The Worst Live Show I’ve Ever Been To: Rock The Bells, Toronto, 2006

Every now and then I’ll stumble across a Reddit thread along the lines of “What was the worst concert you’ve ever been to?” which will spark a memory of the travesty of a show that was the Rock The Bells Tour’s stop in Toronto in 2006. It was such a shitshow it’s not even listed on Wikipedia. If anyone that went to this show ever stumbles across this, 100% give me a shout. I’m absolutely fascinated by this concert as an adult 15 some odd years later.

For the unaware, Rock The Bells was a hip-hop festival/tour/show series started in the mid-2000s, featuring many of a hip-hop fan’s favourite artists. Here are some of the artists on the lineup of the first RTB show: Wu-Tang Clan, Redman, Dilated Peoples, Sage Francis, Supernatural, DJ Nu-Mark of Jurassic 5, Eyedea and Abilities.

After the success of the initial run of shows in California in the 2004-06 range, RTB went on the road. Their club tour, listed above at that Wikipedia link, had a couple dozen stops including one in Vancouver and another in Toronto on December 5, 2006 at the Kool Haus. Here’s an article announcing the show, and this article references the event dates and is so old it has a link to Myspace. If you’re born after about 1995 you won’t know what that is – it was kind of like Facebook, but did significantly less damage to the fabric of society.

My brother and I were massive rap fans back then, we still are but I think we were way more invested in the music and the culture when we were kids. I don’t remember how we found out about this show, but we did, and we were just fucking hyped for it. Here’s the lineup for the 2006 tour: Redman, Raekwon, Keith Murray, Supernatural, EPMD, Ghostface Killah, Pharoahe Monch, Smif-n-Wessun, Dirty Heads, DJ Kool. Any rap fan can attest that this was an amazing lineup.

Myself, my brother and I think our friend Ben bought tickets and drove out to Toronto. My memory is pretty bad on the best of days, but here is my recollection of the night:

I remember waiting out front on the sidewalk in the cold. It was early December and slushy. There were murmurings of artists not getting across the border.

We got in and mulled about for a bit. I distinctly remember having a beer in my hand, in one of those weird aluminum bottles clubs sometimes have, designed so people can’t smash them and stab other people. I think I was 18 at the time, but the old Ontario drivers’ licences were printed in such a way that the text was on top of the laminate, and could be carefully scratched off with an Xacto knife. I was born in 1988. We’d scratch the last 8 off and carefully connect the lines to form a 6, making us 2 years older than we actually were. In dimly lit bars and clubs, it worked like a charm. Ontario did away with those cards a long time ago, so kids these days will need to be more industrious with their underage drinking. I still have my doctored ID in a box somewhere.

Kardinal Offishal hosted the event. He was pretty big at the time. I tweeted at him asking about this travesty of a show, he has yet to respond.

It was confirmed that only a handful of the acts made it across the border. The show would consist of: MC Supernatural, DJ Kool and EPMD.

I think Supernatural went on first. Supernatural’s claim to fame was his freestyling abilities. I remember him from some radio show mixtapes doing the word association freestyles, with the hosts tossing out random words that he’s incorporated into his piece. He originally held the record for longest freestyle after rapping for 9:15 hours, which was beaten by Chiddy Bang at 9:18 (if you’re not going to smash a record, come on…) before Chiddy Bang dropped off the face of the earth. He also had a famous feud/battle with Craig G of the Juice Crew, I vaguely remember this from a documentary and the line “Craig G you ain’t banging like you used to / You ain’t done shit since you was rollin’ with the Juice Crew.”

Supernatural went on stage and freestyled for a while, which was cool and fun to watch. He had the people at the front gate hold up whatever was in their pockets (change, a wallet, a pen, weed, whatever) and he’d incorporate that into his rhymes. It was really cool to watch, but the novelty wore off fairly quickly.

DJ Kool came on stage next. DJ Kool is noteworthy for his song “Let Me Clear My Throat” which you have undoubtedly heard, linked below. He performed this song, and I swear I’m not exaggerating, for at least a half-hour. Honestly, it may have been even longer. Click play on the video below, set it to repeat and listen to it at least 10 times in a row. It’s was like that one John Mulaney bit.

Ib between sets the crowd kind of just waited around. It’s important to remember that as nice as Canadians seem to be, Toronto is not a friendly city. When I lived in Toronto and was a little involved with rap stuff in the city, it was affectionately known as the “Screwface Capital.”

After another long while, DJ Scratch from EMPD came on stage and started setting up his gear. While setting up, some dickhead tossed a beer bottle at him, he packed up his shit and left, which was absolutely the right call. Erick Sermon and Parish from EPMD came out, sans their DJ, tapped at the crowd a bit about their behaviour, then performed a couple of songs with some local DJs that were able to scrounge up a few EMPD songs. The video below shows EPMD complaining about the crown, and complaining about having to perform with a lyrical version backing them as opposed to an instrumental.

They did a couple of songs then bailed. It was good of them to even do that much – there’s no excuse for tossing a beer bottle at anyone.

I remember we left pretty disappointed but did manage to get at least a partial refund on our tickets. My brother and I went to a much more organized Rock The Bells show a couple of years later in 2008, which was an absolutely fucking incredible show. Rakim, Nas, Method Man & Redman, Rakim… I believe it was A Tribe Called Quest’s final tour, and their encore of Can I Kick It? is seared into my brain as one of my favourite memories.

Below are some of the various references to this travesty of a concert that I’ve been able to find online. I’ve linked a few above, but I’ll keep everything here as well for posterity. I’ll update this with anything I ever happen to stumble across.

More notes and references:

  • I tweeted at Kardinal Offishal, Supernatural, DJ Kool, Erick Sermon, Parish and DJ Scratch asking if they remember this show. If they ever respond I’ll include it in here.
  • A blog post from December 6 2006 about how disappointing the show was. RTB was in Buffalo a few days before on December 2nd.
  • That blog post links off to a not-found thread on HipHopCanada about it, as well as an article on the since-removed Nah Right website called The Rock The Bells Fiasco. Both links error, FYI. The Wayback Machine didn’t pull anything up.
  • A single mention of “I have LOVED all the old hip hop shows that have come to Toronto, except for ”Rock The Bells” which luckily I didn’t go to!” in 2006 on some B-Girl Crew’s website.
  • Thread from a music forum from December 2006 detailing the shitshow with a great initial writeup. The username is Moss, is this MoSS of MoSS & Eternia? That’d be a cool connection. Did a search on this user but couldn’t dig anythng up.
    • “I couldn’t make it out, but I guess I was lucky. The majority of the emcee’s never made it into the country (Redman, Keith Murray, Smif N Wessun, Raekwon), and at $50 CDN a ticket (with no refund) it’s not a good look for concert promotion up here. I took this from a thread on hhc from a user (his words). I’m suprised EPMD kept performing;NOW TO THE CONCERT. Wack opening acts, DJ Cool was terrible, Supernatural was actually good and had the crowd buzzing and hype freestyling over “Go”, “The Food” & “I’m A Hustla”. TIME FOR EPMD RIGHT? So DJ Scratch is setting up while a local DJ (P-Plus) is spinning during intermission, after he’s done there’s basically no music nothing playing and some host just speaking. The crowd gets restless since for about 30 mins nothing is going on, booing is going on heavy AND THEN………..some people started throwing bottles @ DJ SCRATCH one of them landed on his Microwave & Mac and messed up his shit. He was soaked and his shit was fucked up, DJ Cool tried to calm the crowd down and Scratch even interrupted and was telling dudes to meet him at the side so he can show dudes “How NY does it” when dudes act up. Cats continue to boo and Scratch leaves the stage and this point MORE BOTTLES are thrown on stage at this point Kardinal Offishall comes out like 15 mins later and tells the crowd this is not how Toronto is and should rep properly. These dudes didn’t have to come out and still did even though 75% of the acts couldn’t get across the border he hypes up the crowd and EPMD comes out. At this point ERICK SERMON tells the crowd they should fuck up dudes that threw shit at their DJ but they will continue with the show and can’t let some idiots mess that up. So now DJ Scratch’s setup was all messed up so they go the 2 local DJ’s (P-Plus & Startin’ From Scratch) to get whatever EPMD instrumentals that they had on them which was about 4 tracks so EMPD did 4 tracks and at the end ERICK basically said again whoever did shit to his DJ to meet him and said PEACE.”
  • Thread from April 2009, so old it’s lost it’s CSS.
    • “EPMD @ Rock The Bells 2006 in Toronto. After like a 3 hour wait DJ Scratch comes out to start setting up and getting ready. All of the sudden I see a Heineken bottle flying through the air from some where up front and hitting Scratch, spilling all over him, the turntables & mixer etc.. He takes off his shirt throws it out in the crowd and asks whoever threw it to man up and come backstage. Of course no one confessed and everyone around must have been too pussy to point him out altho the dude kinda hosting the shit says I know who did it too so he must have been too pussy also as he wasn’t sayin who did it. Scratch said in all his years and all the places he has been he has never been disrespected like that. So he walks off says fuck that I’m not performing. Another while goes by and finally EPMD comes out on stage, no DJ Scratch, so one of the Toronto DJ’s scramble to find whutvea EPMD Instrumentals he had and they performed like 2 songs. EPMD made it very clear they don’t rap over vocal versions unlike the god Rakim so that was it. Never saw so many pissed off hiphop fans coming out of a show…”
  • Dates
  • Dates and info.
  • Reddit thread I started, asking if anyone remembered this show.