Metro Metro fest breaks ground with Cardi B

A review of day one of the inaugural edition of the hip hop festival, which continues today.

As a 41-year-old, balding caucasian rap fan, I may well be among the reasons you don’t want your teens attending a Cardi B concert.

And I’m the last guy that thought I’d even be there, trust. I’ll go a step further: when Metro Metro — the newest arrival on Montreal’s vast summer festival map — was announced, I found it highly unlikely that pop culture phenomenon Cardi would be there, either.

It wasn’t gnarled cynicism or old-head hater-play that told me something about this festival (which also features modern-day rap big leaguers such as Future, Juice WRLD and Tyga on today’s day two line-up) didn’t add up. Adding to the head-scratch factor was the inclusion of legacy acts like Snoop Dogg, Ludacris and Sean Paul, alongside a who’s-who of the Quebec hip hop scene and a smattering of well-loved DJs such as Whoo Kid and Skratch Bastid.

My four decades have taught me that big-splash “urban” (fuck do I loathe that radio-programmer dinosaur of a word) festivals and big, multi-billing rap shows, in this city, anyways, are usually more miss than hit, and I have a solid collection of flyers and posters for jams that never happened to back it up, too. To be fair, nothing this big has really been experimented with successfully, unless you go back all the way back to 1998’s Smokin’ Grooves tour at Jarry Park. And that was a touring package, not a homegrown initiative.

I was wrong, and gladly so. Saturday’s inaugural edition of Metro Metro popped off like the bottles most of the players on board like to sing about, with no major scheduling setbacks except a minor glitch that saw Quebec hip hop stalwarts Alaclair Ensemble secede their set to favour a delayed appearance by Rich the Kid.

I missed the earlier part of the day’s festivities as I am an adult with responsibilities of my own, not the least of which include a 13-year-old daughter who I deeply wished could have accompanied me. But the event is reserved for the 16-and-up set, which makes sense given the, um, wide-eyed wonder in the pupils of many attendees.

The site and crowd was well warmed up, despite the unseasonal chill and overcast weather, when I arrived in time for Trap Lord A$AP Ferg’s well-oiled, party-positive early evening main stage set.

It should also be said that the site at l’Esplanade du Parc Olympique did not remotely feel like a day-one practising ground for a festival that didn’t exist before now. Accommodations, refreshments and the entire layout and security of the event were pro, top to bottom. It was nothing less than totally impressive.

I didn’t get too comfy there though, because being a senior citizen, my interests laid in catching as much as I could of Atlanta rap game legend Ludacris’s overlapping set on a smaller stage. The hundreds gathered for Luda’s chart hit dominated exposé of smokey debauch lost our minds all the way through bangers like “Stand Up,” “Move Bitch” and set-closer “Get Back.” Call me old (like I keep doing) but the seasoned mic wrecker easily took the title for my favourite set of the day.

I had a pretty hard time getting through a particularly rough bit of two-way, too-turnt-up traffic to get all the way back to the VIP stage area to see Snoop up close, so take the salt I throw down next with a grain of whatever shake is left at the bottom of your weed container today if you disagree. I’ve seen Snoop come way harder live but in recent years, and including yesterday, his set has been a little saggy.

Yeah, he’s got those crowd favourite hits, the most obvious common factor between the festival’s cross-generational headliner billings for the weekend, but aside from the welcome presence of longtime sidekick Warren G on DJ duties, the Snoop show is just a monument to weed rap, its star a stoney statue on stage that is difficult to reconcile with his social standing over two decades of relevance.

Not too many OGs are still standing and drawing new fans 25 years after making their first impact, so one wishes he would do more than just…stand, stoned.
The bald spot peeking through the back of the D-oh-double-G’s double-dreaded pony tail pullback may be more a sign of his age than his penchant for sage, but I think his festival circuit mojo is on its last lungful.

And the music was so low — so, so low — that I wonder if he doesn’t specify he’s too old for his own music on his backline rider. Which would be weird, because he occasionally stops to just fondly listen to recordings of his own music during his concert, too…wait, that actually kinda adds up.

Foundational Canadian hip hop DJ Skratch Bastid, who performed a late afternoon set Saturday and enjoyed working up the crowd with a true blue DJ’s knack for generation and genre blending on the ones and twos, sees things differently.

“I thought (the headlining) performance from Snoop Dogg was worthy of that stage and the masses who bought tickets — a very impressive turnout for a first year festival,” says the Halifax born Bastid.

But we agree on the day’s bar-none biggest draw, the current queen of this rap thing and the taste of a generation. If the male stars of the day spent much time inquiring as to where the ladies were at…and they did….oh God, did they ask where the ladies were at…so very often. Ludacris went as far as to generously offer up the four extra seats on his private jet to any females over 21, holding a passport and willing to visit Atlanta for the rest of the weekend…but I digress.

Rising talent Saweetie apparently set ‘em up
for the women earlier in the day, but the “Bodak Yellow” hit maker knocked them all the way the fuck down to close the day off with so much bounce that the ounces can’t be counted.

“I need some air!” shouted Cardi after three back-to-back bangers to set things off.

“Matter of fact there’s too much air!” she quipped. “It’s mothefuckin cold outside!
‘Scuse me, I’ve got asthma!” Two sips of water later her mic was once again under assault.

“Cardi B is hitting her stride as a verified star,” Bastid offered. “I was impressed with not only the string of hits she has amassed in such a short amount of time, but her performance: energetic, entertaining, and raw rap ability. She can put on a show.”

One fan, Rae Price, who came all the way from Fredricton, NB, to take it all in, said she was there for all the fun, but especially Cardi B, and left happy she had an eagerness to return today.

“It was great. The whole day was so great. I (was) so, so excited for Cardi, though!”

When the festival was announced, I was pretty surprised that even if they were gonna cement Cardi B’s first-ever Montreal appearance at their nascent festival, that Cardi B should probably have been in consideration for Osheaga’s then-unannounced line-up. Having seen the savage talent in action with my own eyes now, I’ll simply say this: when she’s ready, Osheaga, or the Bell Centre, surely awaits. I don’t know if she’s quite there. One thing is certain: her attitude in the flesh matches her cultural persona bang on, and it doesn’t seem like much of an act. At one point she asked the crowd what money is called in French. Later, after a pyrotechnic flash, she warned we were lucky she wasn’t burned or she’d sue us all and “take all the Canada money.”

The set, which began late and lasted a little less time than fans may have hoped, was brimming with attitude, but when the last strut was muscled and stomped, both Cardi B and the Metro Metro fest went out with a couple of first-place wins in pocket.

I wish the local landscape nothing but as many quality opportunities for hip hop’s draw to give every generation of fans a chance to get together, and the team behind Metro Metro done did it. Here’s hoping they do it again. Today will prove if they can make lightning strike twice in the same place. My bet is on them. They taught this old dog that new tricks are worth taking time to learn. ■

Metro Metro continues today at l’Esplanade du Parc Olympique with headliners Future, Juice WRLD, Tyga, Sean Paul, and many more. See the festival’s website for prices and ticket packages.