Venue: Jazz Cafe, London Date: 22 September 2014
There are some artists who represent more than just good music. They represent a moment in time, an era, a period in history never to be repeated. South London’s Blak Twang is one such artist.
In the early-to-mid-90s, UK Hip-Hop was approaching a creative standstill. Many of the groups and artists who had paved the way for the British rap scene in the 1980s were either breaking-up, falling away from music due to the responsibilities of adulthood, or they were caught in the red-tape of bad record deals. Some were also becoming disillusioned with Hip-Hop and had moved over to the then burgeoning jungle / drum & bass scenes. Labels such as Music Of Life and Kold Sweat were closing their doors.
Although there were still glimmers of sonic hope being released, overall, it felt as though the momentum gained by the likes of London Posse, Hijack, Gunshot and Caveman was slowly-but-surely being lost.
So, when artists such as Blak Twang, Roots Manuva, Mark B and Lewis Parker began to emerge during the mid-90s, it signified that a fresh wave of UK talent was on the horizon. A new generation of emcees, deejays and producers who were students of the homegrown pioneers that had come before them, with enough originality and determination to put their own mark on British Hip-Hop and help push the music forward.
With boisterous tracks such as 1995’s “Queens Head” and “Mr. Jam Promotah”, a young Tony Rotten, then known as Taipanic, demanded that people paid attention to his self-assured brand of beats and rhymes. This, in-turn, led to there being a high amount of anticipation for what should have been the 1996 release of Twang’s debut album “Dettwork SouthEast”.
The reasons for “Dettwork SouthEast” not properly seeing the light of day back in the 90s have been well-documented, but suffice to say, the album became a bootlegged cult classic which has only grown in notoriety as Tony Rotten’s career has gone from strength-to-strength over the years.
So, with all that being said, it quickly became apparent that the “Dettwork SouthEast” launch party this week at London’s Jazz Cafe wasn’t just an opportunity to promote the album’s long-awaited official release. The event also gave Mr. Rottenous the chance to celebrate his well-deserved longevity, as well as remember the part he played in one of the most influential periods in UK Hip-Hop history.
With the ever-impressive DJ Sarah Love having set the tone for the night with a barrage of throwback classics, Twang took to the stage accompanied by the sound of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Big Ted behind the decks.
Standing silently briefly to take in the crowd’s enthusiastic cheers, the London lyricist then launched into what was a seamless performance that included moments of both humour and poignant reflection, bound together by Twang’s sincere gratitude towards his fans and a genuine passion for his craft.
Poking fun at the 90s references in some of his old verses (such as a line name-checking Pamela Anderson), telling stories of growing-up in South London and pointing out old friends in the crowd, Blak Twang powered through tracks from “Dettwork SouthEast” such as the punchy, Horace Brown-sampling “Fearless”, the defiant “Don’t Let Dem Fool You” and the rugged, drum-heavy anthem “B.S. Survivor”.
An impromptu appearance from the always-lively Seanie T raised the energy levels even further, with the pair bouncing off each other as if they were rocking at an open mic night two decades earlier.
Pausing at one point to give props to his absent brother-in-rhyme Roots Manuva for his success, Twang then roared through the previously-mentioned “Queens Head”, which the pair recorded together way back when. Midway through the track, Big Ted flawlessly mixed in the instrumental to Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Ni**a”, with Tony Rotten’s vintage rhymes sounding completely at home over the recent club smash.
Other highlights included rousing performances of both the classic single “Real Estate” and the album’s rowdy title track, which then led into the up-to-date remix “Dettwork London Revisited”, with producer Harry Love taking the mic to voice his respect for Blak Twang’s artistic legacy before featured artist Jehst plus Reveal jumped onstage to each deliver blistering verses.
By the time Twang reached the show’s finale, inviting supporters onstage as he performed his signature sing-a-long favourite “So Rotten”, it was clear that, almost twenty years after his debut, the artist formerly known as Taipanic still has what it takes to rock the postcodes of London and beyond.
“Dettwork SouthEast” is out now on Sony Music.
Footage of Blak Twang performing “Real Estate” at London’s Jazz Cafe.