Photos by Andreas Babiolakis
Hip-hop found itself in a new home when it was pushed to the edge of the city at this year’s North by Northeast for one of a two-day curated concert experience. Shifting from the typical Yonge-Dundas Square to the Portlands, the likes of Shamir, Tasha the Amazon, Ghostface Killah, Daniel Caesar, Schoolboy Q and more found themselves performing on two stages across the expansive outdoor venue.
While the long stretch of concrete between the two performance areas lacked the busyness of the central square, there was a certain appeal to watching performers find their voice at the twilight hour. Sure, there were folks who bunkered up in their trucks and on the lawn surrounding the fenced area for a sonic taste of Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, but being in the audience of die-hards catching “C.R.E.A.M.” had a certain cool-out vibe that fit the bill for the end of a summer day and the start of the weekend.
As NXNE adapts to the ever-changing festival space, it continues to connect attendees with Canadian music and institutions. With co-presenter Manifesto, Friday night showcased local talents Tasha the Amazon, Drew Howard and Daniel Caesar, the latter of which is on the fast track to being the city’s next wonderkid. With the thriving support of a live band, Caesar laid down an hour of smooth soul, debuting new material alongside cuts from his EPs and an incredibly beautiful James Blake cover that drew audience members towards the smaller stage on the far side of the Portlands venue. The dreamy intimacy of those performances underscored by Caesar’s sweet charm was the convincing combination; he is Toronto’s promising future.
On the heels of the release of his next album The Blank Face LP (due out on July 8th), Schoolboy Q spent a large part of his headlining set exploring a growing and increasingly popular catalogue. Smooth rounds of fan favourites “Gangsta” and “Man of the Year” from his smash album Oxymoron cut through odes to Top Dawg Entertainment and fellow signee, friend and frequent collaborator, Kendrick Lamar. As Schoolboy Q mentioned during covers of “m.A.A.d. City” and “Alright”, it was King Kendrick’s birthday, and he was happy to oblige the well-versed crowd with those renditions. While later taking requests and jumping into feature work, including his most commercial contribution to Tinashe’s breakout “2 On”, Schoolboy Q was cooly energetic, flipping the switch on various numbers that encouraged the audience to willingly move into the deep end of his flow. If he ever decides to uphold the Canadian residency he spoke about, he’ll likely find easy acceptance; we need more West Coast on our (North) side.