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Hip-hop legend Slick Rick’s long-awaited Toronto debut left a lot to be desired

slick rick 2018.JPG

Slick Rick performs onstage in New York City in this 2018 file photo.

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By Vernon Ayiku Special to the Star

Slick Rick

Two stars (out of four)

Phoenix Concert Theatre, May 17, 2024

“Vibe check,” the DJ declared, “you are in the presence of hip-hop royalty.”

If you cannot rap Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” word for word, Slick Rick’s Toronto show at The Phoenix Concert Theatre was not for you. This is not hyperbole.

That was the overwhelming theme of the night as a very distinct old-school hip-hop crowd ranging in their late 20s to late 40s waited over three hours for Slick Rick to perform on Friday night. The sign at the door might as well have said, “real hip-hop fans only,” as if everything leading up to Slick Rick’s performance was a test of one’s personal hip-hop calibre.

“You got to know this,” DJ Kaos7, Rick’s touring DJ for the last fourteen years, playfully but borderline obnoxiously declared as he opened the show spinning a melody of ‘80s and ‘90s hip-hop classics, periodically pausing to see if the crowd knew the lyrics to the next verse. For the most part, Toronto held its ground as the small but excitable crowd rapped along to A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang, The Notorious BIG, Tupac, KRS-1 and a cluster of other timeless artists as they waited for Rick to hit the stage.

At 59 years old, this was Slick Rick’s first show in Toronto, and despite the venue’s limited capacity, there was a reverence in the air. Hip-hop is not always kind to its elders, with pioneering acts not touring stadiums and arenas like classic rock bands and pop icons do. For that reason, it is easy to forget the massive influence artists like Slick Rick have had on hip-hop and music overall.

Releasing his debut single in 1985, Slick Rick and Doug E Fresh’s “La Di Da Di” is one of the most sampled and referenced songs of all time, inspiring hit songs from Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus and The Notorious BIG, and has been sampled countless times through various genres. Slick Rick is widely considered hip-hop’s greatest storyteller, with his animated performances, sense of humour and tightly crafted narratives, on songs like “Children’s Story,” and “Mona Lisa,” establishing hip-hop as a storytelling genre in the late 1980s.

Approaching senior citizen status, there is only so much one can expect from Rick as a performer, but overall, even with that grace and a proudly old-school crowd, the night was a bit underwhelming. Not making full use of the stage, Rick picked a spot in the centre and glued himself there throughout the entire set as he raced through important parts of his discography and hip-hop history.

Constantly reminding the crowd to “enjoy themselves,” not only was the pacing off, but so were the lighting and vocals too. The stage lights were too dim to see the sparkle of Rick’s signature diamond jewelry, even at the front, and his vocals were too low to hear his composed, but still animated performance properly. Attempting to address the issues, at one point, Rick told the crowd, “He had to rush,” without giving context to what the hurry was, while DJ Kaos7 repeatedly asked the stage crew to “turn the lights on.”

However, as hip-hop’s greatest storyteller and staple of the golden era of the genre, Rick’s biggest songs, “Children’s Story,” “The Moment I Feared,” and, of course, “La Di Da Di,” were still exciting moments and crowd pleasers, especially to long-time fans seeing him in their city for the first time.

Still capable of being engaging and funny on stage, in brief periods during “Children’s Story” and “La Di Da Di” in particular, the wit and charm that made him an icon in the genre did shine through, as Rick added more subtle movements and playfulness to the performance of those songs.

Giving new meaning to his iconic phrase, “tick tock you don’t stop,” with a legend the calibre of Slick Rick on stage, a pause or two to take in what was supposed to be a historic night in the city would have been nice. While some old-school and longtime fans were probably satisfied enough being in the same room as a hip-hop pioneer, Slick Rick’s long awaited Toronto debut left a lot to be desired.

Credit belongs to : www.thestar.com

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