The second I found out I could be present at what may well be Jay-Z’s last UK headline set, there was only one thought on my mind. The support acts were irrelevant, as was the trek down to the Capital. As the weeks went by and more and more artists were announced it was clear the inaugural Urban Music Festival was not be missed.
The first of the acts we witnessed were the relatively unknown ATL, a B2K-like group from Atlanta (hence the name). Their two song set featured current single Calling All Girls with R Kelly‘s vocals being added in recorded format. It was well received by the discreetly filling Earls Court crowd and set a precedent for more R ‘n’ B, which was to follow with Cassidy .
Another American act, another R Kelly-less track in the form of Hotel was expertly performed. Cassidy was clearly playing to the ladies as a remix of Beenie Man‘s Dude was played with Cassidy cavorting around the stage topless, and doing not a lot else.
Lemar was next to take the stage, and was the first artist to put on a proper show complete with backing band. He’s not really someone who I’ve got much time for but his brief set was pleasant enough, breezing through All I Ever Do and an acoustic track. His crowd-pleasing status was confirmed with competent performances of his hits Dance (With U) and closing track 50-50.
Trevor Nelson then took to the stage to introduce a fashion show put on by event sponsors Umbro, which was a nice prelude to Mike Skinner taking the stage. The Streets‘ front man was in top form along with his accomplices, although the set seemed a bit rushed, pacing through Let’s Push Things Forward, the fantastic forthcoming single Dry Your Eyes and, of course, current smash Fit But You Know It. Trevor Nelson had promised a “mad” performance but there was a hint of feeling short-changed with just three songs being played.
Hip-hop legend Mos Def was welcomed with an impressive reception. His five tracks seemed to have most of the older people in the crowd in awe. Admittedly his a cappella was really good, but the best reaction he got all night was when talking about East London’s Dizzee Rascal.
Fittingly enough it was the Rascal himself who was next to appear, opening with Round We Go. Jus’ A Rascal was strangely disappointing – it didn’t compare to the album version and I’ve seen better reactions to the track in clubs. Fix Up Look Sharp more than made up for it, however, with the crowd loving every minute.
The focus then switched to the Battle Stage home to B Boy dance offs and Emcee battles throughout the night. Rodney P And Skitz gave an impromptu set featuring two impossibly gorgeous dancers cavorting their thangs. This was a prelude to Alicia Keys.
Keys was impressive, putting on a real show and filling every crevice of the arena with her powerful voice. All of her hits were rattled through with Falling being a genuine showstopper. She even took her mobile to stage for You Don’t Know My Name, which was fairly unusual yet effective.
Following Alicia attention was then fully fixed on the Battle Stage with Killa Kela , dubbed the world’s best beat boxer by Pharell Williams, amongst others. He whipped the crowd into a frenzy with impossible beats, not least Kelis‘ Milkshake.
The bar was set high for Jay-Z, and the farce that was Vernon Kay and June Sarpong requesting a fake welcome before Trevor Nelson actually introduced the man himself simply built up the anticipation. The rest, as they say is history. Literally. If this is to prove his last UK performance then Jay-Z left on a high. Izzo and Jigga That Nigga made sure the audience were in no doubt over who was on stage.
Things got crazy as Jay-Z and accomplice Memphis Bleek flew through Big Pimpin’, before getting the crowd involved by splitting Earls Court in half for Jigga What, Jigga Who. It was then all a little bit emotional with tributes to hip-hop’s finest, Notorious B.I.G and Tupac before laying into the remix of Aaliyah‘s I Miss U. At that point the backdrop of the stage was a huge poster of the fallen star.
The hits kept on coming with one verse from 99 Problems, while Dirt Of Your Shoulder proved why after eight albums Jay-Z is widely regarded as the most important member of the fraternity. Encore had the entire crowd screaming, “Hova, Hova!” with their “diamonds” up, and was a bit of well-deserved self indulgence from Sean Carter.
By the time I Just Wanna Love U came and went there was a surreal feeling – the crowd was a tired wreck with the vast majority having been on their feet for the best part of seven hours. The pain was more than worth it, as the first Urban Music Festival was an all round, resounding success. The whole organisation was second to none and it was the day more than the music that made everything so worthwhile. Let’s just hope that this was the first of many to come.