Fabolous / Dej Loaf

Kool Haus, Toronto ON, January 22

Fabolous / Dej LoafKool Haus, Toronto ON, January 22
Photo: Shane Parent
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For the final hip-hop show before long-running Toronto venue Kool Haus closed its doors for good, Fabolous might have seemed like an odd choice. That's not to say the 37-year-old Brooklyn rapper hasn't built a well-respected name for himself over the course of his 16-year career — he's put out six albums (including 2014's The Young OG Project, which featured Chris Brown, French Montana, Rich Homie Quan and others), had a string of hit singles (including "Breathe," "Throw It In The Bag" and "You Be Killin Em") and established himself as a go-to featured artist (see: Christina Milian's "Dip It Low," The-Dream's "Shawty Is A Ten," etc.). He was also familiar with the room, having hosted Def Jam's Caribana party there this past summer.
 
While his set was technically sound, with the crowd only slighting waning by the time he hit the stage late, he seemed to be largely going through the motions. Given the Kool Haus's history of hosting hip-hop legends and trailblazers, including A Tribe Called Quest, MF Doom, Nas, and Wu-Tang Clan, you couldn't help but wonder if there were better-qualified candidates (especially Toronto rappers) for the send-off.
 
Luckily for the audience, Fab's opening act Dej Loaf brought some much needed charisma and enthusiasm to the night, proving why she's one to watch with her first performance in Toronto. Running through a sampler of tracks from her well-received 2014 mixtape Sell Sole, thanks in part to the success of Billboard-charting anthem "Try Me" (quoted by Drake on his Instagram and remixed by everybody from Remy Ma to T.I. to Wiz Khalifa), the 23-year-old rapper's energy filled the airplane hangar-sized venue. Dressed in a military-style outfit and sporting her signature heart-shaped sunglasses, she made the most of her 20 minutes, showing her versatility as an MC with tracks ranging from romantic slow-burner "Me U & Hennessy" to the dexterous, tough-as-nails "Blood."
 
Saving "Try Me" and a flurry of cellphone videos for last, she invited half-a-dozen women onstage, fittingly appropriate for the messages of empowerment in her lyrics. Featuring a deceptively feathery beat from producer DDS, the song is Dej at her best, a half-sung, half-rapped declaration of independence and warning shot at her competition (particularly notable is the rapper's enunciation of the word "family" as "fomily"). The set ended with the rapper surrounded by a gaggle of autograph-seekers, her DJ teasing Dej's R&B-leaning "Easy Love," and a proclamation from the night's master of ceremonies that she'd be back to the city soon. Now that she's signed to Columbia Records, it's only a matter of time before she's headlining tours of her own.

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