Hip-hop and North By Northeast (NXNE) have not always gone hand in hand.

In 2012, a hip-hop showcase held during the festival was shut down by Toronto police allegedly because of suspision of gang affiliation, despite many of the artists on the bill being local emcees supported by the music community and funded by government grants. While this year a hip-hop show was also cancelled at Supermarket by the venue owner who refused to house the genre. It’s 2014 and hip-hop sets are still being halted over ignorance of the culture.

Usually, the case with many Canadian music festivals is the overwhelming presence of other genres dictate the music component and fill up the schedule, but this year, more than ever, hip-hop made the largest noise yet. Used to the judgement and overwhelming unfavour by those in and out of the music industry, hip-hop pushed through. Especially on the Yonge-Dundas Square main stage during the last day of the festival when thousands upon thousands of music heads and festivalgoers filled the streets to take in rap acts such as Flex The Antihero, Ratking, Run The Jewels and King Trippy himself, Juicy J.

After nine previous days of big concerts, smaller showcases, open bars, panels, networking events, mixers and everything in between, the 20th annual NXNE closed off with a zip and a double cup. And everyone was high, exactly like the infamous lyrics state, even if it was just off of adrenaline alone. With a few blocks of Yonge Street closed off, the party got started as rap dominated the legendary square.

Canada’s own Flex the Antihero performed while the sun was hot, bringing out his Smashmouth Music Group family while performing tracks such as “Violet”, “War” and “F*ck It Yo” on the mainstage with impeccable technique and skill. With a punk-infused character and vulnerable ambiance to his music and stage performance, Flex brought something new to the stage, an authenticly honest performance that earned him acknowledgement for his relatability and humanness.

New York rap group Ratking, an anticipated act, was the only let down at the square. Known for a reckless spirit and oh-so-cool mentality, the group’s set was boring. There was no turn up and the audience members seemed to stand tapping their feet as they sipped their beer out of their McDonald’s dollar drink cups.

Run The Jewels brought the energy instantanously as Killer Mike and El-P hit the stage to perform their 2013-released self-titled collaborative project that earned them great reviews across the board. Their performance also gained great reviews, but there really isn’t anything less to expect from the greatness that is Killer Mike in person.

By the time the sun set, it seemed like the whole city had come out to get Sunday-night trippy as the legendary Juicy J took the headlining spot. From his recent verse on Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” to “Who Da Neighbours” to “Show Out” to “Bandz A Make Her Dance” on top of Three 6 Mafia tracks like “Stay Fly” and “Poppin’ My Collar”, the infamously ratchet performer gave a performance worth taking seriously. For once, there wasn’t a stage full of half-naked females twerking. It was about the music.

The set ended as Juicy J took off his Jordans, signed them and tossed them into the crowd where fans fought for them in what looked like a mosh pit from the big screen.

Juicy J walked off stage shoeless and everyone else dispursed, after a 10-day festival to remember, all thanks to hip-hop.

Words By. Samantha O’Connor + Photos By. Candace Nyaomi