Nothing says conscious hiphop quite like a day spent playing Crown & Anchor, eating bowls of one-dollar spaghetti and riding the absurd and terrifying Drop Of Fear.
The standard-lowering mayhem that is the CNE might seem like the last place righteous Brooklyn MC Mos Def would make his Toronto debut, but it worked, which is more than you can say for some of the Ex's rides.
In fact, Mos seemed to thrive on the fun atmosphere at the Bandshell's Urban Music Festival. While he can be didactic on record, the MC was downright playful Sunday, strolling out onstage unannounced midway through a Biggie Smalls jam and launching immediately into a crooned cover of Fela Kuti's rarely heard Power Show.
Alternating between his own solo cuts and tracks from the Black Star album, Mos Def rocked the crowd with casual intensity. The energy was uncommon for a hiphop crowd, and remained in place from start to finish, thanks largely to an audience that seemed to know every word and every break from Mos Def's underground classic Black On Both Sides disc.
The boomy Bandshell sound wasn't perfect, and the MC's decision to play with support from a DAT rather than a live DJ or even a full band was questionable, especially when Jill Scott's eight-piece group came back out for a jazzy encore. Still, Mos Def showed why he is one of the most exciting MCs in hiphop as well as one of the smartest.
Watching him rhyme at a blinding pace through Ms. Fat Booty before stretching out his drop-dead Gregory Isaacs impression for Toronto's roots-mad hiphop crowd was almost as thrilling as the Polar Express. Live hiphop should always be this fun.
MOS DEF, with JILL SCOTT, as part of the Urban Music Festival, at the CNE Bandshell, August 27. Tickets: $8. Attendance: 2,500. Rating: NNNN