Kendrick Lamar w/ Earl Sweatshirt - Sound Academy - Toronto, ON Aug 3
Given the level of near-universal love shown to current rap king Kendrick Lamar over the past year, there was little question that the Toronto stop of his “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” tour – his first return visit since releasing the tour’s namesake record – would be something truly explosive. Fans at the sold out Sound Academy love-in took it well beyond that, however, proving their credentials by rapping along as enthusiastically between euphoric screams to standouts from Lamar’s most recent studio smash as they did to cuts a few mixtapes deep.
Concert goers were still streaming into the the already cramped venue as Earl Sweatshirt plodded through his early opening set, drawing the biggest response with final cut “Drop”. That momentary buzz was soon all but squandered, however, by a canned (and skipping) collection of about ten old school tracks running on repeat that were meant to hold things over until the main event. It wasn’t too long, though, before Kendrick’s DJ stepped up to rectify that situation as he let loose a stream of current hits for more in tune with the people in the room.
The opening sounds of “The Art Of Peer Pressure” announced Lamar’s arrival on stage, and the reigning ruler stood confidently in front of his crowd for a moment, breathing in the unrelenting adulation, before setting things off with fitting lead-in “Backseat Freestyle”. Watching as the room carried the song’s chorus and much of its three verses word-for-word was truly something, a vibe Kendrick clearly caught onto as he would work with and feed from it for the remainder of the show. The Compton native also seemed well aware of his fans’ faithfulness as he spent much of the set’s early portion bouncing around from older tunes like “Pussy and Patron” to guest verses (“Fuckin’ Problems”, “R.I.P.”), before winding back to gems from Section 80 and his more recent official debut LP.
Solid material aside, great hip hop shows are built largely from the performer’s onstage charisma, and K-Dot has that in spades, though the show’s well-scripted segues and the rapper’s increasing reliance on the tired “which side’s louder” gimmick, while not a complete negative, did tend to detract a bit from that. But those minor frayed edges amounted to pretty small potatoes in a show that never lost its electricity, and one that became even more charged with arrival of highly anticipated sure-shots “Money Trees”, “Poetic Justice” and a run-through of “Swimming Pools” by cellphone light.
Rare catalog favourite “Cut You Off” wound things down before Kendrick left with a blistering, triumphant acappella, returning momentarily for one last, Earl-assisted joint that was met with a large bra hurled onto the stage. A final declaration that Toronto was his favorite city, and it was all over.
Kendrick Lamar, armed with a pen, a pad, and a studio mic is an undisputed beast, but performing live is an entirely different animal, and those skills don’t always carry over. His latest Toronto showcase, however, proved Lamar a threat in both settings, and gave the sense that things are only going to get better. (For Exclaim.ca)
Album Review: Iman Omari - (VIBE)rations
LA singer/producer Iman Omari has been slow-brewing his spacey, heavily textured r&b dreamscapes at the radar’s edge for a couple of years now, building on 2011’s Energy EP with a slew of increasingly searching rough works, remixes, and collaborative projects. New album (VIBE)rations lays many of Omari’s more enthralling aural leanings down beautifully behind a drawn-out, romantically lustful though ultimately frustrated lover’s plea. Each reverberating concoction washes over you with a trippy combination of warm, blanketing astral tones, thick, anchoring bass lines and clackety, unconventional percussive hits, as acoustic guitar and horn touches are sprinkled in unassumingly to further sweeten the hallucinatory brew. The singer’s uniquely affected vocals continue this sonic effect, while rapping partner MoRuf and Toronto soul siren Shi Wisdom stir up the records running dream sequence with a few stand-out contributions of their own. Save for a poor studio mix that strips away a bit of the record’s clear audio potency, (VIBE)rations is a wonderfully constructed piece of left-field soul, and one that offers a perfect glimpse into Omari’s unique, creative world. (For Exclaim.ca)
NXNE 2013: Joey Bada$$ - Wrongbar - June 15
For what was undoubtedly one of the most highly-anticipated shows of this year’s festival, Toronto’s cramped and sweaty west Queen St. late night haunt Wrongbar played host to prodigal rapper Joey Bada$$, and the 18-year old Brooklynite didn’t disappoint. In front of a packed room of both hardcore fans and curious onlookers that hung on every verse, many of them mouthing along, Bada$$ walked lazily across the tight stage dropping bomb after bomb from his two celebrated mixtape releases with well-greased efficiency. Heavy-hitting DJ/producer Statik Selektah controlled the pace from behind the decks and kept the laid-back rapper on point, setting up recent crowd-loving big drops like “School High” and “Bun N Cheese” alongside early favourites from last year’s 1999, with fellow Pro Era affiliate Kirk Knight along to offer assistance on his own verses.
But one of the biggest moments of the night came when the crew paid homage to the late Capital Steez, letting his verse from the smooth “Like Water” run while Bada$$, Knight, and fans throughout the room respectfully supplied choice ad-libs, hands held high in the air. While one of the main topics of conversation outside the venue following the set was the heat we’d all just suffered through to witness the memorable event, there was no question that the kid with the Golden Era flow more than lived up to the top billing he was given going into his debut Toronto show. (For Exclaim.ca)