OVO Sound brought the fireworks to Canada Days at Nathan Phillips Square

What started as a nod to Canada’s hip-hop founders ended up being a free preview of next month’s OVO Fest – and Drake's surprise appearance was better than any fireworks display

Drake, dvsn, Shad, Roots of the 6ix at Nathan Phillips Square, Sunday, July 2. Rating: NNNNN

As a part of the To Canada With Love long weekend event at Nathan Phillips Square, Sunday’s big celebration paid tribute to Canada’s and specifically Toronto’s role in hip-hop, both past and present. What started as a nod to Canada’s hip-hop founders ended up being a free preview of next month’s OVO Fest.

An early highlight of the day-long festivities was the Roots Of The 6ix performance featuring hip-hop pioneers Dream Warriors, Michie Mee and Maestro Fresh Wes, who had their brief sets tethered by former CKLN DJ Ron Nelson spinning tracks and emceeing, as well as the live instrumentation of hip-hop outfit the Dirty B-sides.

Dream Warriors’ performance was marked by false starts and technical difficulties, while Maestro’s felt abrupt (perhaps cut short due to the earlier technical problems). It was Michie Mee’s set that felt the most well balanced, in part because of how her polished rhymes exuded enthusiasm and showed no sign of age, and also thanks to trumpeter Brownman Ali, who provided jazzy fills in between Michie’s verses and DJ Mo Betta’s backing beats.

Rooted in both old and new school hip-hop mentalities, Shad’s music was the perfect transition into the more contemporary sounds of dvsn. Backed by a full band, the former’s music was the first that day to really fill the space at Nathan Phillips Square, like a jazz ensemble playing with the volume and vigor of a stadium-sized rock band.

As if waiting for the right mood, dvsn took the stage only once the sun had set, and were met with screams of delight from the 50,000-strong crowd that had amassed for the free public show. Musically, the band was just as patient, slowly building the tension in each song.

Vocalist Daniel Daley’s history in gospel really came through live, especially on Sept. 5th, where Daley and his three backup singers’ call and response kicked off the trio’s own embellishment of the song, taking it to a divine place not explored on the record.

Though the band was working through a similar set to the one they’d played in Toronto the same time last year, Sunday night’s show was not without a few surprises. One by one, fellow OVO Sound signees Roy Woods and Majid Al Maskati (of Majid Jordan) came onstage to join dvsn, with Woods performing Instinct and Drama and Al Maskati following with King City.

dvsn cut Hallucinations seemed like it was closing out the night, and that Woods and Al Maskati would be the only guests to appear from the OVO family, since dvsn’s earlier performance of Faithful featured a backing track of Drake’s rap from the Views cut. But moments after the lights had gone black, Drake burst onstage to the epic and appropriate anthem Know Yourself, an explosive surprise better than any fireworks display.

Before launching into the final songs of the night (Jumpman, Gyalchester and Fake Love), Drake told the audience that “When we celebrate Canada we celebrate all these races. We celebrate Indigenous people and the land that we’re standing on.”

Even though it took place a day after Canada Day, the entire night felt like the performance both the city and country deserved.

music@nowtoronto.com | @therewasnosound

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