“We all live in this city and I feel like something different is happening this year and it’s something to be proud of,” says KJ, a rapper from Mississauga, Ontario, right before he exits the stage drenched in sweat from a killer performance.

KJ is one of three emerging artists from the Greater Toronto Area performing in Red Bull’s Sound Select music event at Tattoo Nightclub, an event curated by Manifesto and featuring the headliner and recent Top Dawg Entertainment signee SZA. Also hitting the stage are Shi Wisdom and A l l i e.

Sound Select is a bridging program Red Bull started in two countries so far, Canada being the third. Manifesto was asked by Red Bull to be one of the Toronto curators because it is known for being supporters of local talent.

“We internally sat down and put together a list of artists who we felt are on the brink,” says Jesse Ohtake, programming director and member of the executive team at Manifesto. “It was natural to select artists we had been keeping our eye on.”

KJ opens up the show, which is packed with supporters, with some hard-knock sounds and electric, water flow like beats that are a perfect pairing with his knowledge-heavy lyrics.

To bring a little neo soul into the mix, Toronto singer a l l i e gets the audience feeling like it is on a psychedelic love trip with performances of all the songs off her new EP Strange Creature.

A l l i e, who pushed back a trip to L.A to take the gig once she heard SZA was headlining, shares her feelings about being chosen to play: “I feel so honored and blessed. It’s an amazing opportunity and I had the pleasure of watching [SZA’s] sound check; she sounded beautiful and she was just a lovely person, really sweet and easy to talk to.”

As the anticipation builds for the headliner, Shi Wisdom hits the stage and lights things up, literally. Sparking a lighter she burns sage as she performs her new bass-bumping single “Young Gunner”, which gets the crowd so amped that people bang on the stage, stomp and clap with approval, demanding she plays it twice. By now the audience is fully charged and ready for SZA.

In her black and white Chucks and oversized T-shirt that she says doubles as her pajamas, SZA jumps right into her set with her whimsical hit track “Country”. Between performing other bangers like “Ice Moon”, “Babylon” and “Bed”, the free spirited singer gets comfortable and pours herself a shot of Jack Daniels and offers up some for any takers in the crowd. Call it northern hospitality. The crowd is in an uproar as she exits the stage.

As genuine off stage as she is on, SZA welcomes fans to join her for an intimate meet and greet. With lots of positive things to say about her first visit to Toronto she shares how the city and its eclectic sounds and culture remind her of her hometown, New Jersey. She also mentions Shi as being a standout performance that night.

Words By. Emma Kombora + Photos By. Candace Nyaomi