When it comes to Toronto's hip-hop community, showcases and festivals sway two ways; they either highlight the architects of our history, those who were the originators of what has become "The Toronto Sound," or it documents the re-builders, those focusing on what's to come. uTOpia Music Fest falls into the latter, and is establishing itself as the premier showcase for the new generation of artists in the General Toronto Area.
However, even prior to the festival taking place, it was hit with controversy when (often problematic) social media celebrity YesJulz posted a tweet of her donning a racially insensitive T-shirt that targeted Black men (Julz is white). Fortunately, uTOpia addressed the issue, as well as co-host Marlon Palmer's threat of dropping out of the show, and became one of two Toronto events that cancelled their contracts with YesJulz. Suddenly, uTOpia Music Fest had become a safe space once again for local talents to step onto the stage last night (June 1) at a sweaty and packed Mod Club.
Programmed largely by Marcus Graham and Erica Kongvongxay, the 2017 lineup encompassed rapidly rising artists like Drew Howard, Smoke Dawg of Halal Gang and Jimmy Prime of the Prime Boys, the latter being the creator of the term 'The 6ix,' not to mention fresh faces like R&B/Soul singer Liza and quick spitter Kris.
London, ON artist Quincy Got Rich jumpstarted the show with an energetic set, but perhaps too energetic — he seemed to dance his way through three singles, including his debut single "Cutty" featuring XO's Derek Wise, instead of actually rapping. By comparison, Kris confidently didn't let go of her mic as she floated between promising rapping and off-key singing. Brampton artist Pryde performed with vigour and veteran status in comparison to the rest of the bill, while fellow Bramptonite K. Forest's vocals floated alongside the visuals on his personal LED screen. Liza, for her part, sailed fairly effortlessly through her soulful set, and while she didn't quite fit in with the rougher line-up, she did break through the crowd's fairly stoic presence and earned their praise.
It became apparent that the last quarter of the show was the reason why the audience was there; Jimmy Prime brought on Jay Whiss and Donnie, Smoke Dawg brought Puffy L'z and Mo-G, and Mississauga's Ramriddlz did a surprise set in-between. The two rap groups, Halal Gang and Prime Boys, played off each other's energy, which ultimately brought the night together. Toronto anthems like Halal Gang's "Still," Smoke Dawg's solo singles "Count It Up" and "Trap House," Jimmy Prime's "Sun Goes Down" and Prime Boys "Front Page" produced endless energy, while Drew Howard's "You're Not My Mans" exploded across the venue.
"I just DMed Justin Trudeau and said we had a new national anthem," Howard told the crowd. And in that same breath, he went on to say, "I just want the city to be a family."
That's exactly what uTOpia Music Festival did last night: It added a little glue to Toronto's growing hip-hop community.