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St.Louis based rapper Nelly brought his new “Hot in Herre” festival to Toronto on June 24th which featured a star studded line up of performances from R&B singers and hip-hop artists alike. The show was a one day affair that took place in the north end of Toronto at the expansive Downsview Park. Canadian hip-hop legend Kardinal Offishal served as the event’s official host which saw him coming on stage between performances to introduce acts and to keep the crowd warm. DJ Starting From Scratch acted as the MC and provided the beats between sets.  The Hot in Herre line up consisted of rapper Chingy, singer Keri Hilson, rappers Fat Joe, Ja Rule, Rick Ross, TI, Akon, singer Ne-Yo and the main event Nelly. The weather in the area was projected to be rain for the most of the day but thankfully the area in which the concert took place seemed to miss all of that. The concert turned out to be a success with all acts going on at the scheduled time for the most part. The concert would prove to be a showcase of urban music mainly from the 2000’s & 2010’s era and took place mostly during the day time as the first act took the stage at 2PM in the afternoon. The first acts to take the stage this day would be Chingy, Keri Hilson, Fat joe, Ja Rule and Rick Ross who all performed prior to the evening hours. Ja Rule would engage in theatrics on stage when he appeared to be lying on a medical stretcher while being attended to by some EMT’s which turned out to be a ruse as the rapper would pop up with the microphone and greet the crowd. Thankfully, it all turned out to be an elaborate way to start out his set. The evening portion of the event would kick off at 6PM with southern rap legend T.I. taking the stage. The veteran hip-hop artist would get the crowd jumping with his seemingly endless catalogue of hits the likes of “Rubber band Man”, “What ever you like”, “U don’t know me”, “24’s” and “What you know” which were all well receipted by the audience. The Grand Hustle CEO would surprise the crowd when he introduced local Scarborough rapper Kemdilo Gold who came out on stage to perform a song together. I’m sure it was a big moment for the Canadian artist getting a chance to rap in front of a large, outdoor audience in his hometown. Arguably the biggest performance of the event had to have been Akon of only based on crowd response alone but also his set list of bangers. International artist Akon probably has one of the longest track lists of smash hits such as “Smack That”, “Lonely”, “Locked Up”, “Right Now”, “Bananza“, the list goes on. All of these songs and more were on the menu for the fans at the Hot In Herre festival in Toronto who ate them all up. The singer who prides him self with his African heritage brought entertainment beyond just music as Akon would take a brief intermission to disappear off stage only to return in a large blow up, beach ball like suit. The pop artist would then been seen jumping off the side of the stage into the audience and start crowd surfing and rolling around on top of people in the crowd before (some how) making his way back to the stage runway. In addition to all the performance theatrics, Akon who is know for his many collaborations and features would bring out a few guests to share the stage with. The first guest being new female R&B singer Amirror and a special appearance by Kardinal Offishall to perform the song “Dangerous” together with Akon. The co-main event of the Hot in Herre festival was American R&B star Ne-Yo who hit the stage to a massive roar from the crowd. The singer didn’t come alone as Ne-Yo would bring his dance pack along with him to contribute to the performance. The native of the state of Arkansas would come dressed in all black and at one point he would say “it was a good idea earlier today” but clearly not at at the half way point of his set as the weather was extremely hot, even as the sun began to set. Early on in the performance Ne-Yo brought out the mic stand and expressed that pop singer Michael Jackson was a huge influence on his musical style and dress up which was made clear with his wardrobe selection on this night. Ne-Yo would show his humanity during the show when a fan had a medical emergency in the crowd and the singer would quickly shutdown the music to ensure the fan was able to quickly get medical attention and taken to safety by EMTs. The R&B artist would go on to play his great catalogue of hits like “Because of you”, “Let me love you”, and “Miss Independent” to name a few. He certainly had many more to successfully fill over an hour of a set list. I was personally impressed by Ne-Yo’s amazing stage presence and also his professionalism. He was in the news a few weeks after this concert when he performed at the White House in Washington DC.
Once the sun had finally gone down and darkness fell over the Hot in Herre festival it was time for the main event of the night which of course was Nelly. The name of the festival being “Hot in Here” is a reference to one of Nelly’s smash hit singles off the album Nellyville from back in 2002. Since the show primarily took place during the day, this would be the first and only performance from this concert that showed off the lighting and background screens in full effect. At this time the atmosphere at the show seemed to shift over to more of a nightclub vibe and it actually seemed a lot of more people showed up during this time.  Nelly’s set list would be comprised of the chart topping hits that played regularly on the radio throughout the early to mid 2000’s when the rapper was at his peak. From St.Louis to Toronto Nelly brought his “Country Grammar” to Downsview park along with his impressive collection of “Air Force Ones”.  Towards the end of the performance came the biggest surprise of the show when Nelly brought out R&B singer Ashanti for a duet which caused the crowd to roar with excitement.To wrap up this review I think its fair to talk about this festival as a whole and seeing how I was at first 90’s Nostalgia event in September of 2021 I think I have the unique perspective of seeing how this latest festival changed from the first hip-hop based event put on by this promotional group. The line up of artists was certainly stepped up a level this time around with more big name artists booked from start to finish when put in comparison to the top heavy line up model that a lot of festivals typically put together. I definitely like the Downsview park location a lot better vs the previous show in 2021 which took place in a parking lot beside a large industrial mall. Downsview Park offered a lot more grass areas for sitting with a large hill south-east of the stage which I’m sure the general admission fans enjoyed a lot. All of the performances went on stage at the time scheduled which was a pleasant surprise. I think the entire concert went off as well as it could have and I thought it was obvious to see that most of the concert goers had a great time. So far I have heard good things about the results of The Hot in Herre festival in Toronto as the 90’s Nostalgia social media accounts have hinted at another event next summer and possibly expanding the festival to a multi-day event. If I could make some recommendations on possible improvements for next year I don’t think I would have much to add in all honesty but I think it would be something to consider to start the event later in the day and let the show run later into the night. A two day festival does sound more interesting and it could help to break the line up into two parts rather then one long day. From a photographer’s point of a view, the top notch stage lighting and screens are obviously more effective during the night time hours and could make for better shooting conditions. I think ticket sales could benefit on the night portion of the show as some fans prefer going to concerts at night time vs a day time event. I’m sure any minor criticisms are nothing compared to the overwhelming positives from the festival and next year will be even will be event better.

Please enjoy the photo gallery below from June 24th 2023 at Downsview Park in Toronto and to stay up to date on future events from 90’s Nostalgia you can follow them on Instagram


Photos & Article By Kyle McNeil(@trueaspectmedia)