The Toronto edition of Hip-Hop Karaoke celebrates its second birthday at Revival tonight, and its organizers are experiencing anything but the terrible twos. For one thing, most two-year-olds don’t have Maestro Fresh Wes perform at their birthday parties.
“I think it’s going to be ridiculous,” says Noel Dix, aka DJ Numeric. “Our last one in February was our biggest one ever, even with no special event. This time, with bringing in Maestro and the amount of press, it could get chaotic. It’s a homecoming show for him now that he’s living in Vancouver, and it’s been twenty years since Symphony in Effect came out. So in a way it’s like a tribute to him. And all sorts of people might come out of the woodwork for this, so you never know who might show up.”
Having Maestro perform at HHK fulfills a dream for the monthly event’s organizers Dix, DJs Dalia and Ted Dancin’, and MC Abdominal. The fact that they are joining forces with a Canadian hip-hop legend shows how far they’ve come from their humble beginnings at the Boat. “The first one was very good,” recalls Dix. “We weren’t really sure how it was going to work. It was busy, but not crazy, about one hundred people. Then this guy went up and performed ‘The Bridge is Over’ by Boogie Down Productions, and I turned to Dalia and said, ‘This is it, we’ve started.'” Each month saw bigger and bigger crowds thanks to promotion and especially word of mouth. Eventually, the Boat’s capacity became an issue: even early birds had to stand in line and still risk not even getting in the door.
The HHK crew were forced to find a new venue. There was a short-lived stint at the Gladstone, and now they’re settled into their new home at Revival, although it took a bit of time to get comfy. “We wondered if HHK was big enough for Revival, just because it’s so huge, and at first it was looking pretty empty at peak hours. But the owners saw promise in our night and supported us. Lately we’re packing the place, and we love Revival now.”
From left to right: Dalia, Abdominal, Numeric, Ted Dancin’.
So how do you top having homegrown hero Maestro perform at HHK? Dix admits it will be tough, but he’s got some ideas for the future. There’s talk of bringing more technology into the fold to make the sign-up process and the actual karaoke run smoother. “Right now we’re working with raw materials like pen and paper. You sign up on paper and then we give you a lyric sheet. I’d love to somehow have all the lyrics on screen like proper karaoke.” And stay tuned for more special guests, though Dix contends that perhaps the only performer who could generate Maestro-level hype would be Kardinal. “I asked him and he said he would do it, but nowadays he’s hardly ever in Toronto. But you definitely won’t have to wait another year to see us bring in someone else amazing.”
Originally inspired by the New York edition, Hip-Hop Karaoke Toronto has always been its own entity and may in fact now be bigger than NYC’s night. “We have twice as many songs as they do,” says Dix. “And their version is a bit more higher stakes and competitive. If you really mess up there, the crowd boos you!” Which isn’t to say the two editions are enemies: in January the HHK NYC organizers drove up for the Toronto edition and loved every minute of it. “It sounds corny, but it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I think of all the people who have met through our night and become friends. It’s brought out all sorts of people who don’t look like regular hip-hop types but kill it, like Rhino, who is now a legend. And I like it when people tell me we’ve started a great hip-hop night rather than karaoke night, and one that’s serious about hip-hop but still fun. We’re into the serious business of having fun.”
Torontoist asked Dix to run down his top twos of the past two years of doing HHK.
Top two regulars: “Kagan. He always does stuff that’s off the map and lyrically challenging. He was the first one to bring to the table more underground artists like Edan and Aceyalone. And Measuring Man. He’s a family man with two kids. He always shows up at the beginning and completely destroys Kanye or some other crowd-pleaser. He kills it every time.”
Top two debut performances: “Rhino, right off the bat, because none of us saw it coming. He came to the second or third night, and we had no idea. Surprises aren’t that uncommon, like when a tiny girl goes on stage and busts out Big Pun, but he really surprised everybody. And this guy whose stage name was the Count. He came to Dundas Square, which was a very strange experience. It was free, and all walks of life were there. The Count came out of nowhere, performed ‘I’m Your Pusher’ by Ice-T with no lyrics sheet and knocked it out of the park.”
Top two most memorable performances: “Off the bat, D-Sisive and Ennis did Kris Kross and wore their clothes backwards. They did great, and they were the first people to sort of wear a costume based on the artist. And the time G-Flo did ‘La Di Da Di’ by Slick Rick and brought his beatboxer friend onstage with him. So there was no instrumental track needed. It was really out of the norm.”
Photos by Philip Litevsky.