Despite the cool weather from the day before, the sun gods were smiling upon Manifesto on this day. The weather was warm and ideal for a free outdoor concert in the heart of downtown Toronto. The change in location this year also made a huge impact on the number of people who came to watch, and from very early in the afternoon, it was crowded. Food and clothing vendors were set up around the perimeter, making it so the only reason you needed to leave the space was for a bathroom break. The poppers popped and the breakers breaked in their cipher, as amazed eyes cheered them on; and spray cans were the weapon of choice for the ESSENCIA CREW crew from Montreal, who decorated a semi-trailer with brightly coloured murals.
Besides the fact that the main event is headlined by some of the biggest names in hip hop, what makes it so great is seeing our local artists given the chance to win over audiences they might not otherwise be exposed to. I was looking forward to hearing Tanika Charles, D’Bi Young, Promise and KJ, just to name a few, but again, time wasn’t on my side so another time, another place.
By the time I did pull up to the corner of Yonge and Dundas, DJ Grouch was warming up a fairly non-responsive crowd, with the exception of a few heads who were buggin’ out to the sounds of Common and Dilla. His Roc Raida tribute (rest in peace) was on point and definitely woke up some of the lackluster crowd though. Then Eternia kept things moving when she dropped gems off her new album At Last. Tona and Maestro made cameo appearances to rock their verses on “A Day In The Life” while Crazy Legs surprised everyone, including Eternia, by jumping on stage to get down for the crown.
One of the highlights of the night for me, and judging by the crowd’s response, theirs too, was Montreal collective Nomadic Massive. As one of the few live bands on the bill, they brought a different element with Butta Beats on the drums, Rawgged on the bass and crazy emcees and singers spittin’ out song after song in French, English and Spanish. They definitely set the stage for Rich Kidd, who was next up both figuratively and literally. I could run down his resume of production and collabos but my fingers would cramp from all the typing. Equally raw on the mic as he is on the boards, Rich Kidd ran through his recent catalogue of releases, including “Take It Slow” and “Don’t Sleep On Me”, before segueing Saukrates in for their track, “Salt & Pepper”. The T.O. vet who’s kept us waiting for a full length solo album longer than Large Professor ever did proceeded to explain how in his third straight year at Manifesto, he’s received nothing but love and was going to give it right back. Sauks kept fans on their toes when he performed a series of B-side joints like “Comin Up” and “Ay Ay Ay Ay”, that the die-hards are rarely treated to, before getting to the classics like “Hate Runs Deep” and bringing on guests like Ro Dolla.
Next up to bat was the man everybody came to see, Jay Electronica. Due to time constraints and noise pollution laws, the way he started and ended his set were a bit odd, but everything in between had hands up the whole time. It was a hip hop nerd’s wet dream when he performed the Dilla produced joint “Abracadabra” in addition to “Dear Moleskine” and “Dimethyltrptamine”. Jay even joked with the crowd, referring to a bet that he, DJ TJ the King and Black Thought had about how some women like it rough in the bedroom, which he then later balanced out with some consciousness, talking about the lies and deceit of government cover-ups on Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. But as video results will show, for his two biggest tracks, Exhibit A & C, Jay pulled a gank move on the paparazzi when he went off stage and performed to about 20 or 30 people in the crowd who were fortunate enough to be at the front. Still, it was a live moment and the definition of hip hop.
Last but certainly not least, Black Thought and J. Period closed the night with their live hip hop mixtape show, setting it off with the Roots classic, “Next Movement”. And while the crowd was still amped off Jay Elec’s set, the two vets made it hard to front when they proceeded to honour legends in the game like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick & Guru when they covered some of their classics. Again, due to constraints on time, Black Thought and J. Periods set ended abruptly which only left the crowd wanting more.
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All in all, the whirlwind of events that made up this year’s Manifesto Festival has whet our appetites for what they might have lined up next year. And when it’s all said and done, the one thing everyone in attendance should take home with them is the importance of supporting their communities both online and offline, so that no matter where in this world you roam, hip hop will always provide a home.