first lady, Nicki Minaj, and Drake himself, plus had a surprise, underappreciated Big Tymers reunion, and was capped off with the three headliners performing together for the first time in years. The sheer star power between these three artists made this one of the most hyped (and most expensive) concerts of the summer, but it wasn’t without its issues.
Between the long wait to get the show started, short setlists with plenty of great songs left out, poor sound mixing, and missed opportunities for the artists to perform certain songs together, some might say this was overhyped, overpriced and overrated. It was still a fun time though, as it was my first time seeing Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj perform live and my first time seeing a full setlist from Drake (as opposed to surprise appearances at other artists’ shows), plus seeing the three of them reunited made for a big moment. I’ll admit I haven’t been the biggest Young Money fan over the years, having to learn to take the music less seriously to enjoy it, but this show put a spotlight on the longevity they’ve achieved over more than a decade, with the songs they performed ranging from throwbacks going as far back as 2008 to new, unreleased tracks getting previewed.
14. Skratch Bastid & Shad at CityView Drive-In
(August 27, 2021)
During one of the short-lived re-openings in 2021, one of the few concerts we got to see that year was a celebration of modern Toronto Hip-Hop excellence. While partial COVID restrictions prevented this from being the full annual Bastid’s BBQ festival we’re used to seeing, Skratch Bastid still put together a dope lineup that included the band re.verse bringing to life classic Hip-Hop beats with their live instrumentation, Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty, who was just a few months away from releasing her Juno award-winning sophomore album, Stock Exchange, and of course the headliner, Shad.
We’ve seen Shad perform many times over the years, but this one was special because he had Skratch Bastid DJing for him, which led to some rare performances of their collaborations together over the years, plus he previewed new songs off of his upcoming album at the time, TAO. After Shad put on a display of incredible lyricism, Skratch Bastid capped off the event with a dope DJ set that had us dancing the night away. In a time when touring seemed impossible, this show reminded us of the talent we have right here in Toronto, with each artist giving a raw delivery with no vocal recordings backing them up.
13. Tech N9ne at The Danforth Music Hall
(October 2, 2022)
After years of consistent touring (making these Top 10 lists multiple times) and building up his fan base north of the border, this was the biggest show performed in Toronto to date by Kansas City’s GOAT, Tech N9ne. Despite this being at one of my favourite concert venues in the city and Tech’s performance being on-point as always, it gets knocked down a few pegs because I’ve just become so used to seeing the incredible chemistry Tech N9ne has with Krizz Kaliko when they share the stage together, and this was Tech’s first time touring in Canada since his former partner-in-rhyme decided to part ways to focus on his solo career.
Tech N9ne still put on an great show on his own, digging into his more hardcore/horror themed songs and imagery with Halloween just around the corner, but the synergy he had with Krizz Kaliko and the stage presence Krizz used to add to the show was sorely missed. Regardless, Tech N9ne always puts on one of the best displays of technical execution in terms of breath control and flow to nail his speedy raps, and his songs got the crowd rowdy as always, with plenty of mosh pits breaking out and bras and other clothing thrown on stage to affirm the great performance. This show also had great openers, with Tech’s Strange Music signee King Iso performing for his first time in Toronto and Guelph’s own Robbie G returning to Ontario after having moved out to B.C.
12. Styles P & Friends at Irving Plaza in New York City
(August 18, 2022)
I had to highlight how good it feels to travel again now that COVID restrictions are lifted, and how classic New York Hip-Hop just hits differently when you experience it live at an intimate show in NYC. While Hip-Hop is now a universal artform, there are small cultural differences you get when you’re in its mecca, like the tradition of asking the crowd to make noise for the borough they’re from and you feel the pride everyone has for their respective borough, especially when you experience that commute into Manhattan yourself and you know what it takes just to travel from another borough within the big city (from Queens, in my case).
This particular show was a celebration of the 20th anniversary of Styles P’s classic single “Good Times,” and was stacked with New York artists to help mark the occasion, including The LOX, Dave East, Smoke DZA, Nems, Statik Selektah, and many more. With The LOX making cultural waves last year at their Madison Square Garden Verzuz event with the Diplomats, where they put an emphasis on raw talent and skill over antics and hype, there’s not much else that needs to be said, as the trio brought that same energy to this show with Sheek & Jadakiss giving Styles more of the spotlight to celebrate his milestone.
11. Conway The Machine & Friends at Drumwork Fest in Buffalo, NY
(August 13, 2022)
In its inaugural year, Conway The Machine’s Drumwork Festival was held back by problems with logistics and timing; depending on what type of ticket you had and what time you arrived to the show, your night could have ranged from incredible to terrible. The homies in my carload for this road trip had a great time, as we showed up early to Seneca Casino’s Lakeside Event Lawn and had VIP tickets granting access to what seemed like an entire third of the festival grounds closest to the stage. Other homies weren’t as lucky, as they showed up later and spent just as many hours waiting to get through the bottleneck at the security checkpoint as they did being able to enjoy what was left of the concert.
Despite all this, the live performances themselves were incredible, as artists signed to Conway’s Drumwork Music label including 7xvethegenius and Jae Skeese warmed up the crowd with their raw raps, and Wale, Fabolous and Jeezy got everyone hyped with their throwback club bangers and street anthems. Conway also had some dope surprises for his first ever music festival, bringing out R&B singer Lloyd, as well as his entire Griselda family with performances by Benny The Butcher, Armani Caesar, and Westside Gunn. With most of Griselda not yet having had the opportunity to tour in Canada, it was dope making the trip down to see them in their hometown Buffalo, although the issues with timing led to their surprise appearance being cut short and more to be desired. Here’s hoping the festival has an opportunity to improve next year.
10. Oddisee & Good Compny at The Axis Club
(December 11, 2022)
This one is still fresh on the mind since it only took place a few weeks ago, but you can’t deny the level of talent, skill and coordination it takes to execute a show like this. With Oddisee being highly regarded as both an emcee and producer, it’s dope to see his band Good Compny open the show by performing some of his instrumental tracks, then staying on stage to back him throughout his entire set. Following the blueprint laid by The Roots, Oddisee & Good Compny give new life to the music by recreating the Hip-Hop beats with live instrumentation, adding new Jazz and Funk-infused flavours to it and even feeding off of each other to improvise. It’s always incredible to witness the perfect coordination and synergy they have on stage, and to experience Oddisee’s music in a completely different space from what’s released on his albums.
This Sunday evening show was all good vibes, as Oddisee delivered a beautifully curated setlist that took us through his discography in chronological order, all before previewing some new, unreleased songs from his upcoming album, To What End, set to drop January 20th. I only wish they performed longer.
9. Tyler, The Creator at Scotiabank Arena
(March 11, 2022)
If you’re going on tour specifically to promote a new album, the live show should enhance the overall experience of that album, and this is something Tyler, The Creator has mastered in recent years. Each of his last three albums had concert tours to accompany them where the show brought to life the imagery, look and feel of that respective album, and the CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST tour saw Tyler executing this at his best. The Grammy award-winning album sees Tyler portraying his “Tyler Baudelaire” character; a rich traveler with sophisticated taste who owns a mansion with a dock and a boat, and this is exactly how the stage was set at Scotiabank Arena, with a vintage Rolls Royce parked in front of a mansion backdrop and a literal boat there to carry Tyler between two stages.
While there are inherent sacrifices made when doing large arena shows as opposed to smaller venues, such as losing the intimacy and interaction between the fans and the artist, Tyler, The Creator has become one of the best at maximizing the full potential of these big stages to enhance the experience of his music and add new life to it with the visuals. It may be too soon to say, but this may go down as the best tour of Tyler’s career, although his 2018 Flower Boy Tour is up there. When Tyler levels up, he’s able to make it not just about the numbers but also about the artistic vision.
8. Coast Contra at The Drake Underground
(September 27, 2022)
They say the first time is always a special one, and that proved to be true for Coast Contra’s first ever concert in Toronto, which also capped off their first international tour. The four-man group from L.A. has built an online buzz with their debut album released earlier in 2022, Apt. 505, as well as their series of freestyle videos on YouTube, where they sit around a table and spit raw raps over classic Hip-Hop beats. If you thought their coordination and timing was dope on YouTube, they execute that quality tenfold when performing on stage, showing that hunger any new artist/group should have to impress and gain new fans.
The Drake Underground may be one of the smaller venues in the city, but it was a packed house for this sold-out show, and both Coast Contra and their opener Villain Park had the entire room energized with their all-raw, no gimmicks approach to Hip-Hop. Coast Contra, which consists of emcees Rio Loz, Eric Jamal, and twin brothers Ras & Taj Austin (the sons of west-coast rap legend Ras Kass), displayed impeccable chemistry with their choreography on stage and the way each individual member got to shine. The small venue allowed for dope interactions with the crowd, and the Coast made it feel like a family affair with everyone in the building being considered day-one fans. They even got the energy high enough to crowd surf at the end of the night – something you don’t expect to see at these smaller venue shows.
7. Wu-Tang Clan & Nas at Budweiser Stage
(September 4, 2022)
The N.Y. State of Mind Tour had some of the most epic Hip-Hop moments of the year, but this particular stop in Toronto felt a little shortchanged compared to what some of the other cities on the tour got to experience. There were so many issues with this show that if the music between these two entities and the moment of them uniting on stage wasn’t so damn iconic, it may not have made this list at all. The Toronto stop on the tour got no surprise guests, and both Method Man and Busta Rhymes were absent. The most epic moments of the show where Nas performs songs together with Raekwon & Ghostface Killah were spoiled by poor sound mixing (I remember back in the days when Ghostface would have stopped the show and cussed out the sound man if that happened). Then at the end of the night, the crowd didn’t have the energy to chant for an encore – maybe they saw no point in trying to mosh in these tight rows of assigned seats, or maybe we’re just getting too old to turn up.
All those negatives aside, this is still the Wu-Tang Clan, one of the greatest Hip-Hop groups of all time, uniting with Nas, one of the GOAT solo emcees. The moment is too iconic and the music is too influential for this concert not to make this list, and besides those negatives mentioned, the rest of this show was top notch. The setlists and execution were done in epic fashion, as each Wu-Tang Clan member got to shine both individually and as part of the group, the set was structured to highlight classic albums with Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx each getting their own segments in the show, and the competitive spirit of Wu-Tang brought out one of the sharpest performances from Nas I’ve ever seen. The positives from this show made it one of the most epic concerts of the summer despite the issues.
6. Method Man & Redman at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
(November 5, 2022)
I feel like in order for a Hip-Hop show to be great, you can’t have assigned seating, as the music is meant to make you turn up, move around and let out all your energy. We couldn’t jump around and mosh at the Wu-Tang Clan & Nas show, but that was no issue at all when Method Man redeemed his absence by going on his own Canadian tour in November, and bringing Redman with him. The duo of Red & Mef is one of the greatest when it comes to live performances, as their chemistry is top notch and their timing both with their choreography and mic presence is impeccable. They put on one of the most energetic concerts, so it’s only right that it take place at a venue like The Phoenix, where the floor is open and movement is free-flowing.
This show had some dope opening performances by local emcee Gamble The Greedy Grin, Reel Wolf Entertainment’s Wolf Pack with a special addition of live drums, and Krizz Kaliko performing here for his first time without Tech N9ne, proving he can put on a show as a solo artist. Then when Method Man & Redman got on stage, it was all classic material, as they hit us with throwback after throwback. Streetlife made a surprise appearance, performing some of his rare collaborations with Method Man and Wu-Tang, and Method Man got extra emotional from the way the crowd put all their energy into his usual Ol’ Dirty Bastard tribute. Redman also killed it as usual, being one of Hip-Hop’s most entertaining personalities and bringing infectious, positive energy to the stage. If you’ve been to a Red & Mef show before, you already know it’s always going to be one of the best concerts of any given year, and this was no different.
5. GZA at The Phoenix Concert Theatre
(January 27, 2020)
I remember my Uber driver on the way to this concert telling me about how COVID had stopped gatherings like this from happening back in his home country in Europe, and little did I know that this would be the last show I’d get to cover before the pandemic made its way into Canada. This pre-pandemic crowd had no fear to turn up and were some of the most enthusiastic Wu-Tang fans I’ve seen, knowing all the words to all the songs to shout out with GZA, and in a way being his hypeman. After completing the Wu-Tang Clan’s 25th anniversary tour throughout 2018 and 2019, GZA had embarked on his own solo 25th anniversary tour for his classic 1995 album, Liquid Swords, and the fans were ready to celebrate with him at this sold-out show, bringing vinyl, CDs and cassettes to get autographed.
This was the night after the world learned that basketball legend Kobe Bryant had passed away, and so plenty of fans wore their Lakers gear, many in the same black and yellow colourway as Wu-Tang, and GZA in a dedication channeled that Black Mamba energy to deliver one of the most focused performances I’ve seen from him. In a masterfully executed setlist, GZA performed twelve of the thirteen songs off of Liquid Swords and somehow made room to also include a large selection of rare cuts from each of his subsequent solo albums, plus the usual Wu-Tang covers and Ol’ Dirty Bastard tribute, all within an hour of being on stage. This one was for the diehard fans, as we got both the hits and the deep album cuts, and GZA’s performance made it feel like an action-packed two hours with all the material he covered, even though it was just one hour in reality.
4. Nas at Toronto’s Festival of Beer
(July 22, 2022)
The Friday night of Toronto’s Festival of Beer is an annual event that always makes this list because it delivers the perfect setting to experience live Hip-Hop. You get to take in the beautiful summer weather outdoors at Bandshell Park, have hundreds of beers to choose samples from, there are games and other activities taking place throughout the festival, and the stage is set up in an open space. Plus, they always book quality artists with tons of classic material to perform, with Nas being booked to headline since the 2020 edition of the festival, which obviously got postponed due to COVID.
Having seen Nas perform several times over the years, this performance stands out as a unique one, as he didn’t rely too heavily on the ’90s and ’00s but also included some of his newer material from the 2020s being performed for the first time in Toronto. This was also the first time in a while we’ve seen Nas headline a show on his own, as he’s always had a co-headliner join him on his most recent tours (Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, and later the Wu-Tang Clan). Besides an epic performance by Nas, there was also my favourite group of the 2010s and ’20s so far, Run The Jewels, performing as his surprise opener on what was originally their day off between two other tour dates at Scotiabank Arena (covered later in this countdown). They got to unveil their new beer with local Hamilton brewery, Collective Arts, and celebrated with a performance of the song the brew is named after, “Get It.”
Click here to read the original review; I spent half of my birthday writing it 🙂
3. Russell Peters’ Old School Mixtape at Berczy Park
(September 24, 2022)
Naw, you can’t tell me any of these rappers under the age of 40 are the GOAT when Big Daddy Kane is still showing off better flow, breath control, microphone skills, stage presence and charisma than all of them – at age 54! Maybe I’m exaggerating, but that’s just how you feel after seeing the Juice Crew legend own a stage, and it had been years since Toronto Hip-Hop heads got this reminder.
Let’s back up though; this show was part of the inaugural Street Festival addition to the Just For Laughs comedy festival, with this Saturday night of the event being headlined by hometown comedy legend Russell Peters’ carefully curated lineup of late ’80s/early ’90s Hip-Hop, R&B and Dance artists, representing the music he grew up listening to. Every artist Russell brought to the city for this festival has been a rarity to see perform north of the border, including Public Enemy’s Flavor Flav, Zhane’s Renee Neufville, House/Dance singer Crystal Waters, iconic Hip-Hop duos Nice & Smooth and EPMD, and of course the legendary Big Daddy Kane. This show reminded us why the late ’80s and early ’90s are often considered the golden age of Hip-Hop, as the music made back then felt designed to be performed live in the park, with no need to put on a spectacle with flashy visuals and special effects. The raw performance on the mic is all you need, and these emcees showed that their skills are still mastered even after being decades removed from their heyday.
Like many fans in the crowd, Russell Peters turned into a kid again, as he could be seen at the back of the stage mouthing the words to all the songs being performed, and he’d take time between sets to shoutout how he had posters of these artists on his wall as a kid, or how he bought their vinyl records at Play De Record’s original Yonge Street location. This trip back in time was incredible, although the City was strict with enforcing its permit for the outdoor stage and shut the show down at 11pm sharp, while Russell was still talking.
2. All-Canadian NorthStars at HISTORY
(July 28, 2022)
Drake may be the biggest name associated with Canadian music, but there are several generations of Canadian artists who paved the way for him to have the platform he has today, and to kick off what he dubbed October World Weekend for the tenth edition of his OVO Festival, he decided to pay tribute to the greats who came before him. Drake fully unloaded the clip for this one, as he’d put it, as he assembled an all-star lineup of artists and put together what may go down as the single greatest Canadian Hip-Hop and R&B experience ever. Over the course of nearly four hours of non-stop performances, Drake humbly hosted for the evening as close to a couple dozen of his Canadian idols blessed the stage throughout the night. It was simply incredible going on this journey through Canadian music history and seeing all these artists united for the culture, and it only cost $20 to be there.
There’s no way to mention every artist in these short paragraphs, but there were so many epic moments at this concert. Drake flew in Michie Mee from Jamaica and also had Maestro Fresh Wes there to represent ’80s and early ’90s Hip-Hop. You had Rascalz, k-os, Choclair and Saukrates representing the late ’90s and 2000s. The Queen of Canadian R&B, Jully Black, absolutely lived up to her name. Pop stars Shawn Desman and Nelly Furtado both came out of retirement to perform at this show, the former even being inspired to return to making music after killing his performance. Not to mention Kardinal Offishal getting to do rare performances of his collaborations with some of these artists, including what Drake called “the Canadian Hip-Hop National Anthem,” “Northern Touch.” This was especially fitting to fall on Toronto’s Caribana weekend, as you got to see firsthand the Caribbean influence on our style of Hip-Hop and R&B, with most of our legends having roots in Jamaica, Trinidad or Guyana.
This was a beautiful moment to see all these Canadian icons receive their flowers, especially with those flowers coming from today’s biggest star in Drake.
1. Rage Against The Machine at Scotiabank Arena
(July 21, 2022)
Never mind waiting two years through the pandemic and seeing The Public Service Announcement Tour get postponed twice; some fans had been waiting for over two decades to see Rage Against The Machine perform live in Toronto again. This was the band’s first time performing here since 1999, and it speaks to how timeless their music is with the way they can sell out Scotiabank Arena twice on the same tour all these years later, having not released any new music in almost twenty years. This concert tops this list for the rarity of being able to see this band perform live and the energy in the building from fans receiving their long awaited payoff, whether they were day-one fans who’d been waiting since the ’90s or newer fans who were only getting their first opportunity now.
It’s become even more rare to see Rage Against The Machine now, as Zack de la Rocha unfortunately injured his leg on just the second show of this reunion tour, performing several shows including this Toronto one while being forced to remain seated the entire time, and the band eventually had to cancel the second half of the North American leg of the tour as well as the entire European leg so that Zack could heal well enough to walk again. Even with the injury, Rage put on one hell of a show, giving all the energy needed to bring their songs to life, as they took the fans through years of hits as well as deep cuts from each of their four albums. The fans moshed, crowd surfed and gave all that energy right back to the band. Also gotta shoutout the opener for this tour, Run The Jewels, who were touring for the first time since releasing their fourth album in 2020, RTJ4, and performed some of those songs for the first time in Toronto.
And that caps off the countdown! Here’s hoping we keep COVID behind us and get to have a full year of concerts to see in 2023!
What were some of the best concerts you got to see during 2022? Hit us in the social media links below!
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