1997 was a defining year in my musical history. It was the year I moved back to Toronto after living in London, Ontario for almost 7 years. To keep me out of her hair during the move, my mother packed my bags and sent me on my usual summer-long stay at my aunt’s house in Brooklyn. This I was used to…but that particular year was life-changing. The Notorious B.I.G. had just died that March, and my aunt happened to live at Cambridge and Fulton — a block away from where Big once lived. It was impossible to be in that neighbourhood and not fall in love with hip hop. It seemed that even months after Big’s murder, Brooklyn was still in mourning. Every jeep on the street, every barber shop, every block party that summer — was all Big everything. I went from a budding alternative punk rocker, (No Doubt, Bush, Silverchair, The Cranberries…these were the artists in heavy rotation on my walkman at the time), to a bonafide, certified lover of Biggie and all things hip hop.
My fate was sealed that summer. I yearned for more hip hop, and my 1997 was filled with In My Lifetime Volume 1, Wu Tang Forever, When Disaster Strikes, and of course, Ready to Die and Life After Death.
There was something else I discovered that year. A soulful, high-octane track with punchy horns and spit-fire rhyming by a young duo from the Bronx. Every time I heard it, my heart would pump a little faster and my head would automatically start to bob. The duo was Camp Lo, the track was “Luchini” and even now, it remains an absolute hip hop classic.
I admit, I’d never heard the Uptown Saturday Night album in its entirety before Camp Lo’s 15th anniversary performance of the album this past Wednesday. But even so, the tracks I did discover back in ’97 (“Luchini”, “Black Nostaljack [a.k.a. Come On]”, and “Coolie High”), I still hold very dear. I can’t count how many earrings I’ve lost or perms I have ruined dancing to Camp Lo in the club; so I had to seize the opportunity to catch their anniversary performance live at Sound Academy.
The crowd was thin, but very lively when I arrived. Heartfelt hugs and daps were exchanged between old friends and even strangers as the audience waited for the opener, Toronto’s own Spek Won, to hit the stage. With no bulky entourage, and lyrics that captivated the audience, Spek Won warmed the crowd with tracks like “Tryptamine”, “Love Warrior” and “African Psycho”.
Backed by DJ Soul Child, the loc’d lyricist had Toronto in the palm of his hand with his free style over Big’s “Warning”, and his take on Pharrell’s sleeper hit, “You Could Do it Too”. The bass literally shook the room with “Turn It Up”, Spek’s last track of the evening. By the end of his set, the crowd had doubled in size and a small, but energetic mosh pit had formed.
DJ Numeric kept the crowd’s energy up, spinning classic tracks like Common’s “The Light”, Black Moon’s “Who Got Da Props”, “Simon Says” by Pharoahe Monch and Q-Tip’s “Let’s Ride”. I’m happy to see that the crowd was actually dancing – a welcome change from the unappreciative knuckleheads at the Kendrick Lamar show back in September.
Without warning, the intro to Camp Lo’s “Sparkle” began to play and Sonny Cheeba’s voice broke through the chatter. The crowd instantly quieted as a reserved Cheeba and a (literally) colourful Geechi Suede hit the stage. Sounding everything like they did on the 15 year-old record, and not missing a beat with their signature ambiguous, puzzling rhymes, Camp Lo transported the crowd right back to the 9-7 with “Park Joint”, “Say Word”, “Killin Em Softly” and “Black Connection”. Cheeba didn’t break a sweat, even with a scarf and a thick cable knit sweater on; and Suede had a pocket full of choreographed dance moves to keep the audience entertained. Warm memories of the mid-90’s filled the room as the smooth-as-butter “Coolie High” started to play. By the time “Black Nostaljack” came on, the air was thick with excitement. I had to put down my notes long enough to belt out the theme song to Good Times with the rest of the audience.
The pièce de résistance of course, was Camp Lo’s last song of the evening, “Luchini”. I wish I could tell you more about this performance, but I had to put my notes down so that I could throw my hands up and bellow “THIS IS IT, WHAT?!” with the rest of the crowd. Cheeba and Suede looked as though they had just a much fun performing this track as the crowd did bobbing their heads. It was all love from both sides of the stage.
The entire evening was over by 12 sharp, but concert-goers were still buzzing long after the beat to “Luchini” faded. Camp Lo put on an excellent show that many people are still talking about days later!
Having never had the pleasure of catching Camp Lo perform live before this show, I can definitely say the concert was worth the 15 year wait. I can officially scratch another item off of my hip hop bucket list!