Brooklyn hip hop, then and now
SMIF-N-WESSUN @ the Drake Underground
Brooklyn vets Tek and Steele of Smif-n-Wessun set the Drake Underground on fire on Saturday night. They showcased two decades of hits, including multiple cuts off their 1995 classic Dah Shinin’. They even reimagined a string of steadfast crowd-pleasers including Biggie’s “Juicy” and Buju Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye”. As always, the pair were incredibly engaging, ruthlessly energetic, and had the place hanging on their every word.
JOEY BADA$$ @ Wrongbar
It was the 18-year-old Brooklyn rapper’s Toronto debut, and I was beyond excited to witness the latest MC to be hailed as the saviour of east coast rap. Wrongbar was packed with hip-hop heads and casual party-goers alike, but it’s the former group that ultimately made this show one for the books. The place was kinetic, shaking with anticipation for a seminal NXNE 2013 moment.And Joey definitely didn’t disappoint. He powered through his incredible breakthrough mixtape 1999, bodying tracks like “Waves”, “World Domination”, “Pennyroyal”, and “Righteous Minds”. He also performed “Word is Bond” off his upcoming Summer Knights mixtape and the DJ Premier-produced “Unorthodox”. He’s got the ease and effortlessness of a future hip-hop heavyweight.The highlight of the set was also the most heartbreaking. As the end of his time neared, I wondered when Joey would break out “Survival Tactics,” the stunning 1999 cut featuring Joey’s best friend and co-conspirator Capital Steez, who recently took his own life. Rumours of the young MC’s fascination with occult theory and bad blood over Joey’s meteoric success accented the tragedy with a certain loss of innocence, as if Pro Era mourns their early days as a group of friends just trying to get noticed even as they welcome their newfound success. The paradox was apparent in Wrongbar last night.A gorgeous sketch rendering of Joey and Capital Steez circled through the crowd as the audience pointed two fingers skywards in memory of the 19-year-old prodigy. When the intro of “Survival Tactics” finally began, it was a moment full of relevance and emotion. Capital Steez’ outstanding verse bellowed as Joey and a couple other Pro Era members hung their heads in reverence, shouting their friend’s punchlines in unison and solidarity. Steez’ final line, “Send a message and it’s over in a millisecond,” landed so heavy I thought I’d been punched in the stomach. “Rest in peace Capital Steez,” Joey concluded. Without a doubt, the performance was the highlight of my NXNE.