Published Oct 30, 2019Grownup underground rap music felt gloriously alive and unapologetically well in the crowded, multi-tiered confines of Toronto's east end Opera House Tuesday night.
Head-nodding beats, self-assured stage presences, and dextrous lyricism prevail on Big K.R.I.T. and Rapsody's 41-date "From the South With Love Tour," which tore through its only detour north of the 49th parallel to a packed house of 19-plusers receptive to fresh raps from experienced MCs.
When a confident artist reaches a certain age, he or she understands how to win on personal strengths. Vanished is the attempt to cater to conventional models for success, or chase an audience that doesn't want to listen.
So maybe it's because Rap and K.R.I.T. were born from relative hip-hip outposts — Snow Hill, NC, and Meridian, MS, respectively. Or maybe it's because, in their mid-30s, they've paid dues, found their niche and are comfortable in their own skin.
Whatever the reason, first Rapsody, then K.R.I.T. rushed the dais with a contagious energy and impeccable, buoyant flow that sustained throughout their sets, each backed only by a DJ cueing up instrumentals, mostly from their impressive new summertime albums.
Swaddled in some fleece yellow-and-black overalls that would be more appropriate for a mid-February snowmobile ride through the woods than a high-octane spitfest, Rapsody drew heavily from her fierce exploration of feminism, Eve, waist-length braids swaying as she patrolled the stage.
At one point, she asked the house lights be turned on so she could see the women in the crowd — there was a healthy amount — and tell them her art was for them, plus the daughters and mothers of the men in the building.
Rapsody, who named each track on Eve after a the first name of strong black woman ("Oprah," "Nina," "Whoopi," et al.), took a moment to shout out all the female artists that influenced her — MC Lyte, Roxanne Shanté, Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill — but reminded that she never wants to be referred to a female MC.
"You tell 'em I'm a motherfuckin' beast!" she hollered, then made good on that boast.
Rap destroyed the Uncle Luke–sampling "Serena," with DJ Face cutting the beat so she could lean into the throng and throw the final verse a cappella. Her rendition of "Ibtihaj," which updates GZA's "Liquid Swords," was spiced up when Face incorporated the Wu-Tang Clan's "Ice Cream" beat into the mix.
And Rap closed her set by inviting Michael, a single man in the audience, on stage to dance and get warned on her Tupac-inspired letter to men, "Afeni."
K.R.I.T. was able to match the high bar set from his opener — no small feat — by springing onstage to the opening track from his latest LP, "K.R.I.T. Here."
A large portrait frame bordered a video screen that splashed a mixture of art, moving graphics or music video footage that visually accented the tall, braided MC's set list. Two giant jagged crown silhouettes, K.R.I.T.'s hand-drawn logo, flanked the stage, obscuring his DJ and giving the club tour an elevated sense of production.
Yet time and again, the talented producer/rapper proved he can carry an hour on the strength of his powerful voice, chant-able hooks and bass so thick, it pumps like a defibrillator to your chest.
Like Rapsody, K.R.I.T. loaded up his 18-track set list with cuts from his new record, "I Made," "Energy" and "Believe" standing out, the latter punctuation with a dedication to the late Nipsey Hussle, whose photo gleamed from the screen.
We were treated to a bit of adult theatre for "Blue Flame Ballet," when a portable brass stripper pole was dragged on centre stage and a rather gymnastic dancer in a provocative outfit twirled and stretched and entranced, finishing the song by simultaneously twerking during an impressive headstand. Seriously. The voluptuous dancer then took K.R.I.T.'s hand and escorted him off stage right to an imaginary champagne room.
Of course, K.R.I.T. returned to flash his magnetic smile some more and deliver a climax of his own, finishing the night with his adrenaline-rush 2011 mixtape banger "Country Shit" and his equally vintage ode to candy-coated Cadillac joy rides, "Rotation," his fans swerving with every syllable.
"This is some amazing shit," he gleamed.