In just its second year as a festival in between a pandemic, Montreal rap festival Metro Metro scored a major hit when Drake showed up unexpectedly during Lil Baby’s headline set for an impromptu performance.
In year one, the festival also landed a big name in Cardi B, who was fresh from winning the Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards. So what does Metro Metro organizer Midway Group have planned for a follow-up this May 19-21? Last year’s headliner Lil Baby is back, along with Lil Wayne and Jack Harlow. Yeat, Coi Leray, Destroy Lonely, Nav, Metro Boomin, Murda Beatz, and more round out the lineup. There’s that, but also sometimes it’s about planning for the unexpected.
Drake’s appearance only came together in the final days leading up to the 2022 edition. Cardi nearly didn’t show after she pulled a “yesterday’s price is not today’s price.” Last year, after Young Thug was arrested weeks before his planned headlining set, the fest pivoted fast and brought 50 Cent to Montreal on a private jet.
Metro Metro organizers Olivier Primeau and Jonathan Marchitello, who also operate summer hotspot Beachclub and Latin music fest Fuego Fuego, are refreshingly candid about the chaos that inevitably swirls around a major festival. They know a rapper might get turned around at the border, so instead of dealing with it privately, they let the fans know that things may change at any time, but they’re constantly working the phones to ensure the party goes on.
This year, that includes Primeau having a business firebombed and shots fired at his home in the lead up to Metro Metro 2023. He conducted this interview with Complex Canada before the incidents, and he hasn’t spoken publicly since, only saying on Instagram that he’s taking “a step back and being less present publicly” until the situation is resolved.
On site, Metro Metro has revamped their Olympic Stadium site to deter fence jumpers—an issue last year—and give better sightlines.
Complex Canada met up with Metro Metro’s Primeau and Marchitello to talk about how Drake came together, 50 Cent’s jet, and competing with the big festivals.
What did you learn from the first two Metro Metros?
OP: The big question we’ve learned to deal with: Which artist is going to be there? That’s first. Last year, maybe two weeks before, we lost two of three headliners with Young Thug and Playboi Carti. It’s a lot of stress. You have to be sure they’re going to pass customs, which you never know.
People often thought you couldn’t have a rap festival in Canada because of the border? The first year you did it, pretty much everyone showed.
OP: In 2019, we were the first hip-hop festival of that size in Canada. Before Rolling Loud, and of course there’s OVO. We knew we were taking a risk, but I think we’ve done it right. In 2019 we started with Cardi B, just as she won the Grammy. Then last year was a super huge event for us with Drake showing up and 50 Cent instead of Young Thug. And I think we have a nice lineup this year.
We’re still a pretty new festival, and to have Drake approve, it’s like having the pope approve. He said something on stage like, ‘Canada deserves a festival like this.’
So how did that Drake moment happen?
JM: To be fully honest, our security team at our festivals and Beachclub are run by Eddie, who is with Drake’s security when he goes around with his entourage. He’s technically part of OVO as well, right? The story he told me recently is that Drake was at a hockey game in Toronto and they met up with some guys and they were talking about coming to Montreal for Metro Metro and how everyone was going. Drake said he’d think about it. Then he saw the lineup, saw Lil Baby was on and thought it would be cool to do something. We found out two days before, but when we found out, it was crunch time.
Then the sound engineer came in. Then the security did a tour of the site multiple times. We have to bring in a bunch of trailers to set it up but we literally found out two days before the festival. And he wasn’t supposed to perform.
Originally, he was coming to chill during the performances on stage with his crew because he was coming to Montreal for other events and parties that he had planned. We got the news the day of he decided to perform one or two songs. He ended up performing for 30 minutes. It was crazy.
OP: He showed up at the festival at maybe 7-8 pm, and time was passing. We figured he wasn’t going to perform in the end, but he came out of his trailer with headphones on and I couldn’t believe it. The people went crazy. It was. We’re still a pretty new festival, and to have Drake approve, it’s like having the pope approve. He said something on stage like, ‘Canada deserves a festival like this.’ I think he’s not a big Rolling Loud fan, I’m not sure he’s ever done it.
JM: I think it’s a bit of a timing thing, because one of his first shows ever was in Montreal. So he has a lot of love and respect for Montreal. So I think it was perfect timing. He took advantage of the opportunity to make the video for “Sticky.” The puzzle pieces came together.
OP: He came with all the entourage. He brought down the cars. He flew the Air Drake. He brought basketball players from Toronto. It was very impressive for sure. We’ve been in this business a long time and we’re not impressed by artists anymore, but Drake is still impressive.
How do you top it in 2023?
OP: We never know with hip-hop. You never know who’s going to come on stage, who’s not going to show. You never know.
JM: You look at Metro Boomin’s Coachella set, everybody showed up.
Last year’s 50 Cent appearance also came together pretty suddenly?
JM: It was when we found out that Young Thug wasn’t gonna make it. I think it was a week or two before. I mean, that’s when it’s time to get on the phone, call some agents that we’re close with and see who’s available, who’s in the area. 50 cent was an option but only if we got him a jet because he was going to Houston right after.
So you have a jet guy?
JM: Yeah, always. (laughs)
You guys were the only game in Canada at first, but now there’s Rolling Loud in Toronto. How do you feel about that?
JM: I think there’s a lot of room for everyone. Even just in Montreal, we have so many different festivals that cover all kinds of genres. Obviously, Rolling Loud is the biggest hip-hop festival in the world, and it’s great they’re coming to Canada since it shows the market is doing well.
OP: In a way we’re competition, but at the same time we’re not because if you’re going from Montreal to Toronto or Toronto to Montreal to attend a festival, the flight and hotel is a big expense.
But (Cardi B) came, it put Metro Metro on the map, and it was amazing.
How do you feel the local scene has changed since 2019 when you started Metro Metro?
OP: The local hip-hop thing, it’s not easy. I think the big wave of rap keb is maybe not over, but they’re not selling like they did in 2019. We decided to put Loud on before 50 Cent and it wasn’t great. The performance was excellent, but the crowd wasn’t into it at all. It wasn’t what they were expecting. I think the biggest challenge for local acts is people from outside Quebec don’t know who Loud is, and we have people coming from Toronto. It’s a challenge for us where to put these guys, because they’re big in french.
Metro Metro was an early headlining gig for Cardi B. I even remember it being on social media when she got paid.
OP: The biggest thing with Cardi B was we had a deal with her before that, and then she blew up. And the offer was not that high, so she wanted to cancel the show if we didn’t pay her more money. They told me 24 hours before that she was finally going to come, and I didn’t think it was happening anymore. But she came, it put Metro Metro on the map, and it was amazing.
I feel like festivals aren’t always so forthcoming about these behind the scenes details.
OP: I think we don’t really care and we’re known to show everything. At Beachclub, we’ve had people cancel the day before, and we’ve said it, that the guy called from Vegas and it’s out of our control. People love to see the behind-the-scenes, and we have nothing to hide. In 2019, I spoke with Cardi B backstage for five minutes, and she was so funny and happy. It was one of her first festivals ever, and she was already a big star at the moment.
I guess that’s something you can do as an independent festival.
OP: If you take a big boy with a thousand festivals, they don’t have time to tell their story, and I think that’s why people connect with our work.
Festivals also don’t talk about the border so publicly, but it’s a huge factor for Canadian festivals booking American rappers.
OP: We can do nothing, it’s out of our control. The day before and the day of the festival when those guys are flying in, we’re just holding our breath.
JM: So you never know. At the end of the day, you never know what could happen at the border.
OP: And it’s not just us. Live Nation has the same problem we do. But it’s part of the game.