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Fighting the frustratingly slow sidewalk-strollers down to Yonge-Dundas Square is exasperating, especially when you're trying to arrive in time for the Underachievers - Brooklyn's dynamic trippy hip-hop duo. The crowd for their 5 pm timeslot was not small enough to push my way to the front, but sparse enough to see Gold Soul Theory from a satisfying distance.
I made for backstage, where every NXNE hip-hop performer seemed to be. Emcees Fat Tony and Deniro Farrar were watching from side stage before and after their shows. Joey Bada$$ was hanging back with a camo bucket hat. The Underachievers' Issa was milling around drinking Moosehead.
The crowd filled out considerably large for Smif N' Wessun. Tek was giving Steele a boxer-in-the-ring type shoulder massage before they bounded onstage. Tek wins the award for the only Y-D Sunday artist to crowd-surf.
I had to half-watch Joey Bada$$'s set as I anxiously prepared for an on-again/off-again on-camera Ludacris interview. Finally, the three-man NOWTube crew and myself were escorted down to a below-ground level green room amidst tight security, as excited teens and drunken adults tried to get into Ludacris's green room. The mood outside was anxious. Inside though, Luda was all relaxed drink-pouring. "Are we really going on at 9 pm?" he said after our 10-minute chat. "Obviously not."
He wasn't too late though, and when he hit the stage backed by drums, bass guitar, lead guitar, saxophone, keyboard player and a retro-Tracy-McGrady-Raptors-ensemble-clad DJ Infamous, the 35,000-person throng went wild. There were people hanging off balconies, spilling down Dundas and Yonge Streets and watching from the Milestones patio (Luda called them out for not standing up). Every snatch of between-song banter led in perfectly to his next smash hit, and he played most of them, including Splash Waterfalls, Stand Up, Pimpin All Over The World and Yeah.
After running home to charge my phone on a Luda high, I hit the Crawford for one last kick at the NXNE can. Sudbury band Lightmares at first sounded pitchy and screechy, but won me over with surprisingly toe-tappy bursts of screamed melody and downright funky bass playing.
Unforgettable: Deniro Farrar borrowing my sunglasses the entire day and getting me to take multiple photos of him in them. Somehow I became his go-to Instagram photographer. "You got it baby girl?" Smif N' Wessun's Steele asked me before the duo got in frame with Farrar and Crooklin from Smash Brovaz.