Ms. Lauryn Hill and Nas brought the past to the future at Budweiser Stage

In their joint set, Nas played throwback classics, while Hill delivered a complex and cerebral performance that nonetheless went hard

MS. LAURYN HILL and NAS at Budweiser Stage, Sunday, September 10. Rating: NNNN

Things were already boding well when Nas, who started his set at a tight 8:15 pm (there’s always a chance of extreme lateness at a Ms. Lauryn Hill show), invited the crowd to take it back to “the good old days – the days that brought us here tonight.” True to his word, there wasn’t a deep cut in sight as the Queensbridge rapper delivered every A-side you ever banged in your car’s audio system circa ’94 and beyond.

The duo alternated sets in this joint performance, their first in Toronto since 2011’s Rock The Bells when Hill didn’t hit the stage until nearly two hours after Nas and had to rush through her after-curfew headlining set. 

This go-around is called the PowerNomics tour, named after the Dr. Claud Anderson book that advances a plan for Black economic empowerment. It found a quick visual metaphor in Hill’s Balenciaga Paris sweater, which she wore underneath a black bubble jacket: from hip-hop to high-end.

Of course, Nas and Hill onstage together sets up the expectation that they’ll perform their 1996 collaboration If I Ruled The World (Imagine That). They did, and it delivered. But it’s more interesting to contrast their two careers.

Nas put out 10 solo albums over 23 years, a vast catalogue filled with classics. He performed It Ain’t Hard To Tell, Represent, N.Y. State Of Mind, The World Is Yours and even Oochie Wally, from that time when he styled himself as a hip-hop lothario.

In almost the same amount of time, Hill produced just one full-length solo album, 1998’s The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. The Roots’ Questlove once put her in the company of D’Angelo and Dave Chapelle when he mourned the fate of Black genius, a “crazy psychological kind of stoppage” that prevents these artists from following through on new material.

Only Hill’s creativity never truly stopped flowing. She candidly said as much. That’s why she varies her arrangements in concert, she explained at the show, an approach that rendered fondly remembered tracks like Everything Is Everything and Lost Ones unrecognizable.

Watching Hill now is a cerebral experience. She sacrifices comprehension for a spitfire cadence as if she can’t contain the propulsion of her own ideas. She’s a sound technician whose perfectionism keeps her obsessively checking her stage monitors. We are witnessing a genius at work.

I first watched Hill perform some 20 years ago at this same venue on the Miseducation tour. Back then, she could move the crowd the way Nas still does. His beats reliably go hard.

When Nas’s DJ, Green Lantern, spun a Beethoven concerto, it set the rapper up for the Für Elise sampling I Can. The Hill experience was more like Stravinsky’s debut of The Rite Of Spring – only the audience didn’t riot at the unfamiliar sounds.

Instead, they kind of just stood there as Hill conducted the complex, wildly inventive arrangements by her 12-piece band.

She eventually did give the crowd what they wanted when she played Ex-Factor in its original arrangement, not to mention dipping into the Fugees canon with Ready Or Not and Fu-Gee-La. The crowd went wild.

For all her evolution, Hill is still the consummate emcee. | @missrattan

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