The first time both members of dead prez have been in Toronto and Canada in many years, this certainly was a celebration worth it's weight in anticipation. For a variety of reasons, the dead prez event at The Great Hall was a certified supreme moment in Toronto hip hop history, delivering not only one of the absolute rawest and realest shows of 2010, but one of the best hip hop shows to happen in Toronto in many years, without question.
Opening with some 80's/90's era body rock b-boy documents by DJ Numeric and the Never Forgive Action crew, the crowd swelled with eager eyewitnesses with curious ears, wondering if dead prez was still as fierce as they were when they were on the radar. It didn't take long to learn.
Right before the Toronto-based opening act tore a hole in the show, DJ More or Les set it up proper with more classic rap records. Handing DJ duties off to the Droppin' Dimes queen Mel Boogie, she set the stage for the first performance ever from the supergroup Freedom Writers, consisting of a scary deep collection of dopeness from Toronto's rhyme contingent, and banging ass beats by Big Sproxx.
The songs collectively represent the screaming soul of Toronto's various projects and poverty-stricken civilians, largely unspoken for by too many MCs in this humble country. But fret not, as it seems like the Freedom Writers have a lot of heavy truth they want to get off their chest, especially with skull-scorching lyricism from Matthew Progress ("trying to turn Soulja Boys into Huey P. Newtons"), the melodic juggernaut known as Frankie Payne, the true school foundation legend Mathematik, the unstoppable force of vocalism known as Tona, and the unfortunately absent Screwface Capital mayor Theology 3. Except for the occasionally uneven sound quality of a few beats, some which impacted like asteroids, others which weren't as explosive, the show was a Wu-Tang inspired bob-and-weave sequence of knockout punches from MCs not content on just dropping bullshit bars over synthy pseudo-techno beats. Rhymes about neo-slavery, oppression, government corruption, racism, and hip hop ignorance all got spit viciously into the mic to an eager audience, culminating in the crowd screaming when Empire's loudmouth sharpshooter Adam Bomb defiantly proclaimed "fuck Rob Ford/ Freedom Writers for mayor!" The unpredictable stage show was great to behold, and actually evaporated into mystery after a butter smooth sample came to a climax, and the MCs immediately exited the stage in single file. To see the very first performance of the Freedom Writers was to witness the birth of a solution-based musical movement of brutal truth and hardcore vibes like Toronto has never known before.
The bar had been raised relatively high, but to doubt dead prez could bring the ruckus would be an exercise in idiocy. Though it has been years since they came to Toronto, it felt like nothing had changed since 1996, when their colonizer-crushing debut album "Let's Get Free" dropped from the sky into our minds and hearts. Starting with a slice of Michael Jackson music, "People Make The World Go 'Round" sounded delightful, as the ultra-tattooed DJ MC Mike Flo elevated the energy of the crowd incessantly. Before the "dead prez!" chants of the mostly-filled venue could start, two tall dark and threatening Black men confidently walked from backstage, wearing Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon masks, and truly giving a "Dead Presidents" (if not "Point Break") moment to the revolutionary-but-godly gathering. Launching headfirst into the ecstatic "Turn Off The Radio", the show was lit like a stick of dynamite thrown through the front window of the U.S. Embassy. A virtually unequalled and unstoppable experience was to be had when rocking with dead prez. Both stic.man and M1 were without parallel when it came to all kinds of things: sharing "hood news" (about the police-sanctioned murder of Oscar Grant, the imbalance of the Canadian border patrol, books they suggested reading, health advice, a toast to those who drank clean water today, etc.), words of encouragement and just excellent energy as artists and inspirational leaders, in general. Between the bombs of each mixtape jam and classic remake, they proved that time was on their side regardless of how much social media exposure they get, and their 100% uncut hip hop will always have a place to be heard, as it addresses the most crucial issues of everyone's life, and you don't need TV, the radio or the internet to tell you what matters most to you, you only need the truth.
And dead prez is the truth. Remaking Black Rob's "Whoa" into "War"? Genius. The slavemaster's-heart-stabbing anthem "Runaway Slave"? Fucking phenomenal. The respect given to the beautiful diverse selection of Toronto women before "Mind Sex"? Necessary. And the tastes of the new album, "Information Age", where m1 dropped a KRS-One worthy health-oriented update of "Beef", and stic.man licked off a church-burning anti-religion anthem? Excellence. From taking Lloyd Banks' "Beamer, Benz or Bentley" and evolving it into "Malcolm, Garvey, Huey", to adding greatness to some random Rick Ross shit talk record, dead prez gave Toronto a hundred reasons why the essence of hip hop will always be to represent the voice of the oppressed, the ghetto, the powerless and the poor, and no matter how many hipsters, pop sensations and fancy new gimmicks the industry comes up with to distract minds and extract money with, what matters most is the truth. And what feels best is the truth, especially when you wait over an hour to hear it. Cause nobody wants to hear no "fake, fake records, records..."
Yup, and then they dropped it. Everyone in the building went absolutely bananas when one of the best hip hop songs of all time was unleashed, near the finale of the increasingly amazing concert experience. Yup, of course the DJ had to wheel and come again widdit. But then, Toronto got rocked hard with the earthquaking bass and super sonic bounce of the timeless classic "Hip Hop", and life could get no better. It might have been over 10 years since some people heard dead prez perform that sonic nuclear bomb of a song live, together, but it was well worth it, and everyone knew it in their head and felt it in their heart. And just when you thought you heard enough, they kept it going, and gave the crowd the professor-schooling number "They Schools", as well as "Psychology", and the irresistable edutainment anthem "I'm An African" before they gracefully appreciated Toronto's hip hop community for holding them down for the entire event. And it has to be said: dead prez's DJ aka MC Mike Flo, is a fucking beast and a half, utterly destroying Kanye West's "Power" and Game's "One Blood" before the smoke cleared from the one-man encore, and the show was officially new school hip hop history. Except for the minor issue of them not performing much original music from their first album (some people complained that they rocked too much mixtape material as opposed to their originals), the dead prez show at Great Hall was simply one of the best hip hop experiences ever to happen in the new millenium in Toronto. It reminded us exactly why we are in hip hop culture for, and reminded us what matters most: love for one another. As dead prez took pictures with every one who asked and spoke to every fan that sought inspiration and education, nothing felt better than seeing them show how they practice everything they preach.
They don't make revolutionaries like they used to. Peace to ManifesTO, The Academy and dead prez for a rare opportunity to feel the pure power of hip hop love and truth at its finest.