For the first time in over a decade, Lloyd Banks has returned to Toronto, performing live at the ICEBOX Expo taking place at one of the city’s most iconic venues, The Opera House. This would be a rare opportunity for Toronto Hip-Hop heads to see the former G-Unit founding member perform from outside of the shadow of 50 Cent, as well as a great way to celebrate 420, as the ICEBOX Expo would also bring to The Opera House dozens of legal cannabis vendors to interact with. We have to give a shoutout to Peter Jackson and 9-0 Nickel Entertainment for putting this event together.
Not only was the timing of this event great for the unofficial cannabis holiday, but also because of the renaissance Lloyd Banks has been experiencing in his career in recent years. Now being nearly twenty years removed from his heyday of multi-platinum success with G-Unit, Banks has refined his sound and carved out a new lane for himself in the underground. After going mostly silent throughout the 2010s with just a few quietly released mixtapes, Banks resurrected his career by releasing his first studio album in over a decade, The Course Of The Inevitable (COTI) in 2021. He’s been consistently hitting the fans with new music since, releasing COTI 2 in 2022, and his latest COTI III: Pieces Of My Pain being released the day after this concert. Whether you were a day-one fan looking for that G-Unit nostalgia from the early-mid 2000s, or have been vibing with the new series of COTI albums, Hip-Hop heads definitely had a reason to want to catch Lloyd Banks at this concert.
We got to the venue just over an hour after doors had opened, and the show was just getting started with local artists warming up the stage. The local openers were hit or miss at this show, with most of them trying to rap over their full songs being played through the speakers. Some openers were able to cut through on the mic and stand out in their own ways, but others had flows that sounded cluttered, overlapping with the recorded vocals, or they were drowned out completely and appeared to be lip syncing.
One of the standouts among the openers was Mississauga’s own Fame Holiday, who we caught a glimpse of at the Ice Cube concert in Kitchener this past February. He was one of the few artists who rapped with raw vocals, as he opened his set with the high-energy “Step,” with a couple backup dancers getting down behind him as he nailed his flow. The roster of dancers would expand throughout his set, as he had some ladies joining the male dancers on stage and got the crowd moving to his newest single, the Spanish-flavoured “Mamacita.” Throw in a few more up-tempo joints like “My Thang” and “We Outside,” and he had himself a solid set with the energy turned up by having a squad of dancers behind him the whole time.
Another emcee who stood out with his rhymes was Iron Wind, who got to perform his song “Razor Sharp” as part of My City Records’ showcase with their entire roster. Iron Wind easily stood out with his dope delivery over a boom-bap style of production, and he even beat-boxed in place of the DJ cuts at the end of the track. The rest of the My City Records roster had some dope tracks and good energy as well, but they were competing with their pre-recorded vocals and didn’t all cut through on the mic as sharply as Iron Wind.
Other standout openers throughout the evening included YBA, who brought a ton of energy to the stage with the Spanish flavour added to his style of rap plus having his crew tossing out 420 goodies into the crowd, and C-Rowe & Perswasian bringing the sex appeal to the stage. Ladies in the crowd would grab at C-Rowe’s sweatpants and let him put their phones down his pants throughout his set, and he’d eventually go topless and jump down into the crowd for some extra energy. Perswasian joined as a surprise guest during C-Rowe’s set, performing their collaborations together and also putting on her own steamy RnB performance with her backup dancers.
DJ Playa had been holding it down behind the turntables all night, introducing the artists to the stage and playing some classic records between performers. After most of the local openers finished performing, he made way for DJ Young Legend, who’d keep the party going by swiftly cutting between tracks and playing some classic hooks to keep the crowd engaged. Pretty soon the founder of the battle rap league King Of The Dot, Organik, would come out to introduce the next artist while also putting a spotlight on the cannabis brand he also founded, Ghost Drops, which had its logo prominently displayed in front of the DJ booth. Two Toronto legends would connect as Organik introduced Peter Jackson to the stage as the final opener. Being the organizer of the show, Peter Jackson seemed to recognize it was going behind schedule and humbly made way for the headliner after performing just a handful of songs, including his recent collaboration with future tour mate Millyz, “All I Ever Wanted.”
Having put in years of work bringing notable American artists into Canada to perform live, Peter Jackson got his flowers from the crowd during his performance and received all the appropriate praise. He’d move through his set quickly, knowing the crowd was mostly there to see Lloyd Banks, and pretty soon it was time for the moment we all had been waiting for. “G-G-G-G-G-Uniiiit!!!”
Shortly after Peter Jackson wrapped up his set, Lloyd Banks’ tour DJ got his gear set up, and the Jamaica, Queens legend came out to the intro track off of his last album before the pandemic, 2010’s Hunger For More 2, performing the song “Take ‘Em To War.” I don’t even know if this album was out the last time Lloyd Banks performed in Toronto, it’s been that damn long. The crowd was hyped just to see Banks actually in the building after so many years, and some of us seeing him perform live for the first time. He’d talk to the crowd between songs, asking how many of us got G-Unit’s first album before performing a couple joints off of Beg For Mercy, which turns 20 years old this year. He’d perform a deep album cut with “Eye For Eye,” the crowd already ready to join in on the 50 Cent chorus before he rocked his verse, and followed up with the hit single “Poppin’ Them Thangs.”
Jumping between different eras in his career, Banks skipped ahead to his second solo album, Rotten Apple, performing another deep album cut with “Survival.” Off of this album, I would’ve loved to hear “Cake,” but “Survival” ended up being the only song he’d perform from ’06. He seemed to be testing the crowd, asking if anyone in the building messed with is mixtapes, and decided to perform one mixtape track to see how many knew those joints. He’d spit his up-tempo flow on “Money Rules The World” before reverting back to album cuts; I guess the crowd didn’t turn up enough to hear more of his underground work. Next would be a throwback to his solo debut, 2004’s The Hunger For More, as he performed the single “I’m So Fly,” getting the crowd to wave their arms to the beat.
Known to have his mind on his money, Lloyd Banks made the comment that he had performed as many songs as he had been paid to do, leaving the rest of the show up to the crowd. He’d take some time to ask the fans what they wanted to hear, with many shouting out songs like “Propane” or “Sidewalks” off of The Course Of The Inevitable, and one fan who Banks noticed shout out “Victory 2004” which would have been epic. Seeing some fans rocking Raptors gear, he’d also take some time to trash talk our team while bigging up his New York Knicks, who are still in the NBA Playoffs (for now). While the fans did cheer for “Victory” and many were also shouting out new joints, Lloyd Banks decided instead to stick to the throwbacks, going back to his debut with his first solo hit single, “On Fire.” This ended up being another tease to the crowd, as we all sang along to 50 Cent’s hook but the song cut off abruptly right before Lloyd Banks’ first verse, and he opted to go into a more romantic song for the ladies with “Karma.”
Keeping with the theme of ladies’ songs, Banks next performed what he called another throwback mixtape joint that ended up later making it onto Beg For Mercy as the album’s closer, “I Smell Pussy.” The crowd sang along to the subtle Ja Rule disses as Banks rocked his verse, and next up would be a special treat. With G-Unit on the mind, seeming to come out of nowhere, Tony Yayo joined Lloyd Banks on stage as the DJ dropped the beat for his solo single “So Seductive,” and the crowd got extra hyped, helping to cover 50 Cent’s verse and hook. Tony Yayo had recently completed his own tour across Canada with Peter Jackson back in the winter time, and so it only made sense that he came back for this 420 show to support G-Unit. With Banks backing him up, Yayo would perform one more of his own solo tracks, “Pimpin’,” before reverting to hypeman duties to back up Lloyd Banks.
Now with Yayo and Banks on stage representing two thirds of the founding G-Unit members, the crowd had a lot more energy. Rather than dive into a medley of G-Unit tracks together though, Lloyd Banks would perform a handful of solo tracks with Yayo as his hypeman, going back to 2010’s Hunger For More 2 with the singles “Start It Up” and “Any Girl.” Banks would mention he had his new album COTI III: Pieces Of My Pain dropping at midnight, getting the fans to cheer for new music. The fans kept shouting out more songs they wanted to hear off the COTI albums, and Banks decided to bring on stage the ones who kept shouting out “Victory,” showing off the Hunger For More merch they were wearing rather than performing the song they wanted. With the fans joining him and Yayo on stage, Banks would abruptly close out the show with another 2010 joint, “Beamer, Benz, Or Bentley,” before saying peace and goodnight to the crowd.
The ending to this show was abrupt and left a lot more to be desired, as it seemed Lloyd Banks was more focused on overseeing the midnight digital release of his new album than putting on an epic performance for the fans in front of him. While there were plenty of underground heads in the crowd, Banks completely ignored the critically acclaimed new material released in the ’20s and went with the nostalgic route, sticking to throwbacks from 2010 or earlier and making sure to include his more RnB/Pop-influenced hits. The curating of the set list could have been so much better, as even the throwbacks were missing selections the die-hard fans wanted to hear. Me personally, I agree with the fans who were shouting out “Propane” and “Victory,” and since we were digging into Beg For Mercy, I would’ve also loved to hear the best verse on that entire album with “My Buddy.” Some fans were shouting out “Ain’t No Click” after Tony Yayo graced the stage, and it felt like a missed opportunity for them to not perform any G-Unit songs or collaborations together. Not to mention any previews of the new album, like the Method Man-assisted single “101 Razors.”
Overall, this show was bittersweet. On one hand, it was dope seeing Lloyd Banks perform live for the first time, as it’s been extremely rare to catch him on tour in Canada over the years. On the other hand, some could argue he’s been releasing the best music of his career in the 2020s, and it was disappointing to see him completely ignore this new era of music that’s worth celebrating. Even the throwbacks didn’t seem to be celebrated appropriately, as he skipped out on so many memorable moments in his discography. The show felt like it was just getting started when Lloyd Banks left the stage, and you could tell the crowd wanted to hear more. Still, the little time we had with Banks & Yayo was all good vibes, and it was an overall positive 420 celebration.
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