A joint tour between the Range and Rome Fortune is an odd double bill on paper, with the obvious common denominator being that they both released albums early in 2016. A producer from Brooklyn, the Range (a.k.a. James Hinton) took YouTube samples and emotive electronic music to soaring heights with Potential, while Fortune's debut full-length, Jerome Raheem Fortune, stands as one of the more soul-baring rap records 2016 has offered up so far.
Whether it was due to the Raptors game being shown in every area bar or Beyoncé turning lemons into lemonade across town, the Velvet Underground remained largely empty as showtime drew closer — odd, for a pair of artists who have garnered such acclaim. After waiting an additional 15 minutes, Hinton took the stage in front of a little over 20 people, not including venue staff and security.
Undeterred by the turnout, Hinton placed himself behind a rack that held his audio gear and a projection screen about the size of a small television. Partially obstructed by the screen, clips of swirling star fields, endless seas of clouds and other CGI patterns soundtracked his mix of material, with clips of his YouTube-sampled vocalists also popping up for "Copper Wire" and "Five Four" which both drew cheers from the crowd.
Taking his performance beyond simply pumping the music through the venue sound system, Hinton took great care in crafting seamless transitions between tracks through clever looping and cueing. A particularly brilliant moment of live improvisation saw him loop the melodic vocal hook of "Florida" while making the drum track stutter in explosive fashion, a nice pairing for the venue's spastic strobe lights.
Making Hinton all the more endearing was his jovial stage presence, an invaluable trait for any electronic musician trapped behind a mixer to possess, and one that helped bring the feeling and spirit of Potential to life onstage. Even when carefully cuing up a track in his headphones, he was in constant motion behind his rig, bobbing in time to the beat, air drumming and singing along to his vocal samples in the more climactic moments of his mix, most of the time sporting a mile-wide grin on his face.
To celebrate what was the last night of their tour together, Hinton called Fortune onstage to take part in performing the former's remix of the Atlanta MC's "Paid Back Loans," which broke a handful of newly arrived audience members out of their contented swaying to dance in a little livelier fashion.
For his own set, Fortune arrived onstage with only a laptop, his beat selection for the evening already preprogramed. Though he let the vocal backing track carry him through a fair bit of opener "Money Ministries," the rest of the set was enough to make anyone wonder why he needed them in the first place. Fortune's delivery was flawless through his album standout "Blicka Blicka," in which he never dropped a lyric or omitted a vocal inflection in moving and gesturing about the stage with purpose.
Diving even deeper into his autobiographical record, he urged the audience to move closer to hear vivid tales of cocaine abuse within "Heavy As Feathers" and the existential reflection of "Still I Fight On." Playing both tracks in a row provided an interesting example of how Fortune's music can play to two types of listeners: one half of the crowd was content to mob out to the dark, hell-driven beats of producer Cubby (which sounded even more monstrous cranked through the sound system than on record), while the other half took more time to analyze his lyrics, hanging on his every word.
Some volume level issues derailed the set for a few moments, allowing the blue-bearded rapper to speak to the crowd for a charming moment. "Did the Raptors win or lose?," he asked, to dejected replies. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring it up in this time of turmoil."
The technical difficulties didn't rustle Fortune in the least, though. He claimed that "the show don't ever stop" before working his way through the bouncy "Tropical" and two Toro Y Moi-produced tracks in "Pitch Black" and "Benjiminz," demonstrating some of his more intricate flows and vocal control in the latter and nearing a whisper as he softly repeated lyrics that read like personal mantras ("I gotta play the game so I can change the game").
To not leave the final crowd of the tour on a sombre note, Fortune commanded the last bit of the crowd's energy in closing the night by rapping and ad-libbing his way through the infectious Promnite remix of "Dance," a celebratory finish to a performance that should have seen a audience packed inside.