Dreams come true. Never believe otherwise. I speak from the living flesh of someone whose hip-hop childhood dreams came true at least two dozen times yesterday at the All Canadian North Stars concert at OVO World Weekend. Our big brother
Drake has once again made hip-hop dream history in his immaculate Queen Street West venue so appropriately christened History, and honored the immaculate legacy of the OVO Fest with a night of hometown hip-hop that puts a capstone on the concert tradition that makes it certified as the greatest Toronto concert series ever.
I admit to a degree of personal bias (shoutout to the Nardwuar interview with 40 and Drake, those were good times), but no other concert series in Toronto history has brought Eminem, Michie Mee, OutKast, 50 Cent, Saukrates, Kardinal Offishall, Glenn Lewis, Jully Black, Kanye West, Maestro Fresh Wes, Lil Wayne, The Weeknd, Usher, Cardi B, Jay-Z, Keshia Chanté, Lauryn Hill, and so many more on the same platform… and I’ve seen damn near all the concert festivals in Toronto rap history. OVO Fest just put some respeck on the names of the hip-hop architects in The Six (formerly known as The Screwface Capital) and blessed their predecessors by giving flowers all night long. It was a Oscar-award-winning movie that truly deserves to be shared in a documentary. Eternal thanks for the VIP link, big brother. You dun know how Mindbender lives and loves to watch shows as Mr. Front Row, but thanks to your boundless generosity, the show was even far better than my wildest imagination could have dreamed… so, let’s reminisce on the best Canadian all-stars show of the year, if not EVER in history.
Thursday evening. July 27th, 2022. History Nightclub, Queen St. West.
Bombaclaat beautiful sounds a gwannin’. Sparkling bright lights, strobes and colored gels. The aroma of sativas, perfumes, colognes mingle amongst the lovely T-Dot massive. Proper amount of crowd-hyping and atmosphere charging by mans like DJ Agile, a bonafied disc jockey to all the heads who know good sound selection, and accompanied by Fire Kid Steenie, also a great Toronto event host who knows how fi get di people dem vibes right. The crowd steadily kept swelling and growing as the music kept playing. Not very long after the advertised concert start of 10 p.m., the joyful tension in the audience and backstage broke, when it was time for life to announce that wonderful line Eddie Murphy loves to say… “IT’S SHOWTIME!”
As some majestic, bombastic, cinematic and operatic symphony music played triumphantly out the immaculate-sounding speakers: The Godfather Known As Maestro (Fresh-Wes) came out and dropped “Drop the Needle,” while Benzo and his Dope State jacket shined yellow and red. Perfect way to start a night as important as this. “Conducting Thangs” was next, the calypso chill melody melting the crowd into their cool runnings Caribbean memories. It was so dope when he took a moment from his hype ass show to inform the yout dem: “What up, I’m Maestro, and I’m 54 years old! Born 1967!” and still moving like Ben Johnson mixed with the Black Charles Bronson before delivering “Let Your Backbone Slide” (In which I got to do the “better yet, I call you Curious George!” line into the mic that Maestro pointed towards me. There are no words to capture how great that enormous little moment feels). He wore a black fedora hat as sharp as a butterfly knife, and an outfit dipped like a tuxedo. Maestro opened the show as perfectly as a Canadian all stars event could be, and any Canadian All-Star event that doesn’t have or honor Maestro Fresh Wes simply is not right. But Drake did right by all standards of Canadian hip-hop imaginable, and then some.
Next up, Frank N Dank was a pleasant surprise, them being Detroit OGs. But quickly after rocking “Nice 2 Meet You,” their Saukrates produced banger, they let the people know they been honorary Canadians since they got signed to Universal, word to Jodi and Ivan, and Dank even linked his dual citizenship now. They dropped a short version of “Push” then tore into their club banger “Take Ya Clothes Off,” electrifying the crowd and raising the energy level up a gunshot.
The God Glenn Lewis graced the stage next, black and gold button up shining like jaguar jewelry. The slick “Bout Love” was elegantly expressed before everything stopped for a real Canadian R&B lover like myself, as Glenn Lewis brought out “Don’t You Forget It” (!!!), one of the abso-fucking-lute greatest Canadian R&B songs ever recorded, and the crowd melted into his hands as he delivered all of the classic… “as you faced your fears! and subside your tears…” Dreams come true, I tell you.
Mad respect to Drake for bringing out Infinite, a real Canadian hip-hop icon who carried the culture forward in dark times. Decked out in crisp white fit, Infinite scorched the mic with “Gotta Get Mine” and “Take a Look,” two of his memorable chunes. Honestly, one of the only ways this night could have been an Aladdin’s wish of a perfect dream would be if it featured a performance by Infinite AND Ghetto Concept together, like it used to be back in the day. Differently still, mans was fresh.
Then, the energy was turnt up leven-fiddy degrees when In Essence came on stage. Also dressed in dope all white fits, it was revealed that they hadn’t shared the stage together in almost 16 years (if I heard that correctly, there was a lot of noise.) A short but sweet serving of chunes like “She Can Ride,” “Stay With Me” and “Runnin’” were the highly choreographed with kicksteps, fly-ass flourishes, crossovers, and all kinda Northern New Edition negroness, just killing the shit like it doesn’t happen often enough anymore. Ironic and fitting that their last song was their Flow radio hit “You’ll Never Find.”
Shawn Desman was a surprising name to some to see on the list, but once he came out in them shorts and windbreaker like he gave zero fucks about anything except entertaining and singing his soul to the audience, it made perfect sense. His infectious energy never dipped below 11 among his dance-heavy medley including “Get Ready” and some flamenco-fingered fun for “Spread My Wings,” before he got to smashing “Electric,” and made the crowd to scream in ecstasy. Couldn’t be mad when Shawn then added the sweetest icing on the cake, when his adorable six year old daughter came out to throw down some party moves with daddy, and basically steal the show with her 150% fearlessly cute and occasionally choreographed dance joy with Daddy Desman. Good times.
Next up was a delicious surprise offering of Melanie Durrant delivering “Bang Bang,” and dropping out the beat so she could let her voice blow acapella. GUNSHOT, GUNSHOT was all that could be replied to her in her dazzling outfit, glowing and glistening bright. Definitely left the crowd wanting more, like a few performers have but when making History, a suh it go.
I need you to understand what happened next was nothing short of a MIRACLE in the form of a musical chuuuuch revival. The unmatched, the unequaled, the unprecedented Queen of Canadian R&B Jully Black done come out to blessss up the stage, and I could not salute or scream loud enough. Bussin’ out the gate with a crowd-uplifting call & response for “Sweat of your Brow,” then stopping everything for a vital education of Toronto music history, As well as the next moment, in which Prophet Goddess Jully Black took everyone straight to the most high chuuuch concert possible, and spoke to the peoples dem about, “There’s been a lot of violence in our city, and I want us to light up this room right now, top to bottom. It takes a single match to rid a room of darkness. This light is about collaboration and celebration, not competition, so lift up the lights. And I want everyone to activate their inner child and sing after me…”
At this moment, Jully BLOODCLAAT Black told everyone to sing along to “This Little Light Of Mine” and asked people to shout “I’m going to let it shine,” and if my likkle heart did not explode into a million drops of bliss, love and hope, I can’t say nothing else. Everyone sang with all their happy heart. It was DIVINE. We need that kinda guidance every day. Next, Jully told a nice story as she direck-ly informed anyone who did NOT yet know, about the time when bredrens like Nasty Nas reached up North for some music, and linked up with mans like DJ Agile, Saukrates and Jully Black, to make the final song on ‘God’s Son’ aka “Heaven,” in which Jully delivered a SCORCHING rendition of that bulletproof classic. “If Heaven was a mile away…/ would I pack my bags and leave this world behind??” as the double-time head-nodding classic beat slammed behind her, and she let Nas’s lyrics bun between her singing the timeless hook. I need people to know how fucking legendary this moment in performance history was! Jully Black is a Queen, an All-Star, a legend, and a light towards a better future for us all. Clack-clack… RELOAD!!
Next up was the k-os set, which was… interesting, to say the least. Still embodying his name to the fullest, k-os had a very energetic, yet erratic set where he: 1) started freestyling off the dome on the “Superstar” beat when it was supposed to be a tribute show, 2) cut off “Crabbucket” four bars into the bassline licking the crowd, 3) did serve a decent portion of “Man I Used To Be,” which is hilariously auto-biographical, 4) dropped Drake’s “Headlines” beat in the middle of his set and surprisingly got a generous Drizzy to drunkenly rhyme along to the ‘Take Care’-era smash with the crowd, and k-os hype-manning Drake. “Make some noise for all the acts that performed so far and caught a body. I don’t even know why I have the mic, but this guy’s crazy! ‘Exit’ changed my life, all this man’s music changed my life. Do you got one more? Cause that was a terrible way to end it!” Ha ha, Drake’s got jokes. Then it went into “Sunday Morning,” in which k-os cut off, restarted, and threatened not to perform. Heavy sigh. While b-boy royalty Benzo was uprocking and locking, k-os tried to bring out an electric guitar to rip a solo… but there was no sound coming out… so he threw the guitar. Subtle reference to Kardinal at Echofest? Ha ha. One more heartfelt “Sunday Morning” chorus crowd singalong, and then the k-os was done.
The ecstasy, relief and nostalgia felt when Blake Savage the Chiznocka came tearing through the venue next could not be contained, as mans came thru with “Back Where I Stayed” blazing the speakers to dust. What a spectacular introduction. A taste of “21 Years,” some “Rubbin’” thrown in (solo, unfortunately), a gyangsta’s rendition of “Flagrant” was such a fiery set of freshness to straight up deliver to the excited audience, as Choclair remains a Canadian classic like Tim Hortons and Beavertails. Agile set it up just right, dropping the plinky keys of “Just Ride” before Choclair told everyone to “get in your ride, buckle up, grab the steering wheel and just…” Beat drops. BOOM, the whole room is doing steering wheel motions like Snoop Dogg and Pharrell. “Swing down, sweet chariot, stop!” Still sounds fire, every time. Salute, Chocs!
The God Saukrates was next.
I’m a ridiculously unrestrained fan of the music of Saukrates, therefore I will try to keep it brief. Scarborough’s first rap superstar came so fucking correct. Stepping out with his energetic son Dakota on some O’Shea Jackson Sr./Jr. business, Bigg Soxx rocked a delicious number of bangers, obviously just a slice of his classic catalogue. From “Comin’ Up,” to the hook of “Father Time” (ugh, if only we got the first verse), plus the hook of “Hate Runs Deep” (ugh, if only we got a guest appearance from Marvel), then slid into some “Money or Love” for the peoples dem, always a nice jam to sing along to. Saukrates then spoke to the crowd about his history, and how he made Big Black Lincoln, arguably. Then he brought out his wife Alana, who was being reluctantly shy, but Saukrates had too much love to give her this night, and serenaded her to “All of You.” To end off the celebrations, a very wild and chaotic rendition of “I Wish I Knew Natalie Portman” exploded on the stage, with Saukrates creatively remixing his verse, and k-os reluctantly rocking his next. This moment seemed unplanned but was surely appreciated by heads like myself, who love that song and love Saukrates, too. If he performed “Something For The Streets” or “Fades Away,” I would have lost my fucking mind after I broke my body in celebration. But Sauks did his god damn thing well, and gracefully exited stage left.
Nearing the end of a night nobody wanted to see the end of, we were blessed next with an impressive performance by Vancouver’s Rascalz, delivering “Movie Star” excitingly, making a young Mindbender ecstatic with the rare performance of the RapCity video classic “Really Livin,” while Misfit came correct on “Dreaded Fist,” before a very surprising version of “All Over The World” was unleashed upon the peoples dem. Of course we weren’t going to get a Barrington Levy ska-diddly-wadilly-diddly-whoa-oh-ooi… ZEEN, but we did get all three verses from Red 1, Misfit and k-os, which was bless. Big up to the Rascalz forever.
Next up, Drake introduced someone very excitedly, hyping up the next performer as “his first girlfriend.” The sultry Keshia Chanté came sauntering through in a cut-up black red-carpet-ready number, with her midriff exposed like cha over some gangsta-ass cargo army pants. “Unpredictable” with the classic Tupac melody was rinsed before jumping on the “Shook Ones” beat for “Shook.” Nice and tight likkle set from Keshia. Love it.
Drake soon touched stage and did something I highly rate. He said “Shoutout to DJ Starting from Scratch, the inspiration for this Canadian All-Stars OVO show.” DJ SFS did a similar version earlier this year at the Phoenix called “Get On Up” featuring a gang of Canadian legends (and I was Mr. Front Row at that show as well), and Drake openly and completely thanked SFS for the inspiration to bring that show to OVO Fest.
It would NOT be a Canadian All-Stars event without Certain. Canadian. Musical. Royalty. And it started with A King Called Maestro, so this show HAD to have an appearance by A Queen Named MICHIE. And it did! To have the legend Michie Mee deliver a powerful performance of “Jamaican Funk” was a vital and necessary salute to our history.
To have Jelleestone Poet come out next and smash the people with “Money,” throwing his Jelleestone Benjamins into the crowd and hyping up the hoodmans dem with a 90’s classic was even more magical. Drake saluted Jellee as “Day One OVO family,” and this night was a perfect encapsulation of all the history everyone in the Canadian hip-hop community has contributed together… to help create the musical mountain that Aubrey Graham himself stands on top of to this very day in 2022 hip-hop history.
But we ain’t done. There’s one Canadian legend left.
A tall and lanky yardman wid a blonde cut inna ‘im flat top afro.
Some known him since he used to rhyme by the name Kool-Aid.
Dress fi’ kill inna ‘im green and black zoot track suit, the hip-hop general known to the world as Kardinal Offishall stepped out with hype-ass mans like King Solitaire, and came THRU to smash the bloodcleet stage to bits and pieces. Kardi’s “Grindin” remix verse was dropped like the bomb it is. “Money Jane” got rinsed. The dynamite banger called “Bakardi Slang” haffi get lick off, so Kardi & Co. smashed it, as our Toronto rap family is all behind him. Next up, they mashed up the whole place with chunes like Kardinal next went to the turntables and said “I was gonna make this a ‘no-speech’ ting, but the first time I met Drake was on turf, Oakwood and Vaughn, he came to the basement. And the only thing on his mind is that he wanted to be the greatest in the world.” Then Kardi dropped a timeless jewel about having work ethic, drive, passion and the other elements that Drake embodies, and pushed him to number one. Then added the fact “Toronto, we are stronger when all of us are working together!”
“Dangerous” which had everyone in the audience modly singing the chorus: “you know she’s a baaaaad guuuuuurrrrrl!” These are the times we live for in Toronto.
Drake then came in and said: “Listen, listen. I made a promise to myself tonight. But, this is one of the best nights I ever had in my life. You don’t understand. If you’re new here, welcome. This is the reason why the city is the way it is. All these individuals here. And I’m very grateful. Because if I was somewhere else, I might have been doing something completely different. But because of each and every one of these individuals that performed tonight, I am where I am.”
DJ Agile: lazer gunshot sound, blip blip blip.
Drake continued: “I made a promise to myself that nobody else, no DJ, no soundman, no artist, nobody else was going to drop this song tonight… only *I* get to drop this song tonight…”
And if anyone knows ANY BLOODCLAAT TING about Canadian hip-hop history, they already KNEW what time is was about to be:
OL’ TIME KILLIN’ TIME!
The lights were turned down low.
The cellphone lights came out.
Drake said “you ready?” while Kardi was warming up his vocals with a international city shoutout, then…
…the atomic bomb dropped. Them unforgettable five notes.
“Everyone talk about soundkilla…”
As Jully Black came and clasped hands with Kardinal O. in a moment of timeless Circle Crew/Fresh Arts immortality, the chune lit off like Firestarter volume blaow right now, and Kardi did it: “oh, me, oh, me oh my…!!!” And they did the dyam chune. Zi bam-bam doo-be-day…
Crowd clapped together as they chanted those words, and Drake came out with Kardi, Jully and Solitaire to clap along.
But he said: “Get comfortable, you’re not done.”
“This is probably one of, if not the most important events that we’ve ever done for OVO October World Weekend,” he said. “I remember when I was about 17 years old, I was in a parking lot and I was watching JAY-Z do a show for an event at the time that was called Roc The Caribana. It was like the first time JAY-Z had ever really come to the city and shown us love. I’ll never forget: he was bringing out all his new acts like Teairra Marí — I don’t even know if you guys know who that is. Then towards the end of the night, he brought out one of the most important people to this city, a man named Kardinal Offishall. For me, that was really a moment that unlocked something in my mind. It made me realize that all this is possible. So I want to think him — both of them — for that moment.”
Drake hilariously added: “This was the last one in the clip. But the clip was ~extended~. I was not playing games tonight. But thank goodness I am a nice humble person. I’m well-spoken, I like to deal with people the right way. Because that’s the only way you can get this next person out of the house to do what they are going to do right now…” Then asked the crowd to sing all they could for the next performer “because this right here? It took a lot! But… I love each and every one of you. We are from the greatest city on planet earth. I’ve been everywhere! But this next person’s music changed my life so much. I love her with all my heart. So when she comes out you better show her some fucking love. Let’s go!”
Then NELLY FURTADO comes out to the sexy-ass sounds of “Promiscuous Girl”! Unbelievable. She’s looking happy and healthy, and was just having a wonderful time singing along to the Timbaland jam. “Heyyy Toronto, what’s up?!” she cheers before letting a “Promiscuous Boooooy” ring out. Big up to Nelly for saying “It’s like Honey Jam all over again tonight!” Real Toronto heads appreciate and understand that reference like Steve Rogers! Next, Nelly and Drake actually get the crowd to admit their inner pop song fan and chant together to “I’m Like a Bird,” which was a moment like no other. Nelly and Drake hugged and laughed… and then Drake said “you know there’s only one more song we have to do on a night like this, right?”
Which inspired THIS Bloodclaat Canadian Heritage Moment in History:
A performance of “Northern Touch”! Kardinal screams “WE NOTORIOUS!” The brother Misfit starts it off, and then Red 1 scorched his verse. Choclair came thru next with his Dan-e-o shoutout, and back to Kardi for the hook. To see Checkmate come through next with a full Vancouver Grizzlies jersey and shorts was TOO FUCKING G. To see everyone on stage, from Tara Chase to Skratch Bastid to Flipout to Jully Black to Saukrates to Melanie Durrant to Agile and everyone mob the stage while Kardinal and Co. rocked the Canadian hip-hop national anthem was a dream come true, amongst the dozens others that actually came to life this special night. Too bad Thrust missed out! Now the mans dem can only rate this show a 99%, ha ha.
Absolutely unforgettable bombaclaat Canadian All-Star Musical History was made at History Nightclub on July 27/28, 2022, and it’s a pretty safe bet that this concert set the standard for the greatest Canadian hip-hop show of all time. Nothing was the same in Toronto after this event, and if haters still wanna question the Boy… honestly, nevermind.
Thank you, Drake. From one Toronto rap god to the all-star 6 God, from one brother to another, eternal thanks for this epic night in History. Mindbender Loves You, Toronto hip-hop family!
Written by Adhimu “Mindbender” Stewart for HipHopCanada
Photography by Jolene Melissa and Neil “Logik” Donaldson