A sure sign that UK hip-hop is gaining the spotlight it rightly deserves is signified by the biggest date in the UK hip-hop calendar stepping up to a venue the size of Rock City.
OK it ain’t Ally Pally, but it’s a huge leap forward, without a hint of the threats and uncertainty which had marred the previous two takeovers.
First up are the final heats of the 60 Second Assassin battles. Special K was up against the burly Universal, who destroyed his opponent by whipping out a grotesquely large piece of lingerie which he had stolen from his poor victim’s mother. You couldn’t make it up.
MC Trouble then succumbed to much heckling as Spit Semi crudely ran some killer lines about shafting his sister and being molested by his own father.
Local trio Karizma and The Elementz opened the show proper with a decent twenty minutes, but he did little to rivet the crowd.
Thankfully the ‘north’s finest,’ Hoodz Underground, got things going. Sure, the aggressiveness of the boys would have you think you’re in Walthamstow, but Hoodz were keeping it loud and proud (“from the city of steel / keeping it real”) about the north.
Baby J then rolled out some fine free styling before the next round of battles. Spit Semi bowed out in a drab contest against the Steven Gerrard look-alike Kris. MC3 was more pitifully brushed aside by Universal.
He looks no more than a squat, thuggish kick boxer, but The Petebox has it where it counts, and I soon lost count of his amazing range: drum ‘n’ bass, house, break beat – you name it, he boxed it.
The Mitchell Brothers are a joke but tonight dump their rankness for a surprisingly heavyweight set. Just Shut Up had a deep rework which throbbed the calcium out of everyone’s bones. Harvey Nicks was delivered with a raw jungle feel, aeons better than its dopey original.
Foreign Beggars‘ deftly anthemic set, led by mainmen Metropolis and Orifice, almost stole the show. Shlomo was dragged to the front to give his band mates a breather with incredible boxing, casually dropping the Prodigy‘s Out of Space or Seven Nation Army next to scratching and dub.
A thuggish set followed from Dizzee Rascal‘s old Roll Deep crew before the brilliant Kyza stepped up with Terra Firma. Freestyle was the name of the night, and after a sweet rework of Devil in the Dress, he too embarked upon a couple of freestyle forays.
But there’s really no one in the same league as Phi-Life Cypher. Nappa stayed ducked under his baseball hat keeping the beat going as Life and Si-Philli proceeded to rip it up for the first of the bill’s big hitters.
Wariko popped on for a forgettable fifteen before Skitz and MCD came on for a testing eternity. A much needed breather meant the reliable Scratch Perverts and Joe Buhdha slipped off radar.
Skinnyman had been to Homelands and looked considerably hung over opting to let his crew work the crowd. Eventually the great man stepped forward, rinsing his distinguishable croak. Foreign Beggars came onstage mid set and along with Skinny’s crew, formed a kind of neo Mud Fam, helping along for I’ll Be Surprised and the rest of a formidable set.
The final of the battles pitted Kris against the behemoth Universal. Sursprisingly, Kris felt flat on his face with tame insults about his opponent’s weight. Universal flipped the table on him, mixing insult and crowd interaction to emerge the clear winner.
The guest DJ observing by the decks happened to be headliner Ty, who casually grabbed a mic and stepped forward for a stripped set. Gone was the ten piece band to “keep it hip-hop.” The big man faired well, but given the reserved nature of his sound perhaps would’ve been better supporting Skinnyman.
Apart from the curious lack of female acts (there are some great female MCs and groups out there), it was a top night bringing together some of the UK’s best and brightest under one roof. Roll on number four…