Published Aug 08, 2019Because he's muscular, bald, shirtless, elaborately tattooed and forever smiling — and because most of what he touches makes a crapload of money, art critics be damned — it strikes you that Flo Rida (pictured) has become to hip-hop what the Rock (another Florida resident) is to wrestling: a giant, happy crossover success who threw himself full force into the mainstream and never looked back, because the average person will gladly fork over entertainment dollars for what feels light and fun.
"Thank you, Toronto, for helping me sell 100 million records!" screams Flo Rida at one point during his hour-long opening set of a triple-headliner tour in celebration of multi-platinum '90s and early '00s nostalgia.
Flo Rida says this after being carried on the shoulders of his security guard offstage, through the throng and up two long flights of stairs(!) to the amphitheatre's 400 level, rapping all the way.
He says this before grabbing a cap off a fan's head and slapping it on his own, before snatching smartphones out of concertgoer's hands and snapping selfies with them because he's got the longer arm.
And as he says this, beads of sweat gleam from his caramel pecs and diamonds sparkle in the Lake Ontario twilight from his ears, neck, wrist and waist belt. Those lightweight hooks you all learned all the words to — whether you intended to or not — have made Flo Rida's bank account heavy.
As the youngest act on a nostalgia tour, the 39-year-old in tattered jorts and Creamsicle sunglasses couldn't be more hyped to play the hits. To cannonball into the corny. Summertime funtime.
He yanks out an old LL Cool J gimmick and kisses each of a dozen roses before tossing them to the lovely ladies on the floor seats. He sprays the dancing 30- and 40-somethings in attendance with champagne while wearing a personalized Raptors jersey, and downs a shot of Patron in honour of your city's champions.
He brings out Pleasure P (of Pretty Ricky fame) as a surprise guest, and he invites a cadre of women onstage to perform the rump-shaking "Get Low." Flo Rida carefully selects the biggest booty to give a smack, and it is received with glee.
While Atlanta R&B institution TLC and St. Louis pop rapper Nelly follow with their own well-rehearsed greatest-hits packages, neither can quite match the charisma or spontaneity of Flo Rida.
But their goal is the same: Evoke freer days with inescapable radio romps from the past. Douse some throwback positivity on the turbulent United States during a 21-date summer amphitheatre romp (Toronto marks the only Canadian stop).
Backed by a drummer, keyboardist, bassist and four spry backup dancers, T-Boz (49), and Chilli (48), deliver the best of the TLC canon, reminding the crowd that CrazySexyCool is celebrating its 25th anniversary and FanMail its 20th.
With Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes long gone (RIP), the huskier-voiced T-Boz, who has dealt with a slew of health issues since the group's heyday, carries the show, peaking with "Unpretty" — the self-love anthem, she notes, is all the more potent in today's do-it-for-the-Gram age. Although the vocals seem purposely mixed low, the familiar smoothed-out hip-hop beats and dance breaks push the set along. The climax of "Creep," "No Scrubs" and "Waterfalls" — complete with a Left Eye video montage — ends the performance on the right note
Enter Nelly. The 44-year-old St. Louis slugger, batting clean-up, arrives in bleach-white jeans, sneakers and a two-ply "bulletproof" vest spray-painted colourfully with the word Derrty. His ice grill sparkles in the same spotlight his omnipresent sunglasses shade him from. (Sadly, no Band-Aid.)
Supported by only a DJ and hypeman Ali (of St. Lunatics fame), Nelly knows to come swinging with the jams: "E.I.," "Batter Up," "Air Force Ones," "Country Grammar."
Breezy party jams like "Ride Wit Me" win easily. More recent singles, like the frisky "The Fix" — which samples Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" without irony — stumble. Nelly's brief foray into new, unreleased material causes some fans to sit down and a few to beat traffic. (He does proudly reveal that half of his forthcoming LP, All Work No Play, will be executive produced by Drake.)
But the night is saved by an unannounced cameo from one-hit wonder J-Kwon. The fellow St. Louisan's "Tipsy" cranks up the energy level back up long enough for Nelly to reach "Hot in Herre."
One last unforgettable smash hanging on in a night full of them.