Tag Archives: Jazz Cafe

Live Review – Pharoahe Monch

pharoage monch flyers

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 16 March 2015

There are some things in the world of Hip-Hop that are as good as guaranteed. Wu-Tang will always be for the children, DJ Premier will always be the king of the scratched hook, and Pharoahe Monch will always deliver a memorable show.

Regardless of how many times you may have witnessed the gifted Queens, NY emcee rock a stage, you never leave feeling like you’ve simply watched an artist going through the motions, or that Monch hasn’t given a performance his all.

Pharoahe’s latest sold-out gig at London’s Jazz Cafe was no different.

Backed by turntable titan DJ Boogie Blind and talented UK band Ezra Collective, with Kamron of Young Black Teenagers fame acting as an engaging hype-man, Monch expertly navigated the mixed crowd of older heads and younger fans through sixty-plus minutes of intricate verbal gymnastics, pounding beats and brilliant showmanship.

Arriving onstage with minimal fanfare, the Organized Konfusion lyricist spent a few moments silently pacing back-and-forth like a boxer on fight night, focussing on the task at hand before launching into an urgent blast of the Black Thought-assisted “Rapid Eye Movement” from his recent “PTSD” album.

Closely followed by spirited performances of the synth-heavy”Agent Orange” and police protest song “Clap (One Day)”, Monch took the opportunity to comment on the recent Stateside events in Ferguson, encouraging everyone in the packed venue to clap their hands as he passionately rhymed acapella, resulting in a poignant moment of interaction between artist and audience.

Whilst the sweating emcee exited the stage for a short break, it was left to Boogie Blind to entertain the crowd, with the X-ecutioners representative dropping a quick-fire routine which found LL Cool J’s timeless “Rock The Bells” being skillfully deconstructed and reconstructed at breath-taking speed, once again proving that turntablism is something that really needs to be seen as well as heard in order to be fully appreciated.

As the lights were turned down low and a single chair placed centre-stage, Pharoahe made his return to dramatically deliver two of the darkest tracks from “PTSD”, the moody “Time2” and sombre “Broken Again”.

Sitting down, head in his hands, Monch communicated the raw emotion of each track’s subject matter via his body language and facial expressions as much as he did through the actual lyrics, at one point using a toy gun to simulate his own death.

After a brief display of skin-tight musicianship from the members of Ezra Collective, Monch lifted the mood, encouraging the crowd to sing the hook of his Rawkus-era single “My Life”, which then led into the intense gospel-feel of the Alchemist-produced “Desire” and the radio-favourite “Oh No”, with Pharoahe pausing to pay a sincere tribute to the late Nate Dogg.

Taking a moment to give Kendrick Lamar props for his latest album, the boundary-pushing wordsmith encouraged the crowd to respect the craft of lyricism and help “preserve the culture”, as right-hand man Kamron stood to the side nodding intently.

With the horn section who had arrived onstage moments before then replaying the opening Godzilla sample of Monch’s signature late-90s banger “Simon Says”, the audience was immediately turned into a rowdy mass of jumping bodies, as the grinning emcee gleefully delivered the track’s infamous instructional hook.

Returning for a brief encore which included the Organized Konfusion classic “Bring It On”, the veteran microphone fiend graciously thanked the crowd for their continued support, leaving the stage to the sound of Keni Burke’s 80s quiet storm anthem “Risin’ To The Top”.

In a rap world which finds here-today-gone-tomorrow acts consistently receiving undeserved accolades and attention, Pharoahe Monch continues to stand as a shining example of genuine talent, creativity and artistic authenticity.

Organized Konfusion’s 1994 single “Stress” found Monch posing the question, “Why must you believe that something is fat just because it’s played on the radio twenty times per day?”

Over two decades later, Pharoahe is still providing a worthwhile alternative to the redundant and shallow product which is repeatedly being pushed and promoted by the mainstream music industry.

Thankfully, if the capacity crowd at this particular show was anything to go by, there are still plenty of people out there who’re willing to listen.

Ryan Proctor

Footage of Pharoahe Monch performing “Broken Again” and “The Jungle” at London’s Jazz Cafe.

 

Live Review – Blak Twang

blak twang pic

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.

Ryan Proctor

Footage of Blak Twang performing “Real Estate” at London’s Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – Big Daddy Kane

big daddy kane pic

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 24 April 2013

As one of my top five emcees of all-time, any opportunity to see Juice Crew legend Big Daddy Kane rip the stage is definitely something not to be missed. Having witnessed the Prince Of Darkness live on numerous occassions over the years, it’s safe to say the Brooklyn-bred emcee easily ranks alongside the likes of KRS-One and The Roots as one of Hip-Hop greatest live acts. With a catalogue of classics to choose from combined with a commanding stage presence, Kane never fails to come across as a seasoned, polished performer, with that old-school BK bravado shining through just enough to remind audiences that he was once one of the most feared lyricists in the rap world.

Even if, like myself, you’ve seen Kane live before, his appearance at London’s Jazz Cafe put a new spin on things, with the venue’s intimate setting providing an interesting alternative to the much larger locations BDK has previously been booked at in the UK’s capital city.

Following a quality opening set from Crown City Rockers emcee Raashan Ahmad, King Asiatic Nobody’s Equal calmly descended the Jazz Cafe stairs to the sound of thunderous cheers, his simple outfit of shirt, waistcoat and jeans a million miles away from the custom sweat-suits and gold-chains Kane would have been picking up from Brooklyn’s famous Albee Square Mall back in the 80s.

Opening the show with a back-to-back medley of upbeat classics, the Big Daddy tore through the “Juice” soundtrack favourite “Nuff Respect”, the 1988 party-starter “Set It Off” and the Prince Paul-produced single “It’s Hard Being The Kane”, delivering his fast-paced rhymes with a level of force and aggression that easily matched his verses on the original recordings.

Pausing briefly to catch his breath, the golden-era great then proceeded to run through a near non-stop barrage of timeless tracks, including “Young, Gifted And Black”, “Just Rhymin’ With Biz”, his verse from the mighty posse cut “The Symphony” and the mellow anthem “Smooth Operator”.

Injecting some humour into the performance, when a female audience member called out inbetween songs “Where’s Scoob & Scrap?!” Kane responded without missing a beat, shooting back “I’m 44-years-old! I don’t how much dancing you’re expecting to see…”

Breaking momentarily from his back catalogue, Kane showcased a track from his new album as part of live band Las Supper, making the wise choice not to force too much unfamiliar material on the audience, but ensuring he did just enough to raise awareness of the new project without detracting from the night’s lively throwback atmosphere.

Leading the crowd in an enthusiastic call-and-response routine, Biz Markie’s former running partner also took time out to pay homage to a number of Hip-Hop’s fallen soldiers, including Heavy D, Guru and Biggie, ending the segment with a shout to Big L which then led into Kane performing the track he recorded with the Harlem icon, “Platinum Plus”.

With “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'” and “Warm It Up, Kane” filling in the blanks for anyone who was counting the inclusion of staple Kane cuts, all that was left for BDK to do was drop the track some ageing heads had been calling for all night, closing the show with the Marley Marl-produced “Raw”, which still stands-up as a near perfect display of whirlwind lyricism twenty-five years after its release.

Big Daddy Kane’s stageshow has barely changed in the last ten years, but it really doesn’t need to. Like the R&B greats he once openly admired such as Barry White and Marvin Gaye, Kane has reached a point where the music heard on early albums such as “Long Live The Kane” and “It’s A Big Daddy Thing” has not only aged well, but now represents a period of time for an entire generation of Hip-Hop heads eager to be taken back to our youth, when our main concerns involved keeping our sneakers clean and copping the new Public Enemy album, rather than paying bills and day-job drama.

All Kane has to do to keep fans happy is keep coming back and running through his long-list of crowd favourites with the same level of enjoyment  he displayed throughout this particular show, demonstrating that the man behind the mic cherishes those some classics and their place in Hip-Hop history just as much as those who’ve paid for a ticket.

Kane might now be approaching his mid-forties, but when it comes to putting on a quality show, he’s sure to continue to get the job done for a few years yet.

Ryan Proctor

Footage of Big Daddy Kane performing “Nuff Respect”, “Set It Off” and “It’s Hard Being The Kane” at London’s Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 29 October 2012

As one of Hip-Hop’s greatest musical partnerships, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth hold a place not only in the rap history books, but also in the hearts of loyal fans worldwide. The Money Earnin’ Mount Vernon duo’s output in the early-to-mid-90s consisted of nothing but back-to-back classic material, from their debut 1991 EP “All Souled Out” through to the remix singles that came off their brilliant 1994 sophomore album “The Main Ingredient”. Whilst Pete Rock also blessed the likes of Public Enemy, Das EFX and Nas with his trademark horn-driven production, it can’t be denied that few sounded as comfortable on a Chocolate Boy Wonder track as the Mecca Don, C.L. Smooth, who wrapped up street knowledge, social commentary and self-reflection in his instantly recognisable, warm, buttery flow.

Since that initial golden-era run, Pete and C.L.’s relationship has been rocky to say the least, both musically and personally. With promises of reunion projects amounting to little more than the odd single here and there, the pair’s on-off status has kept supporters guessing for years, surrounded by a dark cloud of supposed unresolved differences.

So taking all of that into consideration, it was with mixed feelings of excitement and reluctance that news of Pete and C.L.’s 20th anniversary “Mecca And The Soul Brother” tour arrived in this particular writer’s inbox. Obviously, the opportunity to see two legends celebrate a truly flawless example of 90s East Coast Hip-Hop couldn’t be passed up. Yet, at the same time, the thought of seeing one of your favourite acts potentially going through the motions and subsequently damaging their legacy wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to witness either.

Thankfully, if the childhood friends do still have any unsettled issues, they didn’t allow them to spill over and negatively impact what, essentially, was a great performance of a classic album.

Although there were moments during the show that gave away the fact the pair haven’t spent as much time performing together in recent years as they once did, the chemistry that made the twosome’s sonic collaborations so incredible was still clearly there to be seen and heard.

With Pete Rock already positioned behind his turntables and laptop, C.L. descended the Jazz Cafe stairs to thunderous cheers, accompanied by the spoken word intro from the opening cut on “Mecca And The Soul Brother”, the aptly-titled “Return Of The Mecca”. Standing centre-stage, arms outstretched, face screwed tightly in a “That’s that s**t!” expression, Corey Love stepped straight back into 1992, hitting his rhymes crisply and clearly the moment Pete Rock’s huge drums came crashing through the speakers.

Working their way through their Elektra-released album’s epic tracklist in chronological order at first, “For Pete’s Sake”, “Ghettos Of The Mind” and “Lots Of Lovin” were all given an enthusiastic response from the crowd.

At one point, Pete Rock made his way from behind the turntables to perform his “All Souled Out” solo cut “The Creator” and “Soul Brother #1”, with C.L. admitting ‘This is making me feel like a kid again…’ as they continued to take the audience on a collective trip down memory lane via tracks like “Act Like You Know” and the relentless head-nodder “Can’t Front On Me”.

Pausing briefly to allow Pete to flex his deejay skills, which included the super-producer dropping both classic breakbeats and a selection of his own work with other artists, the pair soon dove straight back into their timeless debut.

Not only was it impressive that C.L. didn’t stumble once whilst running through what are now twenty-year-old rhymes, it also brought home just how mature and ahead-of-his-time the young Mecca Don was back when he originally penned those verses over two decades ago, with the focused political aggression of “Anger In The Nation” and the cautionary lyrics of “Straighten It Out” sounding completely appropriate coming out of the mouth of a forty-something emcee in the present day.

Of course, no track on “Mecca And The Soul Brother” quite makes that point like the stunning Trouble T-Roy dedication “They Reminisce Over You”. By the time Pete Rock blended the original Tom Scott track into the triumphant opening horns of their own version as the show finale, it felt like literally everyone was on their feet, hands in the air, caught up in the emotional, dusty-fingered magic of an anthem that is to Hip-Hop what John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” is to jazz and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is to soul music.

With the pair meeting and greeting fans afterwards, Pete signing records and C.L. posing for photographs, a lot of people no doubt left the Jazz Cafe very, very happy on this particular night.

Being super-critical, it would have been a nice touch if the pair had spoken a little more during the performance about the inspiration behind some of the tracks contained on “Mecca And The Soul Brother”, or maybe shared some studio stories to put the music into context for both the younger fans in attendance as well as the older heads. But, ultimately, the beats and rhymes that make up the album spoke for themselves adequately enough in 1992 and have easily stood the test of time well enough to still be able to do the same in 2012.

So, after this successful live reunion, the question that now needs to be asked, to paraphrase Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth themselves, is what’s next on the menu for the iconic duo?

Ryan Proctor

Footage of Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth performing “They Reminisce Over You” on the first of their three nights at London’s Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – DJ Doo Wop / Sadat X / Jeru The Damaja

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 17 October 2012

London has seen its fair share of performances from golden-era artists in recent months, with this particular event being one of the most anticipated, promising appearances from not one, but two iconic emcees backed-up by one of the greatest mixtape deejays of all-time.

Between them, Brand Nubian’s Sadat X and former Gang Starr Foundation member Jeru The Damaja share a hefty catalogue of classics, all of which have aged well and still stand as musical monuments to the lyrical brilliance and sonic creativity that the best of 90s Hip-Hop had to offer.

After the Bounce Master himself DJ Doo Wop had warmed the crowd up with a selection of real rap staples, a lively Sadat X bounded onstage to the sound of the Brand Nubian favourite “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down”, leading the crowd as they chanted the hook in unison before launching into the timeless “All For One”.

Pausing to remind everyone that he reps “New York City, Brand Nubian, D.I.T.C. and Lo-Lifes”, the emcee with one of the most recognisable voices in Hip-Hop proceeded to drop his verse from the late-90s Rawkus banger “1-9-9-9” and also delivered a rousing rendition of his “Ready To Die”-era collaboration with Biggie Smalls, “Come On Motherf**kers”, with Sadat reminiscing on the time he spent in the studio writing the track with the BK giant as they both got drunk on champagne.

Promising to return later, X left the stage, leaving the audience in the capable hands of Doo Wop once again. Dropping some rhymes of his own, the Bounce Squad leader took the opportunity to dedicate the segment to his fallen friend Guru (complete with a “F**k Solar!” moment), going back-to-back on the turntables with some Gang Starr classics, including “Take It Personal”, which was Jeru’s signal to make his first appearance.

Reciting Guru’s rhymes in his own inimitable Brooklyn baritone, the NY emcee, decked in jeans, hoodie and Timberlands, smiled widely as he was greeted with roars of approval. Working his way through a number of DJ Premier-produced cuts, including “D. Original” and “Tha Bulls**t”, the gritty wordsmith mixed some humour into his performance, engaging in light-hearted exchanges with various audience members and playfully chastising the crowd for apparently not making enough noise.

Something that was apparent from looking around the venue was the number of younger heads in attendance, some of whom looked like they would barely have been born when both Sadat and Jeru were first making their respective marks on the Hip-Hop landscape. Encouragingly, the majority of the more youthful faces around the Jazz Cafe definitely didn’t appear to be fairweather fans, rhyming along word-for-word to twenty-year-old joints as if they were the soundtrack of the present day. A situation which can only be viewed as a positive thing as, judging from the lack of old-school heads at this and other recent gigs, it will be those younger fans who keep artists such as Sadat and Jeru touring for years to come, as long as their interest in classic Hip-Hop isn’t just a passing phase based on the music’s potential retro-cool appeal.

With Sadat and Jeru each performing a second individual set, which included anthems such as “Love Me Or Leave Me Alone” and “Come Clean”, the show closed with an impromptu freestyle session. As Jeru stepped behind the turntables to spin some familiar breaks, Sadat and Doo Wop invited any emcees in the house to approach the stage, with UK talent such as Oliver Sudden and Chima Anya taking the opportunity to rock with the three Rotten Apple representatives.

Ending a seamless night of classic material by mingling with fans to graciously sign autographs and take photos, Sadat, Jeru and Doo Wop left having ensured those older fans in the crowd were able to relive some of their Hip-Hop memories, whilst helping the younger heads in the audience create some new ones of their own.

Ryan Proctor

Footage of Sadat X performing “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down” at the Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – Large Professor / Cormega

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 26 September 2012

Few individuals embody the essence of Hip-Hop like Flushing, Queens legend Large Professor. From his early beginnings as a student of the late, great studio wiz Paul C., to Main Source’s 1991 classic “Breaking Atoms” and his production / remix work for the likes of Nas, Common and Gang Starr, on to his own solo material, Extra P has always remained loyal to the true-school blueprint that influenced the music and culture he grew-up on in 80s / 90s NYC.

Although Large Pro might not have worked with as many known household names as some of his production peers such as DJ Premier and Q-Tip, his legacy, catalogue and reputation remain unrivalled in Hip-Hop circles, resulting in the “live guy with glasses” being cherished as something of a hero amongst rap purists.

So it was no surprise then that the announcement of Large Professor’s first London show in roughly a decade sent a wave of excitement amongst UK Hip-Hop junkies within travelling distance of the capital city.

Queensbridge’s very own Cormega opened the show with DJ Skizz manning the turntables, entertaining both the rowdy front row and remainder of the crowd with a selection of hood favourites from cult albums such as “The Realness” and “The True Meaning”. Draped in a white lounge suit topped off with a tilted baseball cap, Mega Montana stalked the stage with purpose, barely able to contain his glee as loyal fans rapped decade-old tracks word-for-word whilst reaching out for a handshake or to wave record covers in the air hoping for a signature from their QB champion. Eager to keep his supporters happy, Nas’s former rival threw the set list aside, telling Skizz to skip past certain tracks in order to keep the momentum going. A tactic which led to a somewhat disjointed performance, but one that ultimately kept those dedicated Mega die-hards pushed tightly against the stage happy enough.

Large Pro made his way down the Jazz Cafe stairs immediately after Cormega’s final track to the sound of loud cheers and applause, appearing a little overwhelmed as he settled into his place in the spotlight, announcing “We’re here!” before launching straight into the timeless Main Source classic “Peace Is Not The Word To Play” which was followed by the brilliant “Snake Eyes”.

Barely pausing between tracks, Extra P literally powered his way through a non-stop selection of quality bangers from the past, present and everywhere inbetween. The rolling drums of the Marco Polo-produced “The Radar” boomed from the speakers to an enthusiastic crowd response, whilst further Main Source sureshots such as “Just A Friendly Game Of Baseball” and “Just Hangin’ Out” took those in attendance further down memory lane, with Large Pro’s voice sounding as clear and commanding today as it did on those original tracks some twenty years ago.

Taking a moment to thank everyone for their support (which the Professor stated helped to “keep (him) alive”), the king from Queens continued on his musical mission, dropping the smooth Nas-assisted “Stay Chisel” (asking the crowd “You know whose voice that is, right?” as Mr. Jones could be heard reciting the hook), along with the crisp “Radioactive” from 2002’s “1st Class” album and the sublime 90s classic “I JusWannaChill”.

Of course no Large Professor performance would be fully complete without a few signature tracks and the multi-talented producer-on-the-mic didn’t disappoint, leading the crowd in a call-and-response session over the pounding bass of “Fakin’ The Funk”, reliving past relationship dramas with “Looking At The Front Door” and spitting his rapid-fire rhymes from the classic posse cut “Live At The Barbeque” with the hunger and determination of an upcoming artist rather than the been-there-done-that approach of a proven veteran.

Reuniting with Cormega for “Focused Up” from his recent “Professor @ Large” album (strangely there was no performance of the popular “Key To The City”), Extra P then exited the stage, leaving his NY ally to sign an endless stream of autographs as he headed for the dressing-room.

A brilliant display of pure, uncut beats and rhymes, Large Pro’s London performance could only have further cemented his well-deserved reputation as a genuine Hip-Hop icon amongst those who were there. Salute!

Ryan Proctor

Footage of Large Professor at the Jazz Cafe filmed by Shortee Blitz.

Live Review – The Beatnuts

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 31 August 2012

The Beatnuts may have started off as a three-man crew (with the inimitable Fashion making up the third of the trio), but following their reduction to a two- man unit after the release of their brilliant 1994 debut album, Queens, NY producers-on-the-mic Psycho Les and Junkyard JuJu have gone on to join the ranks of Run DMC and EPMD as one of Hip-Hop’s most cherished rhyming partnerships. The Nuts’ potent blend of dusty grooves, boom-bap drums and raucous, politically-incorrect lyrical content has resulted in a lengthy list of Hip-Hop classics and a die-hard fanbase, plenty of whom were in attendance at this lively London gig.

After some brief technical problems, JuJu kicked things off after midnight from behind his lap-top set-up with a short instrumental intro, before being joined onstage by Psycho Les, sporting dark shades and carrying a hefty bottle of alchohol which kept the pair’s cups filled throughout the performance.

With no frills and no over-the-top theatrics , the duo launched head-first into the thumping “Originate”, as Les roamed the stage with bristling b-boy attitude, pausing only to readjust his sagging jeans and take a slug of his drink as JuJu moved from behind his computer to take centre-stage.

Although the lack of a deejay may have hampered the performance of a less-experienced act, JuJu needing to constantly duck back behind his laptop to cue the next track didn’t necessarily have an adverse or disruptive impact on the show. With years of rocking stages under their belts, Les and JuJu obviously know their catalogue of material inside out and their larger-than-life personalities ensured any potential glitches were pushed aside with charismatic humour (“Y’know, I’m not really into this technology s**t,” JuJu had joked whilst initially struggling to set his equipment up at the beginning of the show).

The adrenaline-pumping “Beatnuts Forever” provoked a rowdy reaction from the crowd, as to did the  crashing drums of the ultimate beer-drinking, weed-smoking anthem “Psycho Dwarf” from the group’s unforgettable 1993 EP “Intoxicated Demons”.

JuJu’s voice was clearly becoming more hoarse as the Nuts’ progressed further into their set, the result of numerous shows and late nights in Europe prior to the pair spending hours waiting for a delayed flight to the UK. Persisting with his gruff vocal tones, the gravel-voiced beat-digger drew laughs from the audience as he commented on how much he sounded like Onyx member Sticky Fingaz, before managing an almost pitch-perfect rendition of the intro to the Mad Face favourite “Throw Ya Gunz”.

Further timeless Nut nuggets such as the playful “No Escapin’ This” and brilliant 90s gem “No Equal” satisfied those looking to see the duo delivering their trademark bangers, whilst Les and JuJu also took the opportunity to test-drive some new material which apparently was only “on Serato exclusive for the Jazz Cafe.”

Exuding the same cocky bravado and love for raw Hip-Hop that enamoured them to rap fans twenty years ago, the Beatnuts first UK appearance in the best part of a decade proved to be a more than successful return for the kings of diggin’.

The New York City duo definitely still get props over here.

Ryan Proctor

The Beatnuts debut new material at the Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – World Famous Beat Junkies

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 23 August 2012

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the deejay was considered to be the backbone of Hip-Hop culture. From the original 70s Bronx block-parties as rocked by Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, to the technical innovations of Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore, onto the 80s showmanship of Jazzy Jeff and DJ Aladdin, those behind the wheels of steel largely got the credit they deserved.

By the 90s, however, the game had changed dramatically. As corporate interest infiltrated Hip-Hop the microphone took precedence over the turntable as record labels concentrated their efforts on finding the next rap superstar as opposed to the next legendary deejay. Born out of this apparent ignorance of the importance of the ones-and-twos came the decade’s turntablist movement, and with it multi-talented deejay crews such as NY’s X-ecutioners, the UK’s Scratch Perverts, and, of course, the West Coast’s formidable bunch of deck-wreckers, the World Famous Beat Junkies.

Currently celebrating twenty years of competitive dominance, producing, club-rocking and relentless needle-thrashing, crew members Melo-D, J. Rocc, DJ Babu and DJ Rhettmatic touched down at London’s Jazz Cafe for over two hours of quality music, jaw-dropping skills and all-round good times.

With Melo-D and Rhettmatic the first to take their places at each end of the impressive eight-turntable set-up, the night began with a selection of old-school classics from the likes of Slick Rick and the Crash Crew cut and blended effortlessly, as Rhettmatic informed the crowd they were “just warming it up Beat Junkies style” as he fired off various sound effects over Melo’s selection.

The crew’s self-proclaimed Funky President J. Rocc was the next to take to the stage, plugging in his laptop and adjusting headphone levels before jumping seamlessly into the mix, dropping subtle cuts and turntable tricks before being joined by Babu who completed the night’s line-up.

With all four deejays now onstage the party really got started, with the quartet generating a constant wall of sound that crossed numerous musical genres at breakneck speed without ever missing a beat. Displaying a chemistry honed over years of performing together, small nods and simple hand gestures was the only communication required between the crew as they each took turns adding further layers to the sonic tidal wave, alternating between vinyl and Serato technology.

The musical menu was definitely eclectic, with 80s electro from the likes of Newcleus blended into old-school p-funk from Funkadelic and bass-heavy Dilla, before the crowd were given some reggae vibes with a Beat Junkie Sound special of Damian Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock” and Sister Nancy’s timeless classic “Bam Bam”.

Following the party segment of their performance, the Beat Junkies then took their collective gloves off to deliver one of the trademark group routines which has seen them win various competitions over the years. With crab scratches, flares and all manner of other complex techniques cutting through the air like sharp blades, the four turntable titans effectively demonstrated why they’re considered to be amongst the world’s elite deejays, both individually and as a group.

After the crew had showcased their unified abilities, each member was given the spotlight to shine on their own, with Babu dropping his classic “Blind Alley” routine and J. Rocc deconstructing the Incredible Bongo Band’s b-boy anthem “Apache” with seemingly effortless skill, his masterful beat-juggle even more impressive considering the deejay had struggled with technical difficulties for most of the night.

Ending the musical spectacle with a freestyle jam session, DJ Babu unexpectedly called the UK’s Mr. Thing onstage to deliver some impromptu cuts, with the talented yet always-humble former Scratch Pervert making his way from the audience to unleash a furiously fast batch of scratches, reminding all in attendance why he’s also considered to be one of the nicest to ever put his hands on two pieces of vinyl.

Two decades deep, the Beat Junkies remain at the top of their game, and this entertaining anniversary performance proved Melo-D, J. Rocc, Babu and Rhettmatic to still be more than worthy of their crowns as undisputed kings of the cuts on two turntables.

Ryan Proctor

World Famous Beat Junkies group routine at the Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – KRS-One

Venue: Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 23 July 2012

When it comes to the old-school tradition of an emcee rocking a crowd with nothing more than a microphone and two turntables, Bronx-born Hip-Hop legend KRS-One could very easily lay claim to being the best to ever do it. No matter how many times you might see the Blastmaster live, his vast classic catalogue, stage presence and sheer magnetic energy ensure that you never feel as though you’re seeing the same show twice.

With London’s Jazz Cafe now becoming almost a second home to the BDP frontman whenever he visits the UK, the intimate venue provides the perfect space to witness an artist such as KRS who thrives on crowd response and participation throughout his live performances.

Teasing the crowd from upstairs with his instantly recognizable booming voice counting down his own arrival to the stage, KRS bounded down the venue’s stairs amidst loud cheers and waving hands, reciting his verses from the early-90s banger “Black Cop” over a dusty old-school reggae dub track. Next came the classic 80s anthem “South Bronx” that effectively launched the NY emcee’s career, whilst the DJ Premier-produced “Outta Here” found KRS tweaking his lyrics slightly to provide a seamless bridge into a karoake version of Biggie’s “Warning”, followed by 2Pac’s “Hail Mary” and shoutouts to Hip-Hop’s various fallen soldiers, including a brief mention of BDP’s own Ms. Melodie who recently passed away.

Interspersing his set with some quality freestyle interludes, KRS continued to create the atmosphere of an improvised performance by inviting any b-boys / b-girls in attendance to showcase their moves onstage during a high-powered rendition of the speaker-pounding “Step Into A World”. A non-stop barrage of classics then followed, from the stick-up kid story-telling of “My 9mm Goes Bang” to the claim of lyrical supremacy “I’m Still #1” and the brilliant anti-crime theme song “Jack Of Spades”.

With copies of his weighty philosophical book “The Gospel Of Hip-Hop” being sold throughout the night, KRS took various opportunities during his performance to speak on the power of metaphysics, give his opinion on the state of global economics and also offered thoughts on the corruption to be found in the corridors of political power.

Whether you agree or disagree with the world according to KRS, nobody could ever say the man doesn’t give you some food for thought during a gig rather than merely running through a set-list of golden-era favourites, taking his money and then moving on to the next venue.

Although many might feel Hip-Hop has lost the power it once had during the late-80s / early-90s to educate as well as entertain, KRS-One is clearly still as passionate about the music being a tool for upliftment in the present day as he was back when he stood alongside the likes of Public Enemy and Ice-T as a voice of protest in a troubled society.

Ending the night with a lengthy freestyle and a flurry of autograph signing, the Blastmaster headed back to his dressing room hopefully confident that his belief in Hip-Hop as a culture capable of bringing about positive change is also still shared by many here in the UK.

Ryan Proctor

KRS-One performing “Black Cop”, “South Bronx” and “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” at the Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – EPMD

Photo By Karen “InchHigh” Dabner McIntyre

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 7 June 2012

After the Hit Squad reunion show in NYC earlier this year, I for one was hoping that particular line-up of EPMD, K-Solo, Redman and Das EFX might have seen fit to bless their European fans with their combined golden-era glory. Unfortunately, however, that was not to be, with only the Green-Eyed Bandit and the Mic Doc reaching UK shores recently for their second visit in just over a year, this time choosing to perform two shows at the brilliant Jazz Cafe venue.

After DJ Scratch had tested the turntables and amused the crowd with his reserved “jazz voice”, Erick and Parrish rushed the stage to the 90s jeep beats of the pounding “I’m Mad”, both decked out in all black with E sporting his standard head sweatband and PMD rocking the trademark fisherman hat.

Barely giving the crowd time to breathe, the duo dropped their timeless true-school anthems “Strictly Business”, the Zapp-sampling “You Gots To Chill” and their debut 1987 single, performing both “It’s My Thing” and the flipside “You’re A Customer”, with that particular track’s crisp production sounding particularly fat over the Jazz Cafe’s crystal clear sound-system.

Pausing only to give each other a pound and revel in the crowd’s enthusiastic reponse, the pair’s wide smiles and playful behaviour indicated that, even after a quarter of a century on wax and a dramatic early-90s break-up, the childhood friends still possess an undeniable bond that obviously goes deeper than simply hitting the road every once in awhile to dust off the EPMD back catalogue and pay some bills.

The constant good-natured banter between the duo also extended to their interaction with the crowd, with E-Double persistently reminding the audience “I’m Erick Sermon and that’s Parrish Smith” for the benefit of any “youngsters who might have snuck in.”

Leaving the stage for a short time to allow DJ Scratch to impressively showcase some of his well-known turntable tricks, the Long Island lyricists soon returned and continued working through banger after banger. The twosome play-acted their way through the 1988 skeezer tale “Jane”, gave a forceful performance of “So What Cha Sayin'” and preceded the bass-heavy “Gold Digger” with a sermon from Sermon about the 1990 single being the inspiration for Kanye West’s hit of the same name.

Taking a moment to address their solo careers, Erick stated that the pair don’t usually perform their own individual material at EPMD shows, but as fans had apparently made requests as they entered the venue he encouraged PMD to drop his head-knocking 1996 single “Rugged-N-Raw”, following which Smith joked, “Yo, E, can you perform “Hostile” now?”, referring to the track that introduced Keith Murray to the masses on Erick Sermon’s 1993 solo debut “No Pressure” (the Funk Lord did in fact perform a track of his own, the Marvin Gaye-sampling crowd favourite “Music”, later in the show).

Although the legendary partnership stuck to the usual script of encouraging the crowd to “continue supporting real Hip-Hop” and repeating how much they loved performing in the UK, the intimate atmosphere of the relatively small Jazz Cafe did lend the performance a spontaneous, improvised feel.

Following the night’s finale, a short two-man version of the Hit Squad posse cut “Head Banger”, the pair should have left the stage to the sound of DJ Scratch cutting up the 1970 Roy Head breakbeat “She’s About A Mover”. But as Erick made his way up the venue’s stairs to the comfort of the dressing room, PMD just couldn’t tear himself away, staying to drop verses from “The Symphony 2000” and “Get The Bozack” as Scratch went back-and-forth on the turntables.

Personally, I would have also liked to have seen Erick and Parrish performing their “Juice” soundtrack banger “It’s Going Down” and the 1992 b-side sureshot “Brothers From Brentwood L.I.”. But when virtually every track on the night’s set list was a certified Hip-Hop classic, EPMD, once again, didn’t really leave people much to complain about.

Strictly underground funk, keep the crossover.

Ryan Proctor

EPMD performing “Jane” at The Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – Masta Ace / Wordsworth / Stricklin / Marco Polo

Photo by Karen “Inch High” Dabner McIntyre

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 28 May 2012

Former Juice Crew member and golden-era icon Masta Ace has spent the best part of the last twenty-five years building a well-deserved reputation as one of the most intelligent and well-rounded emcees in the game. From battle rhymes to story-telling to social commentary, the Brooklyn lyricist has proven himself in all areas, dropping numerous solo albums and collaborative projects which have all spawned their fair share of classics.

Unlike some of his peers, in more recent years Ace has managed to remain faithful to his old-school roots whilst still appealing to a new generation of fans. Both 2001’s “Disposable Arts” and 2004’s “A Long Hot Summer” satisfied original supporters as well as gaining the attention of younger listeners, which would explain the varied ages of those in attendance at this one-off London gig, from youthful Hip-Hoppers who barely looked out of their teens to ageing b-boys who no doubt clung to every word of Ace’s debut album “Take A Look Around” when it dropped in 1990.

Ten years after the release of “Disposable…” the Arts Decade Tour has found Ace making his way across Europe, celebrating the album with the help of Canadian producer-slash-deejay Marco Polo and eMC crew members Wordsworth and Milwaukee’s Stricklin.

It was New York’s Wordsworth who took to the stage of the sold-out Jazz Cafe first, acting as warm-up for the night’s headliner. Making his name in the late-90s at the infamous NY Lyricist Lounge events, the veteran artist displayed his total command of the stage as he ran through a selection of tracks from both his 2005 solo project “Mirror Music” and the forthcoming “Photo Album” release. The energetic microphone controller also threw in a couple of impressive freestyles for good measure, which left the responsive crowd both entertained and in high spirits.

Arriving onstage to the sound of the “Disposable…” skit “Commercial” and decked-out in black sportswear, Masta Ace launched into a polished set which spanned all eras of his lengthy career so far. Joined by former Tommy Boy artist Stricklin (who acted as hype-man as well as showcasing some of his own material), Ace concentrated heavily on tracks from “Disposable…” throughout the performance, including the upbeat “Don’t Understand” and the High & Mighty diss “Acknowledge”. The bass-heavy “Take A Walk” had the audience of all ages rhyming along almost word-for-word with Ace’s detailed observations of inner-city life in the Rotten Apple.

Obviously aware that older heads would want to see Ace reaching back into his true-school catalogue, the BK legend paid homage to classics from the likes of Biz Markie and Whodini before launching into his verse from the timeless Marley Marl-produced Juice Crew posse cut “The Symphony” as well as performing his verse from the original 1994 Crooklyn Dodger’s track “Crooklyn” over the instrumental to the DJ Premier-produced 1995 sequel “Return Of The Crooklyn Dodgers”. Another highlight was Ace dropping his hypnotic mid-90s banger “Top Ten List”, which still remains one of his finest moments to date in this reviewer’s humble opinion.

Taking a short break to discuss the inspiration behind his new MF Doom-produced album, Ace explained how his late mother’s record collection played a large part in his musical education as a youngster and subsequently influenced his choice of beats as an artist, before moving into the project’s horn-filled autobiographical title track “Son Of Yvonne”.

Wordsworth also once again made his way onstage, joining Masta Ace and Stricklin to perform crowd favourites from eMC’s 2008 group album “The Show”, including the sublime piano-laced “Once More” and breezy car anthem “Traffic”.

Rounding the night out with classics such as the Original Concept-sampling “Born To Roll” and relentlessly funky “Letter To The Better”, Ace left a hugely satisfied crowd hoping that this wouldn’t be the last time we’d see this extremely talented emcee rocking on a UK stage.

Ryan Proctor

Masta Ace pays homage to some Hip-Hop classics and drops his verse from 1988’s Juice Crew classic “The Symphony”.

Motown Sound – Black Milk

Detroit’s Black Milk at London’s Jazz Cafe earlier this week.

Live Review – M.O.P.

Venue: The Jazz Café, London  Date: 25 August 2010

The first of M.O.P.’s two Jazz Café shows (their first UK appearances in some years) was much like the Brooklyn duo’s music – loud, abrasive and to the point, but a whole lot of rowdy fun.

Not looking to keep their fans waiting and clearly impatient to hit the stage after their long absence from British shores, the burly figures of Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze (accompanied by deejay and long-time accomplice Laze E Laze) kicked the proceedings off unexpectedly early at 9:30pm, spending the next sixty minutes or so blasting their way through a fast-paced selection of Mash Out Posse bangers.

After a brief but heartfelt dedication to lost legend Guru of Gang Starr from Laze, Fame and Billy arrived in front of the packed London audience to the blaxploitation soul of Isaac Hayes’ classic “Walk On By”, before launching into arguably their most well-known hit, the Foreigner-sampling “Cold As Ice”. Immediately the crowd’s energy levels went through the Jazz Café roof, which is where they remained for the duration of the show.

Bouncing around the stage like two retired WWF wrestlers with rhyme skills, Fizzy Womack and Danze were clearly enjoying, and appreciative of, the adulation and roars of the pair’s trademark shout of “Fiyaaah” being generated by the venue of hardcore M.O.P. fans.

Clearly there were no casual Mash Out listeners in the house tonight, as virtually the entire crowd rhymed along word for word to heaters such as the Jay-Z collabo “U Don’t Know” and the Rocky-inspired “4 Alarm Blaze”. At one point Danze put the audience to the test, asking “What was M.O.P.’s first f**kin’ record?”, with shouts of “How About Some Hardcore” being ignored as the pair ran through a verse of other early cuts such as “Blue Steel”, stopping each time with “Nah, that ain’t our first record!” and a gleeful gold-toothed grin from Fame. Eventually the unmistakable bassline of the Rotten Apple favourite’s 1993 debut single pushed its way through the speakers, with more pandemonium ensuing throughout the venue.

Pausing for Laze E Laze to drop a quick selection of party-starting sure-shots from the likes of Biggie and DMX, the Brooklyn bombers then continued on their mission with audience pleasers such as the boisterous “Put It In The Air” and the title track of their 2000 album “Warriorz”.

Eager to connect with their fans, both Billy and Fame bantered humorously with the crowd, passing bottles of their chosen alcoholic beverages along the front row, encouraging as many Firing Squad fanatics as possible to take a drink with them in-between songs.

By the time the opening bars of the night’s finale “Ante Up” burst from the sound system, to paraphrase Busta Rhymes on the track’s remix, it really did feel like the whole world was about to collapse, as audience and artist exploded as one in a near-perfect moment of pure Hip-Hop appreciation.

M.O.P. have had something of a troubled career over the years, with the NYC natives having to battle against label dramas, industry politics and mainstream indifference. Yet throughout their many ups and downs, Lil’ Fame and Billy Danze have always placed making music for fans who truly appreciate their brand of raw rap above chasing commercial success and following popular trends. On this night, a small number of those same fans got to give some of that love and respect back to their hardcore heroes in no uncertain terms.

Ryan Proctor

Electric Circus – Jay Electronica

Footage of Jay Electronica’s London debut last night at Camden’s Jazz Cafe.