Published Mar 19, 2013Rihanna and A$AP Rocky are a perfect match — a pair of '88 babies who love their 808s. Both artists favour style over substance, stick-to-your-ribs hooks over plunging verses, and visual representation just as much as their aural one. It's a symbiotic setup: A$AP earns stadium-status stripes by touring North America with a hit-making machine; Rihanna gets a little street cred by teaming up with a Harlem mixtape hero, further distancing herself from the squeaky-clean girl that was presented to us on 2005's Music of the Sun.
Their walks drip with swag, neither balks at dropping F-bombs before a moms-chaperoning-daughters arena-pop crowd, and it's a toss-up for which one grabs their crotch more frequently (although, to be accurate, RiRi's is more of a come-hither pat).
It could not be more fitting that their duet is called "Cockiness (Remix)."
Shame, then, that the duo didn't perform that banger together for Rihanna's "Diamonds World Tour" stop at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, as the stick-to-the-script formula of the sexy Barbadian pop star's 90-minute set left no space for improvisation or collaboration. (For those crossing their fingers for a Drake cameo, the local MC did not appear, despite his penchant for jumping onstage when his friends roll through Toronto.)
Backed by a drummer, guitarist, two DJs and a hypeman, Rocky strode confidently and unhurried through a 45-minute barrage of his best: LongLiveA$AP's hypnotic title track, "Goldie," "Jodye," "Wild for the Night," "Fashion Killa" and the undeniable Schoolboy Q track "Hands on the Wheel." Building on his major label debut's cover aesthetic, A$AP's Mob wore strictly black and white, which caused the burgeoning star's gold fronts and gold chain to gleam all the more. Two large screens threw black and white images of bleeding-eyed Mary statues, atomic bombs, FBI warnings and firing tanks. A large white throne was brought out midway, and Rocky sat sideways, kicked up his un-Velcroed white-on-white Air Force 1 midtops and rapped like he was king of his 19,800-seat living room. He closed with no-brainers "Peso" and "Fuckin' Problems," the latter of which awoke a female-heavy crowd that assembles its playlists from the FM dial.
Although the momentum of "Problems" was endangered by Rihanna starting her circus an hour later than planned, a string of nearly 30 smash hits will do a lot to make one forget the wait. Even if you've never listened to a Rihanna CD front-to-back, you know all the words to her songs. Good thing, too, because she won't wow you with her vocal range or dance moves.
Perhaps still recovering from the flu and laryngitis that led to axing recent shows in Boston and Baltimore, Rihanna relied on prerecorded backing vocals, beautiful sets and five costumes (the mid-thigh-high white stormtrooper boots with slinky black tee is the winner). But above all, she delivered great pop songs that sound great loud and please the crowd. Her set — improved over the 2011 edition — was economical in its delivery of uptempo hits ("We Found Love," a fireball-blasted "Jump," "Only Girl [In the World]") and wisely low on ballads. Anyone attending a show like this should enter with the goal of having fun and not to learn anything or be bowled over by high notes.