Squamish Festival Roundup: Four Rap Headliners, Four Genres of Rap

Chance the Rapper

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Despite growing up in South Side Chicago, Chance the Rapper’s music is tonally different from the Trap and Drill typical of that poor, crime-ridden neighbourhood. Though Chance is very much a rap artist, his songs are soul-influenced and uplifting, with strong horn sections and upbeat danceable rhythms. Lyrically, he’s on point, and arguably has one of the best flows of any current rapper. His tone and rhyme schemes vary significantly between each song, and he has a very versatile voice both live and on record. In that sense he’s the real deal. His backing band – the Social Experiment – give his show a more authentic quality.

At Squamish, Chance came onstage by shuffling across it like a Looney Tunes character and dove right into his first song.

“Hi,” he said after a few songs. “I forgot to introduce myself, my name is Chance the Rapper.”

The crowd went crazy.

It was encouraging to see a crowd get so hyped by an artist like Chance: compared to the violent and misogynistic lyrics of many rappers, Chance’s narrative style and relatively tame subjects could be dismissed as vanilla. Despite his fairly small discography (just two mixtapes: #10 Day & Acid Rap), Chance has emerged as a promising up-and-coming rapper, with a live show that no rap fan should miss.

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k-os

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If you don’t know who Toronto-born Kevin Brereton is, you are not a true Canadian (he even played at the opening ceremonies for our 2010 Olympics.) Since his first album Exit, featuring hits like “Heaven Only Knows” and “Superstarr pt.1”, k-os has arguably been the most prominent and inventive figure in Canadian hip hop. A contemporary of Canadian groups like the Rascalz and Ghetto Concept, k-os has defined Canadian hip hop and has, for a decade now, consistently released genre-bending records with conscious, inspiring lyrics about navigating the music scene in Toronto (“Crabuckit”), internal growth and salvation (“the Love Song” and “Man I Used to Be”), and the failings of the hip hop industry (“Neutroniks” and “Emcee Murdah”).

       “What’s the definition of a real M.C.?” raps k-os on “Neutroniks”,  “is it lookin hard on MTV / or freestyling in a backstreet alley?”

On top of that, while existing mostly in the hip hop and folk oeuvre with his first two albums (Exit and Joyful Rebellion), and adding rock and pop influences to his works with his last three (Atlantis Hymns for Disco, Yes! and Black on Blonde), his music remains soulful and innovative.

His style and presence on stage are representations of his musical prowess, and he does not hesitate to change things up and improvise as other, larger acts may be resigned from doing. With a break-dancer backing him as well, and an excellent DJ scratching for him, it was the most quintessentially hip hop show of the festival. Most quintessential being a freestyle that replaced the second verse on “Heaven Only Knows”, in which he took a shot at co-writers in hip hop. Whether or not he was throwing shade at Drake, a previous collaborator (check out their track “Faith”), it only makes sense that a musician of his calibre would be justified in being a spokesperson for authenticity; he is an artist who can rap over “Stairway to Heaven” and beat box at the same show.

Starting with “Elektrik Heat – the Seekwill”, he played songs mostly off his first three records, and gave the people what they wanted by performing hits like “Sunday Morning” and “I wish I knew Natalie Portman”. Having been centrefold in Canada’s music scene for over a decade, and being set to release his sixth studio album Can’t Fly Without Gravity late this summer, it is safe to say that k-os isn’t going anywhere. 

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A$AP Rocky

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With the release of the “Peso” video in 2011, A$AP and the mob were elevated into popular culture. After that it only took the release of a mixtape and a studio album to secure a spot in the top stratum of rap. Hailing from Harlem, Rakim Mayers rose to fame championing a southern-influenced, trippy style of hip hop based around swag, vibrato and sex appeal. In terms of swag rap though, A$AP does it best, and his concert was exactly the kind of shit show, filled with the braggadocio, egotism and bad behaviour that pretty Flacko is known for.

For at least two or three minutes near the end of the set, he pointed at different topless women in the crowd and yelled “Titties!” 

The set started with the debut track (“Holy Ghost”) off his sophomore album At Long Last A$AP, an anthemic track with a choir on the chorus, and a psychedelic rock lick that exemplifies the new sounds of his latest album. Despite being the epitome of derogatory and superficial rap, A$AP, with his music and style, promotes, on occasion, something deeper than that. This show, however, was about getting hyped and fucked up. On three separate occasions A$SAP, A$AP Twelvy and A$AP Nast, didn’t even perform their own music, and just vibed and got hyped to House of Pain’s “Jump Around”, Naughty By Nature’s “OPP”, and even Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, supposedly to cater to their predominantly white audience.

In a sense it is not surprising that they’d take a festival spot at Squamish without much seriousness. It’s probably strange to come up from a majority black urban environment, and enter into a life of festival touring in which millions of suburban white kids in tank tops and snapbacks are rapping along to every one of your lyrics. In that context, it is no wonder that the show ended up being a hot, sweaty mess, with crowd-surfers crumbling into mosh-pits and people losing their shit. To blame was probably the succession of bangers he played that sent the crowd into frenzy. From “Goldie”, ‘M’s”, to his hit with Skrillex “Wild4theNight”, it may not have been the most tasteful show, but it still got rowdy as hell. He was, however, always in the shadow of Drake, who he probably shares similar stature within the States (check out their collaborative effort with Jay-Z called “Light It Up”). In Canada however, it was clear that most of the crowd members were there in anticipation of Drake, who was to play an hour after A$AP. Even A$AP payed homage to the 6 GOD in saying,

“I just want to party with y’all before Drake comes and kills it.”

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Drake

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Since the release of So Far Gone in 2009, Toronto-born Aubrey Graham has graced the zenith of both the Canadian and American music charts. He is an international sensation with numerous billboard accolades and collaborations with the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West, Rihanna, etc… Signed to Young Money Entertainment in 2009, Drake began as the prodigy of New Orleans rapper Lil Wayne and thus began, with each release, his monopoly on the pop-music industry.

By now he’s a Canadian legend, and it was clear that at least half the festival goers had made the trip especially to see the 6 God in the flesh. Many of them were even sporting handmade apparel and carrying Fuck Meek Mill signs. By the time Drake started, an expansive hoard had swarmed the stage, and security was even pouring water into the mouths of the more parched audience members, who had been waiting expectantly for over an hour, and had become dehydrated from whatever substance was replacing the water in their water bottle.

The show started fittingly with “Legend”, the title track off his latest mix-tape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.

Besides a drummer, it was just Drake on stage, and you could tell through the many smiles and warm sentiments towards B.C. that he was having a good time. He even threw B.C. into many of the songs he performed.

After “Legend” he just kept playing banger after banger, of which there are many between his mix-tapes and three studio albums. Those notable being “Headlines”, “Trophies”, “Started from the Bottom”, “0 to 100” and “The Motto”, in which he coined the signature phrase of a generation: “You already know though / you only live once / that’s the motto n—- YOLO”.

The craziest people went was during “Know Yourself”, when the stage went completely dark, until out of the darkness you heard “running through the six with my woes” and an intense flash of light illuminated the entire crowd to reveal pyrotechnics and fireworks.

Throughout the entire concert people were intermittently chanting “Fuck Meek Mill” between songs, and Drake seemed definitely thankful for that. He even performed his most recent diss tracks towards Meek Mill, back to back and charged up, which everyone knew all the lyrics to despite being released only two weeks ago.

“I think this could be one of the best shows I’ve ever performed” he said after an especially impressed look towards the audience. He was then met with riotous applause. I am only thankful that he didn’t ask the girls to remove their tops because it’s hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t have done so.

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All photos accredited to Alex Ross©

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