Last night (June 3) homegrown Canadian hip-hop kicked it with its big cousin from the South. The event: Smashmouth Ent. presents Stalley as part of his Savage Journey to the American Dream tour. The venue: Toronto’s historic El Mocambo bar.
As the lights dimmed inside the former refuge for slaves, which in the 70’s became popular for hosting two Rolling Stones concerts where they recorded the Love You Live album, hip-hop enthusiasts were reminded why Toronto’s hip-hop scene is in fact so peculiar when compared to that of the United States. Shows like Smashmouth’s presentation of Stalley play out like the talent show at the conclusion of Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely. Take for instance one of the opening acts, Vibonics, which consists of harmonizer Kubota, emcee Crossword, guitarist Alfred Chow, and a couple other band members. Vibonics took to the small step-up stage at the back of the upstairs tavern at El Mocambo, a purplish-black-tinged room with vegetable garden-inspired lamps, at around 11:30 pm. They played alternative rock music in the tradition of Toronto’s 102.1 The Edge, yet combined it with fast-paced rhymes (Crossword) and Kubota’s rising vocal chords and electric stage presence. More than any of the other openers, Kubota stole the breath away from the male-dominant crowd with her yellow dress, sparkling mascara, and a soulful reckless passion that far exceeded the humbling reality of the show: It, like Harmful’s show, was hardly to capacity.
After Vibonics came Rich Kidd, who, despite his soulful beats, has yet to sell himself as an artist who can exists beyond the confines of a laptop, aka the blogosphere. Rich Kidd, standing a modest 5 foot 10 inches with a thick beard and the eyes of a child drunk on candy, reminds most Torontonians of their less-cosmopolitan roots. For some, that is appealing. For others, it can be unnerving. But for most, the Canadians who have gradually evolved into docile domesticity, it is a vaudeville act, for good or ill.
The highlight of the night however (obviously) was the arrival of Massillon, Ohio native, and MMG foot soldier, Stalley. At around 12:30 am what looked like an errand boy for some small-town American political campaign, clad in clean denim, white sneakers, a clean-cut haircut, nervous eyes, and a Stalley crew neck sweater, climbed aboard the stage to advise Rich Kidd’s DJ what records Stalley would be playing. Apparently the campaign boy was Stalley’s manager – what had to have been some perverse reverse-racism joke by the self-proclaimed self-made black-as-night kingpin, Ricky Rozay.
Stalley soon followed his manager on-stage, to an enthusiastic applause from the modest crowd, and proceeded with songs, “Petrin Hill Peonies”, “Cold”, “Everything New”, “Hell’s Angels American Heathens”, BCGMMG Remix”, “Party Heart”, “300”, and “Lincoln Way Nights (Shop)”. Besides a marked flair for showmanship, what with the beard and combat medals pinned to his ball cap, Stalley makes sure of two things when he does a live show. He makes sure we know his story – a middle-America rapper on his grind who makes bass-drenched riding jams for Chevys gets adopted by hip-hop’s fastest growing independent empire, MMG, and now he makes bass-drenched riding jams for Maybachs. And second of all, on top of his story, Stalley makes sure we feel the bass. Standing at the head of the stage watching a red, white, and blue-adorned hood politician for the state of Ohio, as well as the self-made empire of MMG, you don’t just receive Stalley’s words, you feel them. They rumble through your blood.
And so you see, Canadian/Toronto homegrown hip-hop really has little to do with its cousin from the South, personified in acts such as Stalley. Homegrown Canadian hip-hop is often quaint, obscure, peculiar, a stranger to its own weirdness, as embodied by the beautifully weird and enigmatic Kubota from Vibonics, while American hip-hop often exists to make a message. That’s why Rozay, with the input of his artist of course, has hired an efficient, clean-nosed, campaign boy to handle Stalley’s tour across the Americas (we assume). He wants to make sure his message comes across loud and clear: That the tables have turned in this once (and forever?) gentrified business.
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