A good hip-hop gig used to be a rare occurrence in Manchester, but over the past 12 months or so we have seen visits from some of the best underground MCs ever to grace the mic. In shows of various size and venue, there have been shows by Jedi Mind Tricks, MF Doom, Souls of Mischief and Del the Funky Homosapien amongst others. This welcome explosion of great live hip-hop is no better exemplified than a recent gig with the jaw-dropping line-up of Rakim, De la Soul, Mos Def & Talib Kweli (aka Blackstar).
I must admit that when I first saw this announced I called up many of my friends to scream down the phone about it. However the rather steep ticket price (£33) seemed to put even hardened fans off. As it turned out the gig was downsized from the Apollo to the Academy, and even then was only just over half-full. I believe it was also the poor advance ticket sales which meant the show came to Manchester without De la Soul, even though they had all performed in London the night before. Now although this was a huge disappointment, indeed some fans I spoke to had only come for De La Soul, they were the only act on the bill I had seen already, and also the act which frequents the UK most, so I'm not going to lament it too much that we were left with 'only' Rakim & Blackstar alongside local support from Murkage Cartel.
Murkage are a Manchester based electronic music collective, formed from the night of the same name. Dubstep, Grime, UK Funky & UK Garage all inform their brand of punk-rap. They have built up quite a following already and have received big support for their debut single 'Paperweight'. Their live show was like a hurricane, a relentless force of beats, basslines and four MCs truly going for it. The crowd, possibly more used to the laid back side of hip-hop, take a while to warm to these guys but by the time they exit the stage, I'd guess you could say they had made a fair few new fans.
After that truly-modern slice of rap we go back, way back, to a man whom many will have in their Top 5 MCs, and who is an influence on all the hip-hop ever made since (and anyone who says otherwise is a liar- straight up). Rakim, the Microphone Fiend, is in Manchester for the first time in over 15 years. We learn later that he doesn't fly, so he got a boat over from the US for these shows! We're not here for stories though and Rakim doesn't let the fans down with his set. His flow is as slick and laid back as it is on a record, a true professional at work. He brings with him brand new material plus a lively 'left side vs right side' shouting battle, but what we’re all here for is the Eric B produced classics and we certainly get those too, 'I Ain't No Joke', 'You Know I Got Soul' and 'Paid In Full' all gracing the set-list. Altogether pretty hard to top!
If anyone could try and top a show like that, however, few would bet against Blackstar. Mos Def & Talib Kweli are both incredible artists in their own right, producing many classic tracks inflected with intelligence & social awareness, but when they come together a new kind of monster is produced. They bounce off each other effortlessly, as if two halves of the same mind. Classic hits from their debut LP like 'Definition' go down a storm. Newer cuts like 'Supreme Supreme' are just as well received, demonstrating both their lasting appeal and their fans dedication. We get solo songs from both artists, including a personal favourite in Kweli's 'Get By' (you remember, when Kanye West just kept quiet and produced great beats?). It is plainly obvious that these two are great friends and love performing together. It's only testament to their quality output when you think that they could have played on for hours and still managed to miss out one of your favourite tracks and, it has to be said that, while there's always going to be a 'I wish they'd have played...' in every fans head afterwards, this show leaves few stones unturned and remains a true demonstration of all that's great about hip hop.