Classified The Phoenix, Toronto ON, February 13
Published Feb 14, 2016When "Dylan from Mississauga" takes a running start and propels his body off the edge of the stage, the crowd's collective arms are happy to catch one of their own. The jacked-up fan skims the outstretched hands far back across the Phoenix floor, circles around giddily, then rides the wave all the way back to the stage, where Classified helps his supporter back to his feet. But the epic crowd-surf comes at a cost. Dude lost his cellphone in the undertow.
Someone in the tangled mess of hip-hop heads retrieves the lost device and brings it to Dylan onstage. The rapper born Luke Boyd, now a married father of three and a national rap star for two decades, smiles. "That's some Canadian shit," he says.
Indeed. And what a Classified show lacks in edge, it makes up for in effort and fun.
The 38-year-old Nova Scotian filled the 1,350 person capacity Phoenix last night. For reference, the first time I saw him perform in this city, it was for a dozen underground rap heads in a tiny open-mic club on Queen West. He was happy to share a smoke with anyone kicking around on the street afterwards.
Fast forward to the 2016 All-Star weekend, and the scrappy independent artist turned dad rapper commanded an enthusiastic throng of onlookers — many of whom would've been in diapers when Class dropped his first album in 1995. 21 years and 15 albums later, the scale of a Classified show has grown, but the boom-bap aesthetic has remained in tact for the current Canadian tour in support of his latest LP, titled Greatful (cringe).
A rather large DJ cut records while standing atop a gigantic boombox set piece, not unlike the one a young LL Cool J used for his stage show in the '80s. A bass player, keyboardist, and drummer fleshed out the sound, while brother and hypeman Mic Boyd added punch to Class's well-honed breath control. Eight bright headlights blasted the crowd in sync with the beat, lighting up a predominantly white fan base.
"I'm a quarter black, and I'm the darkest brother in here," quipped one concertgoer. He was joking, but the point was made.
After a quick warm-up from Vancouver artist Son Real, Classified strolled out in a hoodie and ball cap and went to work. The 80-minute set focused on his recent and most recognizable tracks: "No Pressure," "Beautiful Escape," "Filthy," "The Day Doesn't Die," "That Ain't Classy," and the Cancon radio hit "Inner Ninja."
The Boyd brothers playfully slipped on Nintendo Power Gloves for album cut "Video Games," share a joint while the DJ cued up Steve Miller's "The Joker," and saved the tweaked national anthem "Oh… Canada" for last.
An encore was demanded, and Class returned to deliver six songs from six different albums in six minutes. It was a fitting exhibition of his longevity and precision, leaving Dylan from the suburbs and the rest of the fans reluctant to abandon the shoulder-to-shoulder warmth of the venue and walk out into the coldest night of the year.