Mac Miller – Live At The HMV Forum, London: Review!

Defying Tradition.

If there’s ever an artist to defy the traditional route of making it to the top of the charts, then Mac Miller’s your man – proving you don’t need a big label in order to reach the dizzy heights of success. While the twenty-year-old Pittsburgh native may be considered a newbie in the rap world, having only one official album under his belt, Malcolm McCormick gained legions of fans worldwide, after releasing seven mixtapes over the last five years. And the hard graft paid off, because the young wordsmith’s debut LP ‘Blue Slide Park’ became the first independently released record to top the Billboard charts in over fifteen years. So when the rising hip hop star brings his ‘Blue Slide Park’ tour to the UK, it’s no surprise Miller’s Brit fans turn up in their droves for the occasion.

It’s one of the hottest days in the year and just one glance at the audience outside the HMV Forum and you can feel the jubilance and excitement in the young crowd. Once inside the insanely hot North West London venue, the atmosphere is electric – even before the main man’s hit the stage. So when Miller arrives, there’s no surprise pandemonium erupts as ecstatic fans fist pump and go crazy for their idol.

Dressed in a white “I LOVE LDN” T-shirt, jeans and hat, Miller keeps it simple, with no gimmicks. Taking rap back to its essence, the US star is simply joined on stage by his DJ and hype man – the show is purely about the music. “Yo London, make more muthf*ckin’ noise,” he confidently declares, before spitting verses from his debut LP and numerous mixtapes – showcasing an impressive catalogue of material for such a young artist (Miller released his first mixtape at the tender age of fifteen).

Songs such as ‘Loud’, ‘Party On Fifth Av’ and ‘My Team’ has sweat-drenched revellers energetically shape-throwing, whilst rapping along to every word. Miller’s live delivery is precisely sharp and stage presence incredibly strong. Current radio smash ‘Frick Park Market’ raises the temperature, but it’s tracks from the K.I.D.S. mixtape that are the highlight of the night, with the likes of ‘Knock Knock’ and ‘Nikes On My Feet’ causing frenzied applause.

Feeding off the crowd’s infectious energy, Miller even provides some dance moves – showcasing his humorous side. The hour long set also includes tributes to Michael Jackson and the late Beastie Boy, MCA. And saving the best for last, Miller closes the impressive hyperactive show with his smash and fan favourite ‘Donald Trump’.

The name Mac Miller may still be unfamiliar to many, but it’s only a matter of time before this young contender starts to really rival some of hip hops heavy players.

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Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne, 02 Arena, London, Live Review!

Six months after completing the US leg, rap royalty Jay-Z and Kanye West finally bring their highly anticipated Watch The Throne Tour to UK soil. And it’s undoubtedly worth the wait.

It’s not hard to see why Yeezy and HOV refer to themselves as “The Throne”, as cocky as it may be. Jay-Z, an emerging billionaire, has more US number one albums than Elvis Presley, with a successful career spanning over fifteen years. And his protégée Kanye West is close on his heels. While at times it’s easy to dislike Mr West, the flamboyant rapper’s musical genius often overrides his ego-fuelled gaffes. So it’s no surprise the rap juggernauts joint show is the hottest ticket in town, with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessie J in attendance.

The 20,000-strong crowd patiently waits as the reigning monarchs of hip-hop are fashionably late to hit the stage at London’s O2 (as part of five consecutive shows at the Greenwich venue). But fans are unfazed by the 45 minute wait, as the anticipation only fuels excitement. Suddenly, the music dips and the venue erupts into frenzied applause, as the superstar rappers emerge. Sticking to their “all black everything” motto, both are decked out in black clothing from head to toe – with West donning what appears to be a skirt over his leather trousers. And in an intriguingly unique entrance, West, 34, and 42-year-old Jigga enter the stage on boxes from opposite sides of the venue, spitting back and forth with one another, opening the historic night with ‘H.A.M’.

Both stages slowly rise, with images of barking dogs and wildlife projecting from each, as the duo performs tracks from their smash hit joint album. As the intro to Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ plays, Jay sprints to the main stage to join his collaborator, and the pair break into the LP’s leading single ‘Otis’. Accompanied with a giant American flag draped at the back, it’s at this point the show really gets underway.

The tour may be called Watch The Throne, but both MCs – to the delight of fans – play numerous tracks from their impressive back catalogue of hits. Jay-Z’s ‘Jigga What, Jigga Who’ and ‘Big Pimpin’’ takes older fans back to the Roc-A-Fella heyday, while West’s ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ and ‘All Falls Down’ garners rapturous screams and excited shape-throwing gestures.

Showcasing their natural stage chemistry, Yeezy assists Jay during a rendition of ‘99 Problems’, while HOV returns the favour on West’s ‘Gold Digger’. A personal highlight comes when the pair takes it down a notch, grabbing a seat, whilst casually conversing, reminiscing about earlier days –which proves a great intro to Jigga’s breakthrough 1997 single ‘Hard Knock Life’.

Despite its wide success, some critics have questioned the ‘Watch The Throne’ album, claiming the record’s over-the-top boasting of wealth, designer garments and private jet lifestyle, in a time where most are feeling the pinch of the credit crunch, suggests the rap icons are slowly losing touch with their original hip hop fanbase. And while elements of that cannot be disputed, the albums triumph (both commercially and within the hip hop scene) proves rap fans (and pop fans alike) are very much so onboard with the duo’s “luxury rap”. And The O2 gig is a testament to that.

The US stars close their breathtaking two-hour set with an extended version of ‘N****s In Paris’ – which is reloaded an astonishing FOUR times, providing a perfect encore to what is quite frankly an EPIC show. Jay and Kanye are well and truly sitting on top of the hip hop throne, with no contenders remotely insight of knocking them off anytime soon.

Words by Vanessa Laker

D’Angelo Live at the 02 Brixton Academy, London REVIEW!

Back in the Nineties no artist defined soul music quite like D’Angelo did. The Virginia native’s 1995 debut album ‘Brown Sugar’ helped revolutionise mainstream modern-day rhythm and blues, and along with the likes of Maxwell and Jill Scott, D’Angelo and co were at the forefront of the popular neo-soul era.

However, it was D’Angelo’s long-awaited sophomore LP ‘Voodoo’ that really put the multi-talented singer-songwriter on the map, swinging Michael Eugene Arche in a lane above his rivals. Released in January 2000, the critically acclaimed and commercially successful double Grammy-winning record fused contemporary soul with old school funk, whilst exuding traditional jazz – resulting in Robert Christgau dubbing the young star the “R&B Jesus”.
Later that year D’Angelo embarked on what is now being described as his historic “Voodoo Tour” – a host of live shows that saw the soul sensation travel the world with his group The Soultronics, cementing his place as one of the genre’s most influential musicians. Fans eagerly awaited the follow-up to ‘Voodoo’, but to much disappointment, a third album never arose.

To really understand the complexity of this comeback, one has to be aware of the reasons behind D’Angelo’s long hiatus from the limelight. A new album has been in the pipelines for many years, but a long battle with alcohol and substance abuse, as well as numerous court cases, have kept the star off track, both musically and personally. And in 2010 he was arrested for attempting to pay an undercover cop for oral sex in New York. The notorious mug shot that followed revealed a shockingly dishelmed, overweight looking D’Angelo – a figure a million miles away from the muscular physically toned man who stripped naked for the infamous 2000 ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ music video.

It’s been over a decade since he performed live and a staggering 12 years since the release of his last album, so when PhatNights announced the R&B superstar would be coming to London for two gigs as part of a mini European tour, fans wasted no time snapping up tickets for one of the most eagerly anticipated R&B shows of modern times.

It’s 9.20pm and Brixton Academy is at full capacity. The main man is running slightly late, but audiences are excitedly patient, whilst being happily entertained by his impressive live backing band. Suddenly the lights dim, exhilarating cheers and screams engulf the venue as a healthier looking D’Angelo enters the stage to ‘Player Player’ intro. Donning a leather black jacket and a wild west inspired black hat, with his guitar in tow, the 37-year-old opens with a funk rendition of ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’. Upon hearing the first song alone, any suggestions that D’Angelo isn’t fit to make a live comeback are quickly diminished, as the singers emotionally raw and flawlessly powerful vocals declare that the soul legend is officially back like he never even left.

Old classics such as ‘Devil’s Pie’ and ‘Chicken Grease’ complete the nostalgic moment, with an extended version of ‘Shit, Damn, Motherfucker’ sending audiences into frenzy mode. Half way through the up-tempo James Brown reminiscent set, D’Angelo takes it down a notch as he jumps on the piano. New songs ‘The Charade’ and ‘Sugar Daddy’ are greeted warmly, but it’s classic ‘Untitled (How Does It Feel)’ which garners the loudest applause. The encore comes courtesy of a remixed version of ‘Brown Sugar’.

Neo soul singer D'Angelo performs live at the O2 Academy, Brixton.

Can the live show triumph translate to new album success? Only time will tell. But the public have been waiting an extremely long time for this moment and judging from the smile on his face whilst performing this weekend, it’s evident the iconic soul singer enjoys being back on stage and has been waiting for this moment equally as much as the fans have. And with contemporary R&B music in such a dire state right now, the genre needs the “messiah of rhythm and blues” to come back and inject some credibility back into modern R&B music.

Words by Vanessa Laker

Erykah Badu Live @ O2 Brixton Academy: The Review

In the Nineties there were a host of female soul singers at the forefront of music – from Lauryn Hill and Jill Scott, to Angie Stone and India Arie. And while female singers are currently dominating today’s mainstream charts, neo-soul has become somewhat of a niche genre, and authentic soulful sounds are noticeably absent in contemporary commercial music. So when Erykah Badu flew into town for a one off gig at London’s Brixton Academy, it was a show not to be missed.

The 40-year-old songstress is notorious for turning up late to shows (at her last UK gig she was nearly two hours late), so it was a pleasant surprise when the veteran singer started her set slightly earlier than scheduled.

With her trademark heavy long hair tied in two plaits and rocking a full-size blanket-inspired poncho, Badu lives up to her unique style. As soon as she bursts into song – accompanied by a full ensemble – the mood at the south west London venue immediately lights up and a euphoric feeling is in the air. Badu’s vocals alone make the show; husky yet smooth, fierce but still subtle, floating from a resonant mid-range, then hitting high notes that seem near enough impossible to achieve, yet done with such ease.

Fans are treated to an array of songs, both new and old. Current album New Amerykah Part Two (Return of the Ankh) exudes a slightly more modern feel, and hits such as “Out My Mind” and “Window Seat” are greeted with heavy applause. Badu is fully aware of the controversy that engulfed the latter; she stripped naked in public for the video, proclaiming: “Do I look like a fucking role model?” It’s this raw, unhinged persona that separates Badu from her peers.

Although the newer songs are received extremely well, it’s the singer’s earlier material that really gets the audience going. At this point the poncho has been removed, unveiling her flamboyant black glitter high-waist trousers, accompanied with a tucked in white shirt.

“London, shall we take it back to 1997?” she asks the crowd in her distinctive southern twang. Songs such as “On & On” and “Tyrone” garner rapturous applause and have concerts goers in a moment of nostalgia, and it’s at the this point that it’s drummed in that Erykah Badu is a rare gem and part of a dying breed of genuine soulful singers.

At times the show followed an irregular pattern with regards to pace and tempo, but all was forgotten as soon as the vocals kicked in. And many were left perplexed by the absence of fan favourites “Bag Lady” and “Next Lifetime”.

But with that said, her live show still leaves her competition in the shade. Badu’s stage presence is compelling and her charismatic aura is electric, yet calm. The two-hour-long show fused jazz, soul, and rhythm and blues with hints of electro and hip-hop, taking fans back to a time where authentic music stood tall in the mainstream charts. Very few musicians can rival her vocal ability and this iconic diva sure could teach some of today’s singers a thing a two.