Tag Archives: The Jazz Cafe

Live Review – DJ Jazzy Jeff & Skillz

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 9 May 2012

It’s a true sign of the times when a deejay can simply walk into a packed club, plug his laptop in, check his headphones and then five minutes later be launching into his set. Gone are the days of power-lifting bags of records around and worrying about damaging treasured white label singles and having to work with worn-out needles. Some would say recent advances in technology have diluted the abilities of many new deejays, but with a veteran like the magnificent Jazzy Jeff you get the best of both worlds; an old-school deejay who came up rocking house-parties with vinyl on makeshift equipment who uses new technology to enhance his talents rather than hide any shortcomings.

Joined onstage by VA’s (formerly Mad) Skillz, who acted as a lively and entertaining host for the evening, Will Smith’s former recording partner took the sold-out crowd on a two-hour musical journey that encompassed everything from golden-era Hip-Hop and classic breaks to vintage soul, funk and disco.

With Skillz prowling the stage and working the crowd like a true professional (at one point performing his own 90s classic “The Nod Factor”), Jazzy Jeff remained silent behind his laptop set-up, speaking only with his hands and flashing a wide grin every time he played a track that drew a particularly enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Pacing his set to near perfection, the Illadelph deejay dropped in snatches of familiar samples before segueing into the Hip-Hop cut the audience knew each original track from. So R. Kelly’s “Your Body’s Callin'” made way for Biggie’s “Unbelievable”, whilst Bobby Caldwell’s quiet storm favourite “Open Your Eyes” was effortlessly blended into Common’s Dilla-produced “The Light”.

The Beastie Boys’ 80s classics “Paul Revere” and “Hold It Now, Hit It” drew particularly large cheers given the recent passing of group member MCA, whilst a West Coast medley featuring 2Pac’s “California Love”, Snoop’s “Gin And Juice” and Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” had Skillz encouraging everyone to throw up their Westside hand-signs.

Familiar crowd-pleasers such as Pharoahe Monch’s “Simon Says”, Gang Starr’s “Full Clip” and Biggie’s “Hypnotize” were all given an airing, whilst some early Jackson 5 had Skillz doing the two-step and a short snippet of the “Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” theme raised laughter from the crowd.

Keen to show that, party-rocking aside, he’s still no slouch on the turntables, Jazzy Jeff went back-to-back with Bob James’ “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” break-beat and sliced the intro of LL Cool J’s brilliant “Rock The Bells” to pieces, using the transformer scratch that became his trademark back in the 80s to whip the audience into a frenzy.

With timeless tracks from the likes of Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock, Slum Village and the Incredible Bongo Band all finding their way into the mix, not even Uncle Phil would have wanted to throw the hard-working Jazzy Jeff out of his house following a set as impressive as this.

Ryan Proctor

Footage of DJ Jazzy Jeff and Skillz at The Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – Onyx

Photo By Johann Forbes

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 29 March 2012

When Queens, NY foursome Onyx re-invented themselves following their 1990 Profile Records single debut “Ah, And We Do It Like This”, smashing their way back onto the early-90s rap scene via Def Jam with bald-heads, guns and an aggressive rhyme style, opinions were divided. Some heads gravitated towards the crew’s violent verses and hard tracks, whilst others felt the group’s Mad Face Invasion wasn’t quite the rap fix they were looking for at a time when East Coast Hip-Hop was largely dominated by jazzy loops and intricate lyricism.

Yet almost twenty years on, a packed Jazz Cafe was proof that in 2012 the now two-man pairing of Fredro Starr and Sticky Fingaz can still bring out enough fans who want to get grimy.

Arriving onstage wearing the standard 90s East Coast Hip-Hop uniform of hoodies, jeans and boots, Fredro led the crowd in a back-and-forth chant to the intro of the group’s 1993 debut album “Bacdafucup”, with Sticky growling into his microphone as he paced left to right like an agitated caged animal. Minutes later the opening shouts of the rowdy classic “Throw Ya Gunz” caused immediate pandemonium, with the pair quickly following up that opening salvo with the equally hostile “Shiftee”.

As the duo splashed bottles of water over the crowd, Sticky decided to commit to the performance early, performing a full-blown stage dive that landed him halfway into the audience. Much to the apparent dismay of the two burly security guards accompanying the pair, no sooner had Sticky been pulled back to the safety of the stage he launched himself back into the crowd for a second time.

Although Fredro appeared to be main voice of the night, with his partner chiming in here and there during interaction between songs with the audience, it was definitely Sticky who was the more unpredictable of the two in terms of his actual antics on stage. At one point the raspy rapper clambered onto a speaker box in order to climb up to the balcony railings of the venue’s first floor, hanging over the crowd like a Hip-Hop Spider-Man with no apparent concern for his safety as he barked his rhymes during the 1995 sure-shot “All We Got Iz Us”.

Although most people in attendance were there to enjoy the 90s memories, Fredro and Sticky did a good job of fitting a number of recent tracks into the show without causing any noticeable disruption to the atmosphere of nostalgia. So whilst fans enjoyed OG bangers such as the brilliant “Last Dayz” and 1998’s “Shut ‘Em Down”, newer tracks such as “Black Hoodie Rap” still captured that raw Onyx energy and were welcomed by the energetic audience.

With the pair shouting out fallen legends such as Biggie and Big L, their mentor Jam Master Jay, plus deceased crew member Big DS, Fredro and Sticky were eager to show they were out to rep strictly for their era of Hip-Hop. No more so than when Fredro reeled off a list of golden-era greats such as Jeru The Damaja, Das EFX and Wu-Tang before running through the self-explanatory “I’m So 90s”.

Ending the show with the mosh-pit favourite “Slam” the twosome swiftly trooped off stage, with the amped-up crowd  staying put and wondering if there would be a return. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, yet given the fire behind Fredro and Sticky’s performance, I doubt anyone left feeling like they hadn’t got their money’s worth.

Ryan Proctor

Onyx performing “Slam” at The Jazz Cafe

Live Review – Souls Of Mischief

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 11 March 2012

Introduced to the rap world in the early-90s as proteges of Ice Cube’s cousin Del The Funky Homosapien, Oakland’s Souls Of Mischief have built themselves an impressive reputation over the years as being staunch purveyors of quality underground Hip-Hop packed with impressive verbal gymnastics. Transcending the traditional boundaries of subterranean rap, the West Coast crew have managed to maintain an audience that includes OG golden-age heads, alternative music fans and skateboard-pushing teenagers. So it wasn’t a surprise to walk into London’s Jazz Cafe for this particular gig and see an eclectic crowd waiting patiently for the Hiero crew representatives.

Following DJ Lex’s efforts to put the crowd in a Cali state of mind with a medley of West Coast classics from 2Pac and Dr. Dre, Opio, Tajai and Phesto Dee (no A-Plus) arrived onstage decked out in sunglasses and a variety of Hiero t-shirts and hoodies. The trio barely paused for breath before launching into an opening salvo of bangers, including fan favourite “You’ll Never Know” from 1998’s Hieroglyphics album “Third Eye Vision”, dropping their rapid-fire verses over the track’s soulful production to audience cheers.

Aside from Opio politely asking the soundman to adjust the monitor levels and  Tajai asking for the spotlight to be dimmed, the show was free from any interruptions, allowing the threesome to slickly run through a selection of cuts covering all periods of the crew’s career. Yet whilst it was clear Souls were performing a very polished and familiar set, the crowd definitely didn’t witness a group on auto-pilot simply going through the motions on the European tour circuit for the sake of a quick buck.

With those in attendance swept up in the energy and intensity of the performance, at times it felt like the three Souls were actually a new group determined to leave their mark rather than twenty-year veterans who already have an incredible musical legacy and dedicated fanbase.

Throughout the show, the group switched effortlessly from performing as a cohesive unit to then allowing each member to take centre-stage individually, with Opio acting as frontman, Phesto performing “Full Speed” from his new solo album and Tajai dropping a blistering acapella rhyme.

After bringing things up-to-date with “Tour Stories” and the punchy “Proper Aim” from the group’s last album, 2009’s “Montezuma’s Revenge”, the crew then cleverly caught the crowd off-guard with an unexpected twist. Given that many would probably have expected SOM’s timeless classic “93 ‘Til Infinity” to be the night’s grand finale, it came as a welcome surprise, when, following a brief intermission from Opio commenting on Hiero’s longevity, the track’s melodic opening sample from Billy Cobham’s jazzy “Heather” filled the venue accompanied by thunderous roars of approval and a sea of raised hands.

The group continued to plunder their back-catalogue with a handful of cuts such as the brilliant “That’s When Ya Lost” and bass-heavy “Never No More” (prompting Opio to say that, just as it was when the group debuted in 1993, no matter how many wack artists are embraced by the mainstream, the underground will always be around to deliver quality Hip-Hop).

Although having member A-Plus along for the ride would have only added to the performance, that was an afterthought rather than something playing on your mind during the show. One-quarter of Souls might have been missing, but as a fan it didn’t feel like you were necessarily missing out, as Opio, Tajai and Phesto dropped their rhymes with a masterful clarity and precision honed by years spent rocking venues worldwide.

Ending the show by giving heartfelt thanks to all who’ve supported the Hieroglyphics movement over the last two decades, the group jumped offstage ready to man the merchandise stand for eager fans keen to take home a momento of the night.

93 ’til infinity indeed…

Ryan Proctor

Souls Of Mischief performing “That’s When Ya Lost” at The Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – Nice & Smooth

Photo By Karen “InchHigh” Dabner McIntyre

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 4 March 2012

I’m going to cut to the chase here and go on record as saying that legendary duo Nice & Smooth’s one-off show at London’s Jazz Cafe was one of the best gigs I’ve been to in a long, long time. The undeniable chemistry, animated rhymes and party-starting beats heard on so many of the Bronx pair’s late-80s / early-90s classics always seemed tailor-made for the stage, but the question many heads might have been asking themselves as they entered the venue was whether Greg N-I-C-E and “the black Blake Carrington” Smooth Bee could capture that same infectious energy from some twenty years ago?

Arriving onstage to the sound of Doug E. Fresh’s timeless 1986 anthem “Play This Only At Night”, Smooth Bee (dressed in white felt bowler hat, dress shirt and suit jacket) and Greg Nice (in similar attire) immediately launched into the 1991 banger “How To Flow”. Before the audience even knew what was happening, Greg Nice had jumped offstage and was in the crowd, dancing, rapping and giving out high-fives to anyone within arm’s reach. “Sometimes I Rhyme Slow” soon followed, with the track’s trademark Tracy Chapman sample drawing cheers from the crowd and Nice putting an amusing x-rated spin on the song’s hook.

The pair’s contrasting personalities worked just as well onstage as they have done on wax over the years, with the rambunctious Greg Nice bursting with energy as he jumped and shouted across the stage, whilst Smooth Bee chose instead to saunter through the performance, smiling widely and delivering his rhymes in his inimitable slick vocal tone, clearly enjoying the fact that the crowd knew his verses from cuts such as “Cake & Eat It Too” and “Return Of The Hip-Hop Freaks” word for word.

Aside from the beats and rhymes, the duo’s constant flow of industry stories and amusing exchanges kept the audience upbeat and entertained. From recalling their early beginnings as beat-boxer for T La Rock and ghost-writer for Bobby Brown respectively, to Greg Nice telling career tales involving Mary J. Blige, Chuck D and Jay-Z with Dolemite-like style, the pair held the attention of the crowd with apparent ease.

With the good times rolling, what happened during the duo’s performance of their 1992 Gang Starr collabo “Dwyck” was as unexpected as it was moving. Halfway through his verse it initially seemed that Smooth Bee may have forgotten his own lyrics, with the emcee faltering during certain lines. But it quickly became apparent that the NY legend was overcome with emotion. “Guru was my motherf**kin’ heart,”said Smooth, fighting to hold back genuine tears as he reminisced on one of Hip-Hop’s greatest talents. It was a poignant moment, with Greg giving his man a supportive hug before Smooth then said he wanted to perform the undisputed classic again from the top which sparked rapturous applause.

Following this memorable scene, Nice & Smooth then proceeded to lead the crowd in singing along to the brilliant “Hip-Hop Junkies” and first album favourite “Early To Rise”, before they returned to drop an acappella version of “Harmonize” as an encore and take their final bows.

It’s always difficult to fully communicate the atmosphere and feeling of a live event in a written review, something which is even more apparent in this instance. Part old-school house party, part stand-up comedy routine, part gospel church sermon, but all Hip-Hop, Nice & Smooth delivered a spectacle of a show that will surely be remembered vividly by all those in attendance for a long time to come.

If you weren’t there, you missed a night destined for the history books.

Ryan Proctor

Smooth Bee delivers an emotional tribute to Gang Starr’s Guru while performing “Dwyck”.

Live Review – Pharoahe Monch

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 30 October 2011

Stood at the front of London’s Jazz Cafe stage, one arm raised, a defiant look on his face, legendary NY emcee Pharoahe Monch made it very clear what the venue’s packed crowd could expect minutes into his one-off show.”I came here tonight to represent for lyricism in Hip-Hop,” the former Organized Konfusion member stated. “This is for the heads. If you’re a new Pharoahe Monch fan tonight might not be for you.”

It’s almost unbelievable to think that it’s been 20 years since a youthful Monch debuted alongside friend and rhyme partner Prince Po, launching their brand of cerebral wordplay out of the New York borough of Queens and into the rap history books.On this particular night, it was clear Monch wanted to ensure the audience knew that the passion and love for Hip-Hop that fuelled his art two decades ago was still the inspiration behind his music today.

Accompanied by X-ecutioner DJ Boogie Blind, Pharoahe immediately launched into tracks from his current album “W.A.R”, including the expert verbal explosion that is “Evolve”. Reaching back to his 2007 album “Desire”, Monch announced he was going to perform the three-part tale of betrayal “Trilogy” in its entirety for the first time, bringing the track’s dark lyrics to life via one-man theatre (complete with a plastic gun, flowers and police tape as stage props).

Vocalists Mela Machinko and Showtyme were missing-in-action this time around, but rather than take anything away from the overall performance it allowed Pharoahe to totally dominate the stage, perhaps even giving the veteran wordsmith the opportunity to perform tracks better suited to the one emcee / one deejay show format.

The playfully arrogant “F**k You” had the crowd shouting the hook alongside a gleeful Monch, whilst the anti-police brutality anthem “Clap (One Day)” was brought to a rousing finale as the asthmatic lyricist recited the track’s final verse accompanied only by the sound of the audience clapping rapidly in unison.A short but effective display of turntable brilliance from Boogie Blind was met with loud appreciation, as the gifted deejay proved that practice really does make perfect by destroying LL Cool J’s “Rock The Bells” with a respectful nod to the late Grandmaster Roc Raida.

With Pharoahe promising to take the crowd back in time, it was slightly surprising, and mildly disappointing, that he only went as far back as material from his 1999 debut solo set “Internal Affairs”, choosing not to dig into the classics contained on Organized Konfusion’s three albums.

Yet by the time the “Godzilla” sample from the night’s obvious closer “Simon Says” sent the Hip-Hop faithful into an instant frenzy, it was obvious that nobody was going to be asking for their money back.

Ryan Proctor

Live Review – Rakim

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 2 June 2011

Unlike other golden-age Hip-Hop icons such as KRS-One, De La Soul and Big Daddy Kane who have all hit the UK on a semi-regular basis over the years, until his recent handful of shows, Rakim, the first emcee to “let a rhyme flow down the Nile”, hadn’t performed on British soil for well over a decade. So even after his recent shared dates with De La and Black Star, it really wasn’t a surprise to find that this one-off gig at London’s intimate Jazz Cafe venue had sold out relatively quickly.

The Long Island lyricist really needs no introduction. Having influenced everyone from Nas and Pharoahe Monch to O.C. and Common, the fingerprints of the god are all over the rap game, with Rakim championed by many as the greatest emcee of all-time, despite the fact that his output has been relatively minimal since he parted ways with Eric B. following their fourth album, 1992’s “Don’t Sweat The Technique”.  Such was the impact of the cerebral, Islam-influenced, streetwise rhymes Ra first began delivering in his trademark slow-flow style a quarter of a century ago, the emcee’s rap royalty status will be forever unquestionable.

By the time The R’s Bronx-raised wax spinner Technician had hyped the crowd with a quick-fire selection of classics from the likes of Slick Rick, Camp Lo and Jeru The Damaja, anticipation for the 18th letter was building quickly.

When Tech threw on Doug E. Fresh’s old-school classic “Play This Only At Night” and announced Rakim with all the drama of a heavyweight title fight, for a moment it seemed like the second coming of Jesus as the Strong Island legend made his way downstairs onto the stage, standing silent for a few moments as the crowd roared at the sight of their Hip-Hop hero with a sea of arms waving in unison. “All this love feels real good,” stated a typically low-key Rakim. “I ain’t been in the UK for a minute, but we’re definitely going to make up for that tonight.”

With that, the opening keys of the Marley Marl-produced classic “My Melody” threw the crowd into a further frenzy, with Rakim, decked out in a Carhartt hoodie and Yankees cap, proceeding to spend the best part of the next hour-and-a-half dropping almost non-stop classics from his impressive back-catalogue.

In the past, Rakim has been criticised for performing over full vocal versions of his own tracks, but that definitely wasn’t the case here. Ripping through timeless joints such as “I Ain’t No Joke”, “Juice (Know The Ledge)” and “Let The Rhythm Hit Em”, Ra dropped every line with perfect clarity and didn’t miss a beat.

Although the crowd was reminded regularly by both Rakim and his deejay of the old-school artist’s most recent release, 2009’s largely disappointing “The Seventh Seal”, the New York icon made the wise decision not to force the album into his performance, dropping only a few cuts from the project, including its highlight, the David Axelrod-sampling “Holy Are You”.

On wax Rakim has always appeared cool, calm and collected with something of a serious demeanour, yet tonight, clearly comfortable in his surroundings, the artist responsible for some of the most intensely intricate rhymes in Hip-Hop history dropped jokes about becoming a future rap-addicted grandfather still sporting box-fresh sneakers, gave a little insight into how Ra impresses the ladies, and also jumped behind the turntables to show that rhyming isn’t his only talent.

At one point the show did seem like it could possibly lose a little momentum when the standard split-the-audience-in-half-and-see-which-side-can-make-the-most-noise routine went on far much longer than it needed to. But Rakim soon picked up the pace again with flawless performances of “In The Ghetto”, “Microphone Fiend” and, of course, the 80s money-making anthem “Paid In Full”.

With the crowd rhyming almost word-for-word with Rakim throughout the show, it could be argued that, when it comes to solo performers, possibly only KRS-One could match the God emcee’s sheer volume of universally acclaimed classics. And still Ra kept them coming – “Move The Crowd”, “Eric B. Is President”, “Mahogany”, “Don’t Sweat The Technique”, “It’s Been A Long Time”.

Ending with an acapella rendition of the first verse from 1988’s “Follow The Leader”, Rakim dropped his scientific rhymes slow and deliberate, as if to remind both himself and his fans that the words he committed to a notebook over two decades ago still outshine many of today’s verses thanks to the vision and sheer poetic brilliance of their creator.

The majority of the crowd in attendance tonight had obviously grown up with Rakim, respected him, studied him, and now, finally, had the chance to celebrate him. Ra is to rap lyricism what John Coltrane was to the saxophone or Jimi Hendrix to the guitar, a completely original talent and a total physical embodiment of his craft who has left an indelible stamp on his chosen artform.

With Rakim thanking everyone for the unconditional love shown and promising to return to the UK again next year, those in attendance left the Jazz Cafe on a Hip-Hop high probably stronger than any other they’ve felt in recent times due to the performance they had just witnessed.

And on that note, we say peace!

Ryan Proctor

Rakim performing “Follow The Leader” at The Jazz Cafe.

Live Review – Murs

Venue: The Jazz Cafe, London  Date: 13 April 2011

Murs is a born performer. That much was evident mere seconds after the West Coast emcee had casually sauntered down the stairs onto the Jazz Cafe stage, placed his backpack down and launched into his opening cut complete with star-jumps and animated head-nodding, turning what had been a fairly subdued crowd into a sea of waving arms and cheers of approval.

Having missed opening act Stig Of The Dump due to traffic issues, this particular writer arrived at the venue just after 9pm to find a mixed crowd of fans chatting amongst themselves as the sound of  Beat Junkie J. Rocc’s new instrumental album “Some Cold Rock Stuf” found its way from the speakers.

The atmosphere in the venue was hardly electric, with things picking up only slightly when Murs’ deejay Foundation took to the stage and dropped some Dilla, with the Living Legends lyricist appearing soon after and thankfully dispelling any doubts that the crowd were simply their to pass the time rather than fully appreciate the talents of one of the most entertaining artists to come from the underground West Coast rap scene.

Although Murs has a fairly hefty back catalogue behind him, with almost twenty years worth of releases to his name including albums on Def Jux and Rhymesayers, it was clear early on the majority of those in attendance were interested primarily in seeing the LA wordsmith perform material from his four collaboration albums with North Carolina super-producer 9th Wonder.

Tracks such as the humorous “Bad Man” and the Curtis Mayfield-sampling      “H-U-S-T-L-E” were met with much appreciation as 9th’s crisp beats boomed across the venue and Murs dropped his lyrics with the type of pinpoint precision that can only come from an artist who has spent countless hours on stages across the world perfecting his live act. “It’s cool to be in front of a crowd I can actually converse with in English,” said Murs at one point, hinting at the amount of time he’s spent in recent weeks trekking across Europe.

Breezing through his recent remake of Common’s 1994 classic “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, Murs then showed his more diverse musical tastes, performing both a short cover of a Tech N9ne track that became his anthem after touring with the cult rapper in 2009 and also a cut recorded with Italian dance duo Crookers, which seemed to perplex as many members of the audience as it entertained, prompting Murs to laugh out-loud whilst thanking the crowd for “letting us bug out with y’all.”

Proving that the  down-to-earth, everyman personality heard in his music is definitely no act, Murs displayed a genuine connection with his fans, engaging in banter with those in the front row, flirting with female audience members and recounting tales of broken relationships and tour stories with the candour and timing of a stand-up comedian.

With a clear knack for expressing both the joy and pain of the ongoing battle of the sexes, Murs dropped an almost back-to-back selection of his female-orientated rhymes, including “Silly Girl”, the poignant “Break-Up (The OJ Song)” and the self-explanatory “Dirty Girl”, originally recorded with Atmosphere’s Slug on the duo’s 2005 Felt album “A Tribute To Lisa Bonet”.

Bouncing around the stage like a Hip-Hop Peter Tosh, with dreads flying in all directions, Murs was clearly ready to end the performance earlier than his deejay. After the rapper thanked everyone for coming out and supporting, Foundation seemed adamant about ensuring Murs performed for just a little longer, leading to an amusing exchange between the pair – “You dick! What if I can’t remember the words to that?” exclaimed Murs when Foundation pointed to a track title on his Serato set-up that obviously wasn’t a usual addition to their set.

Part intimate performance, part exuberant showmanship, Murs’ Jazz Cafe gig included all of the elements that make much of his music so enjoyable – raw honesty, witty wordplay, personal reflection, genuine humour and an ability to tap into the ups and downs of the daily grind that are shared by us all.

An underground rapper who is serious about his art but who doesn’t take himself too seriously – now, that’s not something you get to see everyday.

Ryan Proctor