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Sin City with snow: secrets of Toronto’s VIP club scene

When hip-hop and NBA stars want a good time, they call party queen Mona Halem. Inside a decadent world of $700 champagne, secret guest lists and hordes of beautiful women

Toronto's Party Queen

Mona Halem at Uniun nightclub in March

On a Monday night last August, half the hip-hop world showed up unannounced in Toronto: Lil Wayne, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Big Sean, French Montana, Mase, TLC. All had agreed to perform as surprise guests at Drake’s annual concert, OVO Fest, which, like all things Drake, has become wildly successful. The ability to produce a roster of acts that reads like a fantasy Grammy lineup speaks to Drake’s clout, but the secrecy involved presented a practical problem: with no advance notice, nobody had organized an after-party. For this group of career ballers, it was a rare case of all blinged out and nowhere to go. Even Drizzy, who lives in Toronto for at least part of the year, was at a loss. Then someone suggested the obvious: call Mona.

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Drake, Deadmau5, Bieber and others make the 2014 Juno nomination list

(Image: CARAS/iPhoto)

(Image: CARAS/iPhoto)

Drake arguably doesn’t need Juno Awards, what with his wealth and his mega-fame—and that’s a good thing, because he seldom wins them. Nevertheless, he’s on the just-released 2014 nomination list several times over, and so are a bunch of other Toronto artists.

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Drake gets shut out at the 2014 Grammy Awards

(Image: Drake/Instagram)

(Image: Drake/Instagram)

Despite being nominated in five different categories—Album of the Year, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Album, and twice for Best Rap Song—hometown hero and occasional sketch comedian Drake didn’t win a single trophy at last night’s Grammy Awards ceremony. The rapper’s scourge was Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who dominated the hip-hop categories. Album of the Year went to Daft Punk for Random Access Memories.

And so Drake’s 2013 Best Rap Album Grammy remains all by itself on his mantel. Canadians can take some solace in the fact that Michael Bublé won Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album—again. Oh, and Blue Ivy got a new gold sippy cup for some reason.

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The five best moments from Drake’s surprisingly hilarious stint on Saturday Night Live

drake-bar-mitzvah-saturday-night-live

Drake’s appearance on the January 18th edition of Saturday Night Live was pretty great. The rapper proved that he has comic timing, he demonstrated a willingness to make fun of himself, and he even managed to get in a couple of solid musical numbers between bits. Because Toronto loves him, here’s a rundown of the five best moments from the show.

1. His bar-mitzvah rap

“Jewish rapper becomes a star” sounds like the synopsis of a terrible Mel Brooks movie, but here we are. Drake’s opening monologue included a sketch with him as a bar-mitzvah boy, dressed appropriately in an ill-fitting vest and bow tie. (You can watch the sketch here.) Almost nobody else in hip hop could get away with this much self-parody, and the nod to Drake’s heritage was genuinely heartwarming. Smart, unathletic Jewish kids have never had a role model like this before.

Anyone hoping for Drake to double down on the self-deprecation with a wheelchair-Jimmy parody would have been disappointed, though: aside from a couple brief mentions, his days on Degrassi: The Next Generation weren’t much of a factor in the night’s sketches.

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VIDEO: Ahead of his appearance on Saturday Night Live, Drake is “the saddest boy in all of Toronto”

What is it about Drake? His touch turns shoes into eBay gold, and he manages to exude pure, industrial-grade likability even when he’s pretending to be self-pitying. Proof of the latter is in this promo video, released today by NBC ahead of the rapper’s appearance on the January 18 edition of Saturday Night Live, where he’ll be both the host and the musical guest. The key moment comes about one minute in, when Bobby Moynihan (known in Canada for this bit of Fordery) asks Drake to show off the acting chops he famously honed during his years on Degrassi: The Next Generation. ”No, you broke my heart,” Drake says, in a choked-sounding voice. “And now I’m reduced to the saddest boy in all of Toron— You know what? Not even Toronto. I am the saddest boy in all of Canada.” So there you have it: he can play against type.

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Toronto FC’s commercial for Jermain Defoe is strangely hilarious

Toronto FC’s recent acquisition of U.K. soccer star Jermain Defoe (for which we apparently have Drake to thank) may not help the team break its lifelong losing streak, but it has already had two very noticeable effects: season tickets are virtually sold out, and then there’s also this fairly entertaining commercial, shot for the team by ad agency Sid Lee. It has British people doing spit-takes—so, something for everyone, really. In reality, U.K. fans probably aren’t quite so shocked by Defoe’s decampment, especially given the $10 million incentive (which is reportedly how much his contract is worth), and considering his age. To paraphrase Brad Pitt in Moneyball, the plan appears to be for Toronto FC to squeeze the last bits of soccer out of Defoe before the 31-year-old is ready to hang up his cleats.

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UPDATED: Drake’s limited-edition Nike sneakers are going for $100,000 on eBay

(Image: Ebay)

(Image: eBay)

Apparently, anything Drake touches turns to gold—or at least salable merchandise. At Saturday’s “Drake Night” Raptors game at the ACC, the city’s ruling rap star (and Raptors “global ambassador”) bestowed gifts upon the assembled masses: 20,000 long-sleeved tees for the crowd and, for two extremely lucky plebes, a pair of as-yet-unreleased OVO Air Jordan kicks, designed by Drake in collaboration with Nike.

As previously reported, the free shirts are currently being hocked on Craigslist for up to $300. Now a pair of shoes is also up for grabs—for a cool hundred Gs. The Toronto Star reports that the sneakers were posted to eBay with a suggested starting bid of $300, which quickly snowballed to preposterous levels over the course of a few days and 153 subsequent bids. (With four days left on the auction, there’s still plenty of time for the price tag to climb even higher.) The lesson from all this, obviously, is clear: if you’re looking for a foolproof retirement plan, just get Drake to touch all your stuff.

UPDATE: It appears that Drake’s golden touch isn’t quite as powerful as it seemed. Canadian music site Aux followed up with Devon Little, one of the two Torontonians who placed the coveted sneakers on eBay and quickly drew six-digit bids. Little claimed that despite all the hoopla the shoes attracted (including interview requests from CTV and the Toronto Star and a personal telephone call from the head honcho at eBay Canada), the sky-high bids for the shoes were just a hoax.

“We started cancelling bids because obviously people were just trolling and wanted to be a part of this thing,” Little told Aux. He got in touch with the woman who won the second pair of shoes and found that her high bidders had also failed to follow through. “It was all hype,” Little said. “The market was never real.” The public’s rabid interest in the story, on the other hand, was legitand so alarming that it prompted Little to move the shoes to a safe box out of town. “I didn’t feel comfortable with the shoes in my house,” he said.

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Drake flaunts a Raptor-themed novelty jacket at Saturday’s game (and accidentally fuels a black market for free shirts)

(Images: Dave Haggith/Twitter, left; Craigslist, right)

(Images: Dave Haggith/Twitter, left; Craigslist, right)

Toronto b-ball fans and Drake devotees spent the weekend gossiping about the hip-hopper’s latest sartorial statement: a Raptors-themed suit jacket that he modeled for the media after the Toronto team’s “Drake Night” game at the ACC on Saturday. The light-brown suit topper looked ordinary enough to the unsuspecting eye. The flair was on the inside, in the form of a lining fashioned out of former Raptor Vince Carter’s rookie jersey.

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Year in Review: Toronto’s 10 big winners of 2013

Who had a good year in 2013?

Plenty of Toronto’s celebrities, politicians, business leaders and sports stars are doing very well for themselves, but each year there are a few who rise above the rest by capturing imaginations both at home and around the world. Who managed to do that in 2013? Here’s our list of 10 Torontonians—seven humans and three animals—who seized everything the year had to offer.

RELATED: Check out our list of 2013′s losers »

Who had a good year in 2013?
Tatiana Maslany: Starlet

If there’s one thing Canadians are good at, it’s being smug when one of our actors gets international acclaim. So let’s be smug right now. Saskatchewan’s Tatiana Maslany blew people’s minds with her acting chops on BBC America’s Orphan Black, a sci-fi television series that’s filmed in Toronto. In the show, she plays seven different clones with wildly different personalities. Maslany received some well-deserved recognition this year, with a Critics’ Choice Television Award, a People’s Choice nomination and a Golden Globe nomination, among other distinctions.

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VIDEO: Kanye West and Drake’s impromptu party performance on Bathurst Street

kanye-west-drake-hoxton

Kanye West‘s Yeezus tour was in town on Sunday, and while the concert itself was relatively normal (in that Kanye, as is his wont, devoted a bit of time to stream-of-consciousness ranting), the real news came afterwards, during an after-party at The Hoxton on Bathurst Street. There, Kanye encountered Drake (whom he has called a “rap god”), and the two of them sang, danced and quite literally swung from the rafters in front of an understandably excited crowd. A video of the party, from Instragram user thatdudemcfly, is below. [New York Magazine]

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U.K. soccer star Jermain Defoe is joining Toronto FC because Drake told him to

Drake at BMO Field, in TFC duds. (Image: Drake's Instagram.)

Drake at BMO Field, in TFC duds. (Image: Drake’s Instagram.)

Here’s something to add to Drake‘s growing list of accomplishments, along with international stardom and mastery of footwear design: he’s developing a knack for persuasion. How else to explain the fact that a phone call from him was, according to the U.K.’s Daily Mirror, a decisive factor in the success of Toronto FC’s campaign to woo British soccer player Jermain Defoe to our city’s faltering squad?

Defoe, who at 31 is already nearing retirement age in the U.K., will reportedly receive more than $150,000 a week, plus two houses and unlimited airfare for himself and his family, after he makes his expected move to Hogtown. Toronto FC officials have yet to confirm the long-rumoured arrangement, but the Globe reports that insiders consider the deal to be virtually done. The Tottenham Hotspur player will be joining a team renowned for its losing record—but we guess a phone call from Drake is all it takes to soothe the ego of an aging professional athlete. Suddenly the rapper’s “global ambassador” gig with the Toronto Raptors doesn’t seem like such a weird concept.

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PHOTO: Drake is designing shoes for Nike, and Instagramming about it

(Image: Drake/Instagram)

(Image: Drake/Instagram)

The Toronto-born hiphopper went online this week to flaunt the results of his “labour” as Nike’s brand-new celeb designer. The gig belonged to Kanye West until he jumped ship to Adidas over a royalty dispute. The reason for the split, in Yeezus’s words: “I have to provide for my family.” Riiiight.

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PHOTO: Drake’s Toronto-centric birthday cake

(Image: Drake/Instagram)

(Image: Drake/Instagram)

The hip hop star celebrated his 27th birthday with a confectionery ode to Toronto. Naturally, the cake highlights the CN Tower, along with all the other stuff that makes this city great: Shoppers Drug Mart, Starbucks, a billboard next to the Gardiner Expressway, and a Kennedy Road hookah bar with crappy Yelp reviews. Represent!

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Drake and Rob Ford team up to try to make the Raptors cool again

(Image: @TOMayorFord)

Today in weird match-ups: at a Toronto Raptors press conference this morning, Drake and Rob Ford together announced that the team will host the 2016 All-Star Game. Drake—who, along with being Toronto’s biggest booster, is an avid Raptors fan—was also named the Raptors’ new “global ambassador,” an as-yet-undefined position that could encompass anything from wearing more team gear to persuading his NBA buddies to sign with Toronto (Ford did not receive a similar basketball ambassadorship). Drake will also have a say on the Raptors’ new colours, which are changing from the current white-and-red scheme for the 2015–16 season. The franchise is hoping the All-Star Game, Drake’s golden touch and a new look will give a much-needed boost to its cool factor. We humbly submit that they might want to add one more to-do to that list: win some games. [Toronto Star]

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Toronto according to Drake: in which we assess the hip-hop star’s hometown obsession

Toronto according to Drake

Drake likes Toronto. A lot. He raps about it. Talks about it. Etches its landmarks into his flesh. That’s mostly a good thing: it means hip-hop fans from Texas to Tokyo know where Forest Hill is or that Sotto Sotto dishes up a decent pasta. But if Drake is our chief cultural ambassador, we think he should be a tad more discerning about which people, places and things he trumpets to the world.

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