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Photo Credits: Russell Canceran

This past Friday marked a huge step towards greater renown for Toronto’s annual music and arts festival, North by Northeast (NXNE), although not as large or as popular as its American counterpart, South by Southwest (SXSW). The festival introduced a brand new two-day event set in Toronto’s Port Lands. With a brand new outdoor venue and two different stages, NXNE Port Lands was set to be a weekend packed with notable acts such as Father John Misty, Ghostface Killah, Born Ruffians, and ScHoolBoy Q.

The lineup on the first day was largely hip-hop oriented, with the likes of Mick Jenkins, Daniel Caesar, Ghostface Killah, and ScHoolboy Q, who headlined the night’s bill. The crowd at the festival was an even mix of Internet-generation youth, “What’s my age again?” late 20-year-olds, and older folk who presumably got free tickets from their workplace. Nevertheless, everyone was united by their shared interest in enjoying good music and splurging on over-priced beer.

The festival kicked off at 1:20 p.m. with up-and-coming Toronto rapper Drew Howard. Set at the festival’s smaller stage and backed by underground Toronto DJ Happy Boy Tona, Drew Howard delivered a high-energy performance that initiated mass head bobbing and vibing. Known for rapping over spacious and melodramatic trap beats, Drew Howard started the day off right with his Toronto underground rap anthem, “You’re Not My Mans.” With the Toronto hip-hop scene emerging from the shadows of Drake, Drew Howard is definitely an artist to look out for.

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The next notable act was Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, who played on the same stage. An outlier from the current rap styles emerging from the Chicago hip-hop scene, Mick Jenkins was put on the map for his introspective lyricism and hard delivery on his largely successful mixtapes, The Water[s] (2014) and Wave[s] (2015). Known for spitting knowledge and performing with great passion, Mick did not fail to get the crowd pumped up. After playing hits such as “Jazz” and “Vibe,” Mick proceeded to profess his love for Canada by performing his ode to Montreal, “514.” Mick Jenkins fans rejoice, as he also announced a new album that will drop later this summer. For those who haven’t already checked out Mick, do so if you want a break from the redundancy of mainstream hip-hop.

As the day went on the Port Lands began to fill up at a surprising rate in anticipation for Ghostface Killah’s set at 7:00 p.m. on the venue’s big stage. For those who are too young to know or who are not hip-hop heads, Ghostface Killah was an original member of the famous ’90s rap collective Wu-Tang Clan. Ghostface Killah came out in dramatic fashion rapping his verse from fellow Wu-Tang member Raekwon’s “Criminology.” Ghostface Killah then brought out Sheek Louch of ’90s hip-hop collective The LOX to perform with him for the rest of his set. Ghostface played some songs from his vast personal discography, but could not have finished without having played songs from Wu-Tang’s legendary album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993). He proceeded to play “Da Mystery of Chessboxin,” “Can It All Be So Simple,” and then pulled a fan out of the crowd to perform Method Man’s verse on “Protect Ya Neck.” Surprisingly, the fan performed the verse to a tee and received A large ovation from the crowd.

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However, this was not the craziest portion of the set, as Ghostface Killah started calling girls onto the stage and urged security guards to not stop them from climbing over the barricade. The stage filled up with ladies while Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch vibed out to Carl Thomas’s “I Wish.” Ghostface Killah played over his allotted set time with well over 21 songs, which is ultimately a testament to his timelessness in the genre of hip-hop. After being informed of time constraints, Ghostface Killah ended his set by expressing his love for Toronto and his fans.

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The sun began to set as the mass exodus of people began their walk to the venue’s far stage for Toronto’s very own, Daniel Caesar. With the sky slowly turning purple and the set being situated on a more intimate stage, the mood could not have been set better for the soulful sound of the young singer and multi-instrumentalist. Even more fittingly, Caesar performed a stunning rendition of a notable song, “Violet,” off his acclaimed EP Praise Break (2014). With the lyrics “You’re my violet in the sky” ringing through the crowd, it felt appropriate to start waving lighters in the air or be with a significant other. This is only Daniel Caesar’s second official show in the city after coming off his sold-out homecoming show at the Mod Club in April, but the way Caesar performed, with such grace and poise, is a definite sign of the singer’s bright future.


As the night crept in, the largest crowd of the day filled up around the big stage for the headlining act, ScHoolboy Q, and rightfully so, as the Los Angeles-based, gangster rap god easily had the most hype set of the day. Nicknamed “Groovy Q,” the rapper lived up to this moniker by quickly getting the crowd bouncing with tracks such as “Gangsta” and “Hands on the Wheel.” On the verge of releasing a new album titled Black Face, ScHoolboy Q did not disappoint, and played his recently dropped single, “That Part,” that features rap legend Kanye West. He also made a quick shout out to his good friend and fellow Top Dawg Entertainment label-mate Kendrick Lamar, who was celebrating his birthday the same day. In respect, he played “Collard Greens,” which features the Compton rapper, as well as Lamar’s own hit single, “Alright.” ScHoolboy Q closed off the first day of the festival in incredible fashion and set the bar high for the next day’s acts.

The introduction of the Port Lands festival shows that NXNE definitely has something special in its hands. With a great mixture of local talents and international stars, day one of the festival has proved to be a treat for not only hip-hop fans, but all music fans alike.

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