NXNE at various venues from Thursday to Sunday (June 19 to 22). NXNE Music, NXNE Comedy, NXNE Art run to June 22, NXNE Interactive to June 21. NXNE Film June 22. For ticket and wristband info, see nxne.com/tickets.
at Wrongbar (1279 Queen West), Friday (June 20), midnight. NXNE wristband or $15; and Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Saturday (June 21), 9 pm. NXNE wristband or $30. nxne.com.
The last time Kelela Mizanekristos performed in Toronto was as Solange's opening act. Although she was playing for a crowd of 2,000, the Los Angeles-based R&B singer was still an unknown quantity, having just quit her day job as a telemarketer to hit the road with the younger Knowles sister.
A year later she's poised to take her experimental indie R&B to the mainstream thanks to her mixtape Cut 4 Me, released online for free last fall by electronic label Fade to Mind. It features production work by Kingdom, Jam City and Nguzunguzu, and its austere and imaginative rhythms proved a perfect showcase for Kelela's classically minded approach to R&B balladry. Basically, if the last 20 minutes of Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 album are your vibe, Kelela's two NXNE shows are not to be missed.
2. Juicy J
Juicy J at Yonge-Dundas Square, Sunday (June 22), 9 pm. Free. nxne.com.
The rap world rarely welcomes second acts, but Three 6 Mafia emcee Juicy J got one.
Shortly after the 2006 Academy Award winner for best original song (It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp from Hustle & Flow) cast himself as an OG with a penchant for partying, he found a second wind as Wiz Khalifa's number-two man in - and part owner of - Taylor Gang Records, a move that opened doors for the Memphis native. Before long, he released the platinum-selling single Bandz A Make Her Dance and became the edgy counterpart on mega-pop jams like Katy Perry's Dark Horse and Mike WiLL Made It's 23.
As one of NXNE's headliners, J is expected to command the crowd like a sinister carnival man - inspiring chants and imploring fans to match his turn-up. We're in good hands: he's had the last two decades to prepare for it.
at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Saturday (June 21), 10 pm. $30 or NXNE wristband. nxne.com.
Mike Milosh, singer and frontman of alternative R&B duo Rhye, had jaws on the floor at that group's first Toronto show in April 2013. His silky, gender-neutral, Sade-like vocals were entrancing at the Great Hall, so we can only imagine what they'll sound like in Massey Hall's storied acoustics when he returns for NXNE this week.
Between then and now, he released Jetlag, his fourth album as Milosh, the name he uses for his electronic solo work. He turned the cover art - snaps he took of his girlfriend, Alexa Nikolas - into a photo exhibit at T.O.'s Moniker Gallery, where we meet as he and Nikolas put the final touches on placement and lighting of the gigantic portraits.
Nikolas, however, is not the person who graces the cover of Woman, Rhye's one and only album.
"The album art has always bothered me, actually," Milosh says. "The Rhye record was done with Polydor, and there were all these dates we had to have everything ready in time for, so they just hired a photographer and a model I don't know. It just feels really, really insincere."
And because they didn't release any conventional Rhye press images, the album art is strongly associated with the duo.
"It feels fraudulent, and everything I try to do in art is the opposite of fraudulent and major label commercial product, so it's always irked me."
But it's also what motivated him and Nikolas to mount this gallery show.
Milosh grew up in Toronto but has lived in the Netherlands, Montreal, Berlin and now L.A.
"I basically tried to create an album about every place I went. So I did my first album in Holland, my second in Toronto, my third in Thailand...."
He met the other half of Rhye when producer/musician Robin Hannibal asked him to remix a song for his neo-soul duo Quadron. Milosh ultimately didn't do the remix but did want to collaborate. He flew to Denmark from Berlin, where they wrote three Rhye songs right off the bat.
The sensual, beautifully orchestrated record was a hit, but it's a one-shot deal, Milosh says.
"Rhye is a side project. It's not the thing that's going to dominate my existence. I'll be making Milosh records forever."
But it did play a significant role in his life, musically and personally.
"It allowed me to move to L.A. to be with Alexa," he says. "So it felt kind of cosmic, like it was supposed to happen at that time."
4. A$AP Ferg
at Tattoo (567 Queen West), Friday (June 20), midnight. NXNE wristband or $20.
When A$AP Ferg last visited Toronto, he was just about to go to Japan. The journey ended up having a significant impact.
"They knew the deep album cuts. It's a trip to break language barriers like that," says the 25-year-old emcee, born Darold Ferguson Jr., over the phone from Atlanta, where he's working on the follow-up to his debut album, Trap Lord (Sony).
Ferg's overseas reach isn't a surprise to anyone who's charted his trajectory since 2012. His first single, Work, was a surprise hit, spawning a remix that has nearly 21 million views on YouTube. His next, Shabba, was even bigger - peaking at number 9 on the Billboard 200.
Both hits were made for riling up crowds, something Ferg spent a lot of time doing last year opening for fellow NXNEr Juicy J and headlining a tour of his own. Then earlier this year, he hit the road with M.I.A., exposing him to entirely new demographics.
"Her audience is very broad. There were nine-year-old girls and 60-year old men there. Some songs we didn't perform because they were too profane. But they still wanted to get ratchet, so we had fun."
Ferg's penchant for party rap is rooted in solid rhyming skill. Take his recent visit to New York City's Hot 97 with the A$AP Mob, where he freestyled for 10 minutes on Funkmaster Flex's show.
"When you're freestyling legitimately off the top, it's impossible to re-enact," says Ferg. "I want people to reminisce in shock, like, ‘Remember when Rocky and Ferg were going back and forth on Flex?'"
Creating memorable moments on New York radio is clearly important to the Harlem native, but his career aspirations extend much further.
"I'm not into keeping myself confined to one type of culture. I want to expand. We have the world as our playground, so why stay in one place? I want to be the best artist in the world, not the best artist in New York."
6 more for rhythm & rhyme junkies
The Toronto via Halifax DJ/producer released his first full-length, Guilt Trips, in 2013 but has been filling dance floors with his electro-hip-hop remixes for years.
Friday (June 20) at Adelaide Hall.
This uncategorizable Memphis artist raps over disco, drum 'n' bass, pop and post-punk mashups on his latest album, Come To Life. The live show is just as unpredictably energetic.
Friday (June 20) at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club.
a l l i e
Local singer cranks up the turn-of-the-millennium neo-soul vibe.
Friday (June 20) at M for 159 Manning and Saturday (June 21) at Massey Hall.
The GOOD Music breakout star of 2013 wowed critics and hip-hop heads with his solo debut, My Name Is My Name. His warm performances belie the legitimacy of his "coke rap."
Thursday (June 19) at VICE Island (Toronto Island).
Run the Jewels
A deadly combo of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and NYC emcee/producer El-P.
Saturday (June 21) at Adelaide Hall and Sunday (June 22) at Yonge-Dundas Square.
Shi Wisdom has been drawing larger and larger crowds in T.O. of late. Her latest EP, Stranger Things Have Happened, is trippy, futuristic and at times dark soul.
Friday (June 20) at Tattoo.