By Rob Boffard
OK, new rule. If you have a show that lasts an hour and a half, and the venue turns the house lights back on at 11pm, you are not allowed to start your set at 10. That’s just stupid. And if you’re Slaughterhouse, that means you have to close your set with the big pile of meh that is My Life as opposed to, say, the rollicking monster of a tune that is The One.
But this rant isn’t about Slaughterhouse. They played the Forum in Kentish Town last night, and were actually pretty damn good. Sure, Royce and Joell might have had to deal with a bored Crooked and a cosmically high Joe Budden, but when it all came together, it was magic. Seeing them open up with Sound Off must rank as one of the must-see live moments in rap.
Before Slaughterhouse came on, the capacity crowd got a set by Smiler. And this is the real point. Smiler isn’t a bad rapper, as his recent mixtape proved. But oh my stars and garters is his live show bad. He came out rapping along to Jump Around (Really?) and then filled twenty-five minutes with sketchy, half-formed tracks and dull a capellas. There was no effort, no energy, nothing to even vaguely suggest that Smiler was opening up for one of the most exciting rap crews around. It was just…ass. Pure ass.
And so here’s my second new rule, and my point. UK rappers are not allowed to moan about not being recognised or given props by their US counterparts.
Do you know why this happens? It’s because your live shows suck.
I’m not just talking about Smiler. I’m talking about UK rappers as a whole. Maybe I’m being harsh. I’ve lived in the UK for five years now, and I’ve only seen three or four thousand performances from UK rappers, so maybe a few passed me by. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say I can count the number of memorable performances out on three fingers. All the rest have been at best unremarkable, and at worst, boring and exasperating. I don’t get it: it’s not as if the UK doesn’t have good music – some of the finest tracks I’ve ever heard are from UK rappers.
Now take this, and hold it up against all the foreign rappers who come here each year. Think of all the amazing live shows you’ve seen: shows that have been put together carefully, that have been practiced, with full cognisance of the fact that people have paid quite a lot of money to see them.
And this is what is so infuriating about UK rappers. How much effort does it take to put a little professional spin on your show, really? A few hours of rehearsal? A coherent set-list? A DJ who knows what he or she is doing? You don’t have to be world-class on your first time out, but if you aren’t putting effort into your shows, then you’re a disgrace and you’re wasting the money of anybody who comes to see you. Well, not my money, because I’ve probably traded sexual favours for the guest list, but you get my point.
There really is zero excuse for this. For me, the standard was set by a three-man crew from Nowhere, Idaho or some such, called The Bodega Brovas. They came to London on tour with Tanya Morgan, and were slated to perform an in-store event at Wyld Pytch. There couldn’t have been more than seven people watching them in this tiny-ass room, with crackly microphones and shoddy decks, but these guys acted like it was Wembley Stadium, and they were opening up for Pac’s comeback show. It was an act that had clearly been rehearsed and fine-tuned, and it was an absolute joy to watch. Nothing but effort and hard-earned skill. I guarantee you that every one of those people in the store went home and Googled Bodega Brovas. You should too, by the way. They’re great.
Meanwhile, UK hip-hop fans have to put up with endless shit-talking onstage, boring freestyles, random shout-outs, a barrage of rewind-that-backs and tracks that fizzle out of existence after two minutes. When we have huge rosters of live brilliance coming to the UK every year, you expect us to pay to watch your pathetic stage show? Get outta here with that bullshit, man.