Last night, Montreal rapper Narcy rocked the stage at Queen St. Fare in downtown Ottawa. The Arab-Canadian rapper, once known for his in-your-face activist rap, treated the crowd to everything from class boom bap to Latin and Arab inspired sounds.

Opening for Narcy was local hip-hop artist Hevve, performing his first show of 2019 alongside drummer and sometimes hypeman Timal Garnier. Hevve opened his set with some of his slower tracks, including “Five” and “Victim of the City” before speeding it up with “Chance”, “Hit ‘Em Up” and his biggest song to date, “On It”. He closed with his new Black History Month anthem “Bird’s Eye View” which was a suitable segue into the conscious content of the main act.

While Hevve delivered a good performance, there were a few things working against him. First, the audio levels on his microphone and the backtrack were a bit low making it difficult to fully appreciate his performance. Second, his drummer was at times out of sync with the backtrack, which took away a little from the overall performance. Also, the crowd wasn’t very engaged. It was more of a bar atmosphere than a concert so the opening act was more there as ambient dinner music (full disclosure: Hevve is represented by SHIFTER Agency).

Then came the main draw, Narcy. If you weren’t exposed to his music before you might assume this would be a slightly gimmicky version of hip-hop geared towards an Arab crowd or perhaps cerebral and thought-provoking content worthy of his position as Concordia University professor. Well, that assumption would be wrong. Narcy proved right off the bat that he’s a real MC and a student (and professor) of hip-hop. He also provided a good balance between having fun and making us think, and showed why he’s a superb live performer.

The artist formerly known as “The Narcicyst” opened with the A Tribe Called Red, Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) collaboration “R.E.D.” setting the tone for the show before performing songs from his latest project SpaceTime, includingYemenade”, the Latin inspired “Animal”, and one of the crowd favourites, “I Know”.

Narcy is a throwback to the days when rappers felt equally comfortable on the stage or on the street corner in a cypher. He offered grimy flows that any hip-hop head would appreciate while peppering his performance with Arab infused sounds and shout outs to his people. He paired that with some of the best crowd engagement you’ll find on any stage. In the end no one felt left out.