Celebrating 30 years in the game, Smif-N-Wessun, the duo made up of Tek & General Steele, have been hitting the road and embracing the fans in 2023. The Brooklyn duo are coming off of a tour through Europe in March, and this April have been on a quick 5-show run through the Quebec and Ontario provinces in Canada, wrapping up the tour with this Easter Sunday show in Toronto. Since making their debut with a couple guest features on Black Moon’s 1993 album, Enta Da Stage, they’ve gone on to have a respected career with longevity spanning 7 albums as a duo, plus 4 group albums with the collective Boot Camp Clik. Not only would they be celebrating a 30-year legacy, but they’d also be taking some new music on the road for the first time, having released their latest album The All just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a change of date and venue in the weeks leading up to the show, we have to thank JD Era and UpNorth Studios for locking this one down at The Rivoli, and for granting this blog access to review the show. Before Smif-N-Wessun would hit the stage, there would be several local artists from the GTA performing throughout the evening, and they would all give JD Era his props when they got on the mic. DJ Law was spinning some classic Hip-Hop as the back room of The Rivoli slowly filled up, and Friday Ricky Dred from the WeLoveHipHop podcast would be hosting throughout the evening, introducing each artist to the stage.
The first few artists to perform would help the sound engineer get the levels right, as Blesssup would power through a quick 3-song set with his vocals sometimes getting drowned out, but he had the crowd vibing with his Parkdale anthem “Southside.” 8th Letter performed next with some vocal recordings backing him, but he was able to cut through on the mic and got the crowd energized with his sharp rhymes on songs like “Henchmen.” Next would be Xentury Sam bringing some diversity to the mic, as she showed off her singing talents with “Faith” before getting into some aggressive battle raps on songs like “Shottas.” She had the crowd chanting her hooks with her by the end of her set.
DJ Law continued to kill it between performances, as he’d play curated sets of classic ’90s Hip-Hop, along with sets of 2022 tracks from Nas, Pusha T and Remy Ma. The next artists to perform would come with that same ’90s-inspired raw rap energy, as Seko hit the stage and set off his set with a freestyle over Kardinal Offishall’s classic “Ol’ Time Killin’.” He’d keep the crowd engaged with his sharp lyricism and subtle references to ’90s Hip-Hop artists like Biggie, and closed out with a Dancehall-infused track that got everyone moving. The bar-heavy lyricism would continue as Mississauga’s own J.O. Mairs blessed the stage next, going in spitting raw raps with no backing vocals. He’d stand out with some head-nodding beats to go with his smoothly delivered verses, a highlight being how he had the crowd chanting the name of the song “Different” at the end of every line he rapped.
There would be a quick interlude that saw 8th Letter return with a group to perform a posse cut over their recorded vocals, and soon it would be time for the final opener before Smif-N-Wessun took the stage, a new duo called LOW U.
Made up of two veteran Toronto emcees, Adam Bomb & D-Sisive, LOW U brought it back to that raw Hip-Hop and got the ’90s heads in the crowd energized right away, as they came out rapping over the beat from Ghostface Killah’s “Daytona 500” and covering Kardinal Offishall’s hook from “Northern Touch” to introduce themselves. While they did preview some new, unreleased music that cranked up the energy in the building (“Live Forever” might be the name of a standout track), the duo sprinkled plenty of throwbacks from each of their individual solo careers throughout the setlist. They opened with D-Sisive’s 2011 throwback “#1 Record” and closed with 2010’s “West Coast,” while Adam Bomb got to show off some of his classic verses on “Show & Prove” and “Furthermore” during the set.
Between D-Sisive’s nerdy, scientific style of rap and Adam Bomb’s more in-your-face approach to lyricism, the two emcees sound great rhyming together and compliment each other perfectly on stage. Diving into their older catalogues showed that they’re two emcees cut from the same cloth, and their setlist showed the potential they have to fill an album with bar-heavy tracks going neck-and-neck with every verse. There’s a synergy here that definitely had the fans wanting to hear more.
After all the local openers killed their sets, the crowd was in good vibes as DJ Law continued to spin. Pretty soon Smif-N-Wessun’s tour DJ took over the turntables, and Friday Ricky Dred spoke on a full-circle moment of being able to introduce the duo after they appeared on his podcast almost 300 episodes ago. The crowd was ready to turn up!
It’s no surprise that the biggest album Smif-N-Wessun are known for is their 1995 debut, Dah Shinin’, and so most of their set pulled from tracks off of that album. The DJ started cutting up the turntables as Tek & Steele came out and set things off with track 1, “Timz N Hood Chek,” with General Steele proudly rocking a 25th anniversary Dah Shinin’ jacket. By the time they got into their second track, “Let’s Git It On,” the crowd was 100% into the performance, filling in the chant on the hook without Tek & Steele even having to ask. They made sure to shoutout their DJ, as he was celebrating his first time visiting Canada, and he’d often add another layer to the music by pulling out a flute and playing it from behind the turntables. The DJ was of course dope at cutting up the tracks too, as Smif-N-Wessun performed “Stand Strong” and he flipped the beat midway into Boogie Down Productions’ “The Bridge Is Over” for them to rap their verses to.
After kicking things off with some cuts off their classic album, Smif-N-Wessun next pulled out some rarities, starting with their guest feature on Mary J. Blige’s “I Love You (Remix),” the crowd joining in on that “I shine, you shine!” chant. They’d then jump ahead to their 2019 album, The All, performing the intro track “The Education of Smif-N-Wessun.” With the album being their first release since Sean Price passed away in 2015, the lyrics about losing P really resonated on this one, as well as the overall maturity Tek & Steele show in their older age. Smif-N-Wessun would follow this up in contrast by jumping all the way back to day-one, taking it back to 1993 and performing their feature on Black Moon’s “Black Smif-N-Wessun,” getting heads to nod to the beat.
With fallen icons and day-one memories now on the mind, Smif-N-Wessun would get the DJ and the crowd to play equal parts for the next segment, as they paid tribute to some of New York’s greatest emcees no longer with us. The DJ spun the records and the crowd joined in and helped Tek & Steele perform covers, including Big L’s “Ebonics,” Big Pun’s “Twinz (Deep Cover ’98),” The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” and Biz Markie’s “Just A Friend.” They’d also include a Gang Starr track for Guru, a Mobb Deep track for Prodigy, an A Tribe Called Quest track for Phife Dawg, and a De La Soul track for the recently deceased Trugoy The Dove. Capping off the segment would be some harder tracks, with DMX’s “Get At Me Dog,” and of course a tribute to Boot Camp Clik’s own Sean Price with “Boom Bye Yeah.” The crowd was turned up in celebration of all of these legends, shouting out others like Hurricane G who also deserved some flowers.
When Smif-N-Wessun returned to performing their own songs, they tied in the theme of losing loved ones perfectly with their Pete Rock collaboration, “Roses,” Tek’s opening verse about showing appreciation while we’re still here especially resonating. They’d keep that theme going on a bit more, next going back to Dah Shinin’ with a performance of the album’s closer, “P.N.C.,” before moving on to more positive vibes. They’d perform a few new joints off of The All, getting the crowd to fill in the “wooo!” part of “Let It Go,” and kept the crowd moving with “Testify.” Between the new joints they’d also sprinkle in some more rarities, including the ’95 single “Nothing Move But The Money,” and a preview of some new, unreleased music. The fans were glad to hear Smif-N-Wessun have a new album in the works, and similar to The All, it will be produced entirely by 9th Wonder & The Soul Council.
Getting the crowd hype once again, the DJ would play a certified mosh pit starter, M.O.P.’s “Ante Up Remix,” with Tek & Steele covering a part of Busta Rhymes’ verse before transitioning into their classic single “Bucktown.” While the DJ had been playing flute throughout the night, this time he pulled out a saxophone to add another layer to the beat, and performed a solo once Tek & Steele were done their verses. Emulating that Brooklyn love, the Toronto crowd all joined in to shout “Bucktown!!” in the chorus. Next, they’d run through a medley of Reggae classics, including Damian Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock,” and with all the Caribbean flavour now in the air, we all knew what was coming next.
Being a diverse Toronto crowd who mostly all either had Caribbean roots or grew up around people who had Caribbean roots, we were all ready to flex that “champion sound” as Smif-N-Wessun got into their Jamaican patois-filled “Sound Bwoy Bureill.” The crowd was so hyped for the track that Tek & Steele restarted it after just the first two verses, and went all the way in, performing the entire track including covers of the guest verses from O.G.C. Much of the crowd was spitting the verses word-for-word with Tek & Steele. Around this part of the night, Smif-N-Wessun had been teasing that they only had a couple more songs left in their time slot even though they could go on for days, and the crowd kept showing energy and wanting more. They’d give the crowd what they wanted, performing a few more fan favourites including “Wrekonize Remix” before closing out the show and taking the time to meet some of the fans.
Overall, this was another celebration appropriate for Hip-Hop’s 50th anniversary. Smif-N-Wessun are an integral part of ’90s underground Hip-Hop, and the Caribbean flavours they infuse into their style of rap especially resonates with the diversity of the Toronto fan base. The City definitely showed up and honoured Smif-N-Wessun as well as Boot Camp Clik’s legacy with the local artists booked to open for them, as each artist killed their performances despite occasional sound issues, each putting on a display of incredible lyricism. Hip-Hop was definitely alive at The Rivoli this Easter Sunday!
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