"I'm nervous," Belly murmured after his sound-check in preparation for his TIDAL-streamed show at Toronto's Mod Club last night (November 20). Overhead cameras were pointed his way; it would be his first headlining concert in Toronto in almost a decade, and his first-ever live-streamed TIDAL concert. Although Belly has performed with his fellow XO artist the Weeknd several times, and in fact, spent the better part of the year on tour with him, this would mark a homecoming for the Roc Nation artist.
Despite being raised in Ottawa, Belly adopted Toronto as his hometown at the beginning of his 15-year career, and has seen it transform from a hardheaded rap city affectionately known as the Screwface Capital to a city that (most times) celebrates its hometown talent. Thus, he brought along Toronto duo 88Glam, comprised of XO signee Derek Wise and longtime collaborator Drew Howard, to open up for him.
The duo, who recently released their self-titled debut album, performed cuts off the project to a lukewarm crowd, who weren't entirely versed in their discography but embraced it nonetheless. While 88Glam opted to rap over their backtrack vocals, a disservice to their actual music, Belly took over the stage with a veteran presence; the nerves had disappeared.
Opening with staunch political imagery and messaging, Belly dove into his 2017 album Mumble Rap. Belly's opening performance of "Mumble Rap" and "Immigration to the Trap" set the tone for the night as he addressed and celebrated Toronto's makeup being over 50% immigrants. Rapping "I had to sacrifice, feeling extra blessed tonight," Belly's words pushed beyond the lyrical, becoming a feeling that encapsulated emotions beyond the stage as well.
Flashing behind him were his lyrics, as well as phrases like "I bought my dream house but I've been having nightmares in it," a line loosely taken from his 2011 release "Lonely Nights" that further highlighted the highs and lows of his journey to success. While it stood in stark contrast to the lightness felt in the crowd, it highlighted a vulnerability and pain that was overcome to make room for celebration.
Belly's performance of "Man Listen" and "Ballerina" were met with praise and adoration from the crowd, but when the instrumental from "Might Not" started to play, and the Weeknd didn't make an appearance, energy levels dropped slightly. Belly brushed it off; after all, this night wasn't about cameos, it was about his art.
As Belly bounded through the rest of his records, what became abundantly clear for the experienced Canadian rapper was that this wasn't just another concert — it was the beginning of a new chapter in his career.