Why UK rappers suck on stage

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.

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8 comments
  1. Uk Hip Hop Fan said:

    What about taskforce, jehst, contact play, klashnekoff, ty, roots manuva, jimmy screech, caxton press, foreign beggars, skinnyman, four owls, prose, skuff and inja…

    I could go on about how many mores live sets are great. Cracker jon is shit live as is skepta their the only subpar performances i’ve seen.

    Your just talking shit.

  2. Thank you for the mention of my crew The Bodega Brovas! It means a lot..and also I remember that instore at wyld pitch,that was a awesome time with great people! London is my favorite place to go when we are on tour.My personal view of UK hip hop is a great one,we have been honored to perform on the same tour with Jehst..and Jokerstar,and Booda French..all 3 of those artists have a real dope live show! I love UK hiphop! And also think is a great article,and it has some valid points! Keep doing what you do fam,you are a talented writer!

  3. @UKHHF: what about them?

    I’ve seen great shows from some of them, and pretty shoddy shows from others. I’ll give it up to Jehst in particular for always being fun to watch.

    @Travii: Thanks!

  4. funandfury said:

    Peace Rob, I’m keen on seeing the quality of gigs increase too. It’s depressing to see artist piss away opportunites to connect with the audience, enjoy the moment and actually do their own lyrics justice.

    Have you been to shows around the UK or primarily in London?

    It’s interesting that the thing that struck me when I got into UK hip-hop in the 1994/1995 was the fact that US rap groups would frequently come over to Europe ill-prepared and be shamed by the strong performances of the UK openers.

    I’ve haven’t been to as many shows in the last 5 years, so perhaps the quality has diminished.

    Up here in Brum we tend to give each other constructive criticism and many of us want each performance to count.

    In fact US hip-hop artists returning to the UK on tour after being shown up on the previous tour, were aware that that had to do more than a half-assed 35min. set.

    Perhaps these following ace live performers are anomalies, but relatively recent I seen high-quality gigs by Sammy G, Juice Aleem, Sykes, Justice, Barrowclough, Michael Stork, Deadline & Pete Cannon, Green Jade, The Praying Mantis, Malik of Moorish, Rukus, Ty, Triple Darkness, The Ruby Kid, HLI, Ms Dynamite, Soweto Kinch…should i go on?

    Let’s be advocates of elevation throughout the UK. Performers need ‘to-their-faces’ critiques.

    Godspeed
    Joel the Custodian

  5. funandfury said:

    The critical review have to be honest and constructive. If we don’t do it, who will? Very few wack emcees are aware that they’re the wack emcees being referred to in tracks. Everyone likes to think that it’s someone else who’s shit.

  6. Well written piece fella, you made some good points, but I’ve been to some taskforce shows that where awesome, also have you seen the foreign beggars live, those guys rock the house everytime, and the cherry on top of the cake… Rodney P and dj skitz are top dogs and I always love what they do. Peace out…

  7. christopher jenkins said:

    dude. ive seen plenty of terrible live shows from US artists! alot of those guys get by because alot of people know their music NOT because they are good live. i think the problem is spread across the board in hiphop why pick out the uk?? i know who you are too bro. lets see you perform live sometime….

  8. Mr Boffard. To sum up all ukhiphop in the way you have is a) pretty stupid (much like your name) and b) disrespectful to the acts that have spent years rehersing their sets.

    The fact your using Smiler as an example says a lot. There’s a list of names above ukhiphop fan has listed. (i would add Kashmere/Strange Universe, Joker Starr and DoubleEdge to that list)

    If you’d seen any of these, do a set over the last decade to present day, then you would surely not be making such sweeping statements. If its to wind whoever up to get them talking about this article then well done u’ve succeeded…and now have elevated your status to just ‘another prick on the internet.’

    May i recommend you go and see chipmunk or pro green.. ive heard they rehearse nice sets for girls. You can whoop all you like. Im sure they would appreciate it.

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