This past Saturday, true hip-hop lovers gathered at Harbourfront Centre to witness the SoundClash Festival. This annual festival showcases artists that are pushing the envelope in contemporary music and culture. Harbourfront is not a stranger to hip-hop, as every year they include individual elements of the culture into their festivals. This year, SoundClash offered a screening of never-before-seen clips from the Big Daddy Kane documentary, held DJ art workshops with DJ L’Oqenz, the Braggin’ Rights: DJ Dance Battle, as well as beat-making workshops with Play De Record Academy and much more.
The main event was a concert showcasing some of Toronto’s best emcees and SoundClash music award recipients, as well as one of Detroit’s finest! Realistically, this show could have easily been called the “Lyricist Lounge” because that was the main focus of each individuals set, the lyrics. The artists reppin’ the T-Dot were Freedom Writers, Rich Kidd and JD Era, and on behalf of Detroit was the lyrical beast, Elzhi.
Now Harbourfront events run on time, so if they say a certain artist is on at 7pm, chances are that artist is on no later than 7:05pm. Rich Kidd graced the Redpath stage with his usual high energy, backed by DJ NaNa on the 1s and 2s. Even though the crowd was still a bit scarce, Rich Kidd gave the same energy that he would’ve given a full crowd. Not only does Rich Kidd produce some of the illest beats, he also has one of the best stage presence’ I’ve ever witnessed. Whether it is engaging with each person in the audience for a few seconds or jumping off stage while rapping to the crowd and walking over to individual people, Rich Kidd definitely holds your attention with ease. He performed familiar tracks like “Take It Slow”, and newer tracks off of the Rich Kidd vs DJ NaNa: two mixtape. Once Rich finished his set, people were asked to head over to the WestJet Stage for the Freedom Writers who were going on in a few minutes.
We ended up right in the front row and prepared for Freedom Writers to take the stage. Seeing the Freedom Writers perform as a collective is quite rare, so you never know what to expect. Regardless, you do know it’s going to be a performance of lyrical genius and food for thought. It’s safe to brand the group as socially conscious, socio-political emcees; as they address issues with our youth, the government, world issues and more. They’re extremely up-to-date with what’s happening in our society and addressing the ills that most times get overlooked. The first lyricist, Progress, hit the stage, entered stage right freestyling, followed by members Theo 3, Adam Bomb, Tona and Frankie Payne. It was clear that the fans were eager for this performance, as I mentioned previously, they don’t perform as a collective often. Each member was granted the opportunity to deliver a verse/freestyle acapella. When they were performing the track “For The Change”, Frankie Payne brought out his son to hold up the names of deceased hip-hop icons. Each one he read, DJ Riccachet changed the beat to reflect the artist. They paid tribute to Guru, MCA, Tupac, Nate Dogg, Heavy D, Biggie and more. It was such a simple concept, but nonetheless was effective and made a powerful statement! Overall, Freedom Writers have an incredible energy and chemistry on stage. It’s difficult for so many talented individuals to share one stage, but they seemed to have done this effortlessly, allowing each other to make a statement.
Right after Freedom Writers, JD Era jumped on stage with his hype man and went right into his set. This was the second time I’ve seen JD Era live, and just like the first time, he had that same energy! I mean he really goes in hard! I have to admit that I couldn’t connect with JD Era’s performance and maybe that’s because I’m not familiar with his music. However, he had the crowd rockin’ to his catchy track “Canada EH!” off of his mixtape No Handouts. Without a doubt, this ICEH2O-Raekwon protégé has a bright future ahead of him.
Finally, it was Elzhi up to bat. I had already checked out his show the previous night in Hamilton, but nonetheless expected a very different show. Now, I’m not talking about set list, I’m talking about energy! I had a feeling that Toronto would give Elzhi the energy he needed for a dope performance and the setting of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower alone would put an artist in a positive mood! Don’t get me wrong, Elzhi SMASHED his Hamilton set; it was more of an intimate show and he connected with fans on a more personal level. The first track he performed “Blue Widow“, produced by Detroit’s DJ Dez, is the most recent track he released. Elzhi mentioned that he could really feel the Toronto/Detroit connection and called us cousins. He also mentioned that he will always be proud to have been a member of the legendary group Slum Village! I commend him for this, because aside from any animosity, he is still able to show his appreciation for being a part of one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time. He got into numerous tracks from his 2011 highly acclaimed Elmatic, performing my personal favourite, “Life’s a Bitch”, “One Love”, and “The World is Yours”. He even got the crowd singing the chorus for Slum Village’s “The Look of Love”!
One thing that separates Elzhi from any other emcee is his delivery and the pitch of his voice. It never sounds like he’s slurring his words or you can’t hear him; his voice projects, whether it’s over a live band or a DJ. I feel this is extremely important as an emcee to have that vocal control. I can’t tell you how many times I go to a hip-hop show complaining that the mic needs to be turned up or the sound is bad. Sometimes it’s just all on the artists pitch and Elzhi has mastered this area. He took a moment to break down one of his illest verses in “D.E.M.O.N.S”, which I know hip-hop heads and lyricists appreciated that particular part of the show. He continued his performance with more solo tracks and a couple Slum Village tracks. He also graced us with his verse from “Contra” with Danny Brown and Black Milk’s “Deadly Medley” ft. Royce da 5″9. Overall, Elzhi’s energy throughout the performance was energetic and intriguing. He really engaged with the fans and even pointed out my homie Octavio’s Detroit fitted. I must admit that I enjoy Elzhi with a live band more, especially on such a large stage, but this is hip-hop and the DJ always reigns supreme! Shouts out to DJ NaNa for backing Elzhi flawlessly and I appreciated his energy as well. NaNa was familiar with every song performed so his hype was well received. Fans definitely went home satisfied and eager for a new album from Elzhi.
Special thanks to Harbourfront for a great festival and continuing to support hip-hop culture. Also a very special thank you to Lydia from The JAE.B Group.