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Kool G Rap & Blade

Venue: 02 Academy, Islington, London

Date: 23rd June 2017

By Andrew Kay | 04 July 2017

“Now directly you paid your money to come in here, so what’s with the attitude?” These are the paraphrased words of Blade as he stepped on stage at Dingwalls Nightclub at a “Live to London” monthly jam back in 1989 because the audience weren’t expecting an Armenian Londoner to be able to rap. It was racism reversed, partially because the Americans had done such a good job on indoctrinating rap fans. To Blade’s credit he let the distain wash over him and gave a good account of himself, which has stood him in good stead up until now.

Blade was the welcome support act to a Golden Age legend, in the form of Kool Genius of Rap. The original Juice Crew members’ solo shows, at least in the U.K, have been both sporadic and erratic. Masta Ace and Big Daddy Kane have fared best. Craig G wasn’t feeling well at Trapeze in London a couple of years ago; Biz Markie gave a sub-par show at the Forum, and the last time Kool G was in town, supporting Naughty by Nature in 1992, he mimed his entire set.

So this night was filled with trepidation based on past experiences. Would it be great, or a rap music car-crash?

DJ 279 played a warm-up set that thought outside the box and actually went back to the late 80s, welcomed by the ageing homeboys and fly girls who came to see a show to rekindle their youth. Bald-headed pates were supported by Blade sweatshirts on shoulders - the ones with Blade’s build rendered in dark silhouettes - and a lot of retro trainers, making up for a lost childhood when the newspaper round or Saturday job wouldn’t cover the price of these sought-after creps.

Blade clambered on stage ambling engaging with the audience, simply dressed, looking like 1989 had been frozen in time, and wasted no time starting off “The Coming Is Near.” Pressed up on his independent label 691, (the area code for his New Cross ‘hood,) records and selling respectable numbers, Blade epitomized the determined and talented hustler that had doors slammed in his face by established record companies, only to play them well at their own game. The “Hot Wheels” by Badder Than Evil sample used on “Coming...” had aged with much more stripped-down raw effectiveness and power than the Bomb Squad attempted on “Burn, Hollywood, Burn.” The whirling dervish of Blaxploitation funk worked on the distorted sound system. "Mind of an Ordinary Citizen” and “Soldier” followed and got a head-nodding unison of approval.

Blade stopped at times to talk to the audience about his place in hip-hop; that he’d had a fruitful career, and to show a gesture of support to some of fans in the front row, demanding they mosh to generate suitable atmosphere. He brought his son out to spit a few bars with lot of bantery back and forth, and there was a reunion of sorts with pony-tailed “No Sleep” Nigel (engineer supremo), producer 2000 AD and rapper Huckleberry Finn from Katch 22, who joined Blade for a few verses. “A bit sleepy” Nigel managed to mess up the intro to “Lyrical Maniac” and was humorously baited by the crowd for the faux pas.

Blade engaged with good cheer and humour throughout. He lost his breath at times, but that could be forgiven. In fact, he mentioned it on stage, sensing that we were thinking just that. He made a couple of mistakes, but no one cared. Mr. Thing gave him exceptional deejaying support, cuing up the instrumentals for maximum impact, playfully going against convention. Blade has always been this kind of rapper and the audience lapped it up. The last few songs were off his most successful project alongside his late producer Mark B: “The Unknown” and “You Don’t See The Signs” hadn’t dated for a moment and chugged along with gusto, reflecting on Mark B’s exceptional and visionary production skills.  Blade exited stage left like the righteous U.K ambassador for hip-hop he has always been. As he pointed out to his cheeky son: “without me and others, there would be no Grime…” Damn straight! Pay homage.

There was a pause for the cause and Antony Mase of Brooklyn set up as Mr. Thing left the stage. A rabid hype man and G Rap’s DJ, his selection of Dead Prez and Helter Skeltah, with a tribute to recently deceased rapper Prodigy, gave the lull in energies that needed kick up the backside.

Twenty minutes of preparing and papering over the timescale to lead up to curfew, Kool G Rap finally made it on to the stage, allowing his hype man to rouse the crowd to the string-strumming gangster anthem “Take ‘Em to War.’ The gangster movie imagery and nihilist lyrics filled the venue with deadly intent, as G Rap used his hype man to finish sentences and fill in for MF Grimm off the original track. The “On the Run” remix was up next. Another hustlers’ convention classic with the memorable chugging beat via an elastic Skull Snaps break-beat foundation and Ray Bryant and “The Untouchables” movie vocal sample.  G Rap’s trademark lispy cadence and his talent for telling fictional crime narratives exemplify his talents.  ‘lll Street Blues” continued this tradition. The resentful piano of Lee Dorsey’s original story of love gone wrong, coupled with a thudding bassline, conjured up the danceable weaving-a-tale of murder and mayhem on New York City’s mean streets.

The seminal “Road to the Riches” - a ghetto Wizard of Oz story of minimum wage and maximum ambition - was chopped up on the Billy Joel sample. As such it lost impact. G Rap tried to keep up with his younger self, but it was all too much. Sentences finished by his hype man deadened the song’s timeless impact and phenomenal lyrical dexterity.  G Rap was clearly suffering from a touch of the sore throat and went off stage.

After a break, which included a spin of “Nas’ “Halftime,” G Rap returned for “Fast Life”, morphed into the sample (Timmy Thomas’ “Sexy Woman) and the beat (“Truly Yours”) for the morally dubious descriptive tale of an abstraction of a lady who didn’t do right by G Rap. The beat for “Streets of NY” was drowned out a bit by the sound system in the venue. But the lyrics remain as powerful as they were back in 1990. “Poison” was played almost as an afterthought with the odd choice of including the Bell Biv Devoe version, which has allowed G Rap a few welcome royalty cheques over the years. Musically it felt like Louis Armstrong going to bed with Katy Perry. G Rap’s seminal verse on “Symphony” felt rushed and he kept having trouble keeping up with his verbal swordplay.  Ending proceedings was “Riker’s Island.” A fitting end to the night after a lack of moral coda for all G Rap’s multiple narratives of crime without much official, authoritarian consequence.

Kool G Rap gave a good account of himself tonight. There was no way a nearly 50-year-old man would be able to keep up with his younger self, but he represented as many musical legends are prone to doing: by living off past glories and realizing that the past is really the past, however it's been immortalized on record.

Photo credit: Richard Applewaithe, Wood Green Productions.

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