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OUTKAST at MOLSON CANADIAN AMPHITHEATRE, Sunday, August 3. Rating: NNNN
Drake likes to program a mix of old and new artists at his surprise guest-filled OVO Fest, so it's always interesting to see how the Toronto emcee's youthful crowd will react.
Day one of the fifth-annual event, which takes place over two nights for the first time this year, was short on surprises but heavy on nostalgia as Atlanta hip-hop duo Outkast arrived in Toronto four months after their reunion tour got off to a shaky start at Coachella.
Since then, the southern rap impresarios and their tight, seven-piece band - including horn section and background singer - have locked into a nice groove, although Big Boi and Andre 3000's famously prickly relationship was apparent in their by-the-book rapport and banter.
After the opening assault of drum 'n' bass-led B.O.B., the pair continued spitting their fluid, tongue-twisting rhymes over a string of classics - Gasoline Dreams, ATLiens Skew It On The Bar-B and Rosa Parks - as the band played each song with the non-stop energy of a funk revue.
The opening segment was a reminder of how much southern hip-hop has changed since Outkast last released new music in 2006. Their hometown is now synonymous with a harder, minimalist trap style that has swept the rap mainstream and permeated pop and dance music. Rising Compton rapper YG, who opened the show, was more in line with this Spartan sound.
Outkast's catalogue spans 20 years and covers a range of tempos and styles, including P-funk, soul, electro-bass, experimental R&B and pop. That meant fans anxious to sing along to hits like Roses first had to vibe out to laid-back classics such as Hootie Hoo and Crumblin' Erb.
The duo's diverging creative interests were most apparent during their mini-solo sets. Big Boi scored a big crowd response with southern rap jams Kryptonite and Ghettomusick, while platinum-dollar-store-wigged Andre was more self-conscious, telling the heads to be patient as he crooned She Lives In My Lap and Prototype for "the lovers."
When he invited a group of female fans on stage to shake it to Hey Ya!, he pointed out to the ladies, "Y'all were probably like 10 years old" when that effusive single topped charts in 2003. Meanwhile, the night's lone surprise guest was a choice one: Bun B, who appeared for an uplifting rendition of UGK's International Player's Anthem toward the set's end.
Despite Big Boi and Andre 3000's chilly personal dynamics, Outkast's willingness to switch up the mood and pacing was refreshing to watch. Many hip-hop acts must pander to gender divides and juiced-up machismo in order to whip up a crowd, whereas Outkast - as Andre reminded everyone at the end - aims for everyone.