NXNE 2013: Ludacris @ Yonge-Dundas Square by Alex Snider

SUNDAY — Sunday night I had the choice between participating in the Marina Abramovic performance piece at Luminato, and going to see Ludacris' free show at Yonge-Dundas Square. It was like Sophie's Choice. One on hand there is Abramovic — an incredible artist whom I've admired for years, who has explored both the physical and psychological limits of the human body and tested relationships between strangers and lovers. Her work is beautiful and unsettling, inspiring and challenging, raw and poignant. I dream of being a woman like her one day (although, we all know that I'm going to be a faux-bohemian, hippy Mrs. Roper-type living in Topanga Canyon, painting shitty flowers that are supposed to look like vaginas). Then you have Ludacris. "Champaign for my campaign". How could I pass up the opportunity to bask in some Southern hospitality?

Where Marina Abramovic is representative of my older, mature, refined tastes, Luda is my teenage years in of top 40 rap hits. There is a lot that I love about hip hop: the beats, the emotion, the mixing, the rawness, the anti-authoritarian bent, the political and social awareness. Of course as a (pretty uncool — I played competitive badminton and brought along my younger siblings on dates) teenager living on a leafy, white-bread street in Winnipeg, hip hop appealed to me because of the the graphic nature and the taboo topics. It was back when everything I knew about sex came from Christopher Pike, Cosmo and Ice Cube tracks (mostly all horrifying shit that, quite frankly, might explain a lot?). Listening to rap in the 90s for me was a rebellion — something of which adults didn't approve with the free-wheeling expletive-laced talk of sex, violence and drugs.

At the time I didn't understand a whole lot of it, the good messages and the appalling ones. I could easily listen to the most misogynistic Eminem tracks but I always skipped through that last spoken word track on The Roots' Things Fall Apart that dealt with violence against women. It would be years before I began to understand of the way that racism is perpetuated through systems of power and how that underscores nearly all hip hop.

I think I'm lucky to have grown up with hip hop in the 90s, it was pre-internet and I had to mostly depend on the radio for new rap but those were the days (and I'm really fucking loathe to pull an "in my day" argument but bear with me) when most of the mainstream hip hop singles were almost all really good shit — the massive commercialization of the genre was still a couple years away (before 50 "I love you like a fat kid loves cake" Cent). There may have been (and continues to be) really horrible rampant misogyny and homophobia (all that is for another post, another day) but damn if the rhymes weren't tight, the MCs wildly talented.

Ludacris remains one of my sentimental favourites. I love that distinctive Dirty South sound, the unique way he over-emphasizes certain words and oh man, he is so fucking quotable. I don't think an entire day can go by during which I don't drop some Luda wisdom. I've adopted "swagger don't stop" as my own personal mantra, setting it as my description on most forms of social media. I'm forever asking "what in the world is in that bag? What you got in that bag?" and I'm always needing to tell motherfuckers to "get back 'cause [they]... don't know me like that". And don't even get me started on how long I've wanted "to do it in a library on top of books" (don't worry, I won't be too loud). Luda's raps are mostly fun and, dare I say, whimsical (the only time I'll cop to being down with whimsy — what a stupid concept and an even stupider word). His guest spots are always memorable and dude just exudes charm.

That charm was on full-display Sunday night at Yonge and Dundas. The banter between songs was playful and teasing and nearly excessively appreciative for his decade-plus success. He played his hits, mostly old, some new and gave us a taste of up-coming singles. I got to break out my moves, many of which I've been cultivating in my living room since his breakout hit, "What's Your Fantasy", and dance with some cute boys. Yonge-Dundas Square is a less than ideal location for most performers (and more crowd-anxious audience members) but being up in the middle of a sweaty throng, surrounded by fellow fans, where everyone is dancing and knows all the words is really actually quite magical. Forget about drugs and liquor, kids, just see artists you love with a few thousand other fans.

I'll catch you next time, Marina.
Find all of our coverage of NXNE here.

Alex Snider came, she saw, she hit 'em right there in the jaw. She can be found on Twitter at @what_freshhell.


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