10:52pm December 7, as we drive down the Gardner Expressway approaching Spadina, we were sure we’d be late, and miss the first couple songs of the show I’ve been waiting to see since ’09. The opening acts are on now for sure, The Freedom Writes and Tona, getting the crowd hyped up or so I thought. We arrived at the Great Hall at just about 11pm, no lineup and hardly a crowd outside, we walked in and gladly payed the $25 cover. As we entered the venue, the Freedom Writers were in full swing, the bass was heavy and the lyrics were hard to hear, not a good sign. The strangest part to me was how bright it was inside. The stage was lit up in usual fashion, but the floor was bright as hell (for a concert)! It was about as bright as a movie theater befroe the previews start, lighting on the wall but nothing major. Truth be told I didn’t mind it, 2 things I hate about clubs and concerts is not being able to see all around and having to scream at friends to tell them how great a time i’m having (a sign of my cough old age for sure!) After scanning the floor, it’s easy to tell that it’s far from a packed house tonight. Theres maybe 300 people on the main level and another 25 circling the balcony above. This is odd to me, I mean this man is 10 albums deep, raised in Brooklyn alongside Biggie and Jay-Z, and he’s the only guest rapper on Illmatic for fuck sakes! The most underrated MC of all time is about to hit the stage, and not even 500 heads!? To me, seeing AZ is the equivalent of a rock lover seeing Radiohead — they aren’t the Coldplay of their genre but they’re still one of the best that’s ever done it.
It was 11:30pm when TFW finished up, and they had barely left the stage before the DJ took the mic to find out if we were “ready to see AZ!?” Then, boom! Out comes AZ Sosa, solo, rockin a Versace USA themed crewneck, Gucci belt, baggy jeans and Tims, and spitting line after line of one of my favorite tracks “I’m Back”. The odd atmosphere continued throughout his set. No weed smoke, but if someone did light up security was right there to put an end to the shanannigans, and they had no problem spotting the pot heads with the damn lights so bright! So on it went, he reached deep into his bag of songs all the way back to Doe or Die from ’95, spitting classics like Sugar Hill and the Grammy nominated “The Essence” minus his co-conspirator Nas (I was disappointed Esco didn’t make an appearance). AZ is a tricky solo artist. His rhymes are undoubtedly top notch, yet his only mainstream success came from his first album, the rest just acting as showcasing for his rhyme talent. I’d say most of his best verses are on tracks with guest appearances, or those that he’s rapping alongside someone, so when he’s live audiences get a lot of one verse record switching. I found myself anxiously awaiting any one of the many big names he’s rapped with to come out at any time, but no such luck.
I hyped this show up tons, drove an hour or more to the venue, and once there I got to hear live, some of my favorite bangers by the most underrated MC of all time, and, I didn’t have to put up with a bunch of 16 year old “hip hop heads” reading lyrics off their iPhone to keep up! It had been a while since my last rap concert, and nowadays I almost prefer banging hits at home with a 6 pack and some friends, but this vibe was different and I liked it. Although, from a typical concert hall perspective, the Radiohead of rap might have been disappointed, and it seemed like the show wasn’t planned or promoted, and that makes me wonder. If you go back just 4 years, same artist, same type of venue there were 1000 raging fans screaming lyrics only they know, grasping AZ like he was the reason they love rap. 4 years ago, hmmm.
Was this AZ show a sign of the times? Are the tides turning (not in a good way) for 90’s hip hop — the brand of music that bred so many current MC’s and artists, and introduced us to the lavish lifestyle we all yearn for subconciously? I mean I’m 33, and when I talk about Wu-Tang with my 20 year old cousins I almost get a “Who-Tang?” When I log onto Facebook, all I see are firends with newborns, and pictures of new homes and new families growing. So then, were all the AZ fans at home changing diapers? Or too tired to reach out on a Friday night because it was a busy week at the office? I know it’s been getting harder and harder to find outlets that showcase the rare gems that bred a generation, but repect must be paid to those who laid the groundwork. Fuck it’s scary getting older!
Am I crazy? Was this just a one off experience? Let me know what you think below.