This month I was fortunate enough to see two gifted artists in very different stages of their careers; the established hip-hop maverick Talib Kweli, and Loyle Carner who is currently on the rise. The artists met and even exceeded my expectations. Not only that, but they also reconfirmed my love for this genre of music, and reminded me that seeing live hip-hop music is unlike any other – not that I was doubting it.
First up, Ben Coyle-Larner aka Loyle Carner’s gig on 7 November at Corsica Studios, London. It’s safe to say that Carner has the lyrics and flow to captivate an audience within seconds. The South London rapper is refreshingly unpretentious in a music scene where the grime boom has hit hard. Carner remains unfazed by image or bravado. This rapper wears his heart on his sleeve; most of his music reflects the bitterness he feels towards his biological father, sadness for his stepdad’s death and his battle of responsibilities with adulthood. Although his music mirrors the blunt honesty of a 20 year old, he still manages to remain enduringly appealing, which is what I think truly sets him apart from others.
“He thanked the audience on about four or five occasions for supporting him and gratefully said “I’ll remember this gig for the rest of my life”.
During his London show, the first thing that struck me was just how humble and grounded Carner was. He thanked the audience on about four or five occasions for supporting him and gratefully said “I’ll remember this gig for the rest of my life”. He opened the show with ‘BFG’, an ode to his late stepfather. Carner encouraged the audience to sing along and repeat the rhythmic lyrics “Everybody says I’m fuckin’ sad/ Course I’m fuckin’ sad/ I miss my fuckin’ dad”. I found myself caught up in the lyrics along with the rest of the crowd but it seemed a little bizarre and almost slightly uncomfortable that we were repeating something so deep and personal to Carner. Having said this, the song set the intimate tone of the rest of the gig and Carner then launched straight into ‘Sea Shells’ alongside friend and producer Rebel Kleff, with enthusiasm and energy.
Carner’s acapella rendition of ‘Florence’ was especially notable. His tone of voice was so on point that the audience were almost deadly silent, which is rare to accomplish at a rap gig. Being so deeply family-orientated, he later explained that his mum is adopting a girl and adding a third child to the Carner household. To our surprise, he then invited his weeping and proud mum up on stage, where he repeatedly thanked her for being ‘the best person to enter his life’. Whilst this may sound ever so slightly cheesy, his ability to uphold the confidence of a rapper and the skill reminiscent of a hip-hop great, simply made his sensitivity yet another dimension to his persona as an artist. Other highlights included ‘October’ where good friend Kiko Bun joined him on stage. Bun’s dreamy yet deep reggae tones completed the song and complimented the track perfectly.
A week later I went to see the wordplay master Talib Kweli. I had seen Kweli over the summer at Garden Party festival in Leeds. However, his performance at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, eclipsed my expectations. Kweli oozes confidence and old school authenticity, something I feel many new-age hip-hop artists lack. His typical American persona differs from gritty British counterparts, making his performance all the more entertaining.
“Halfway through Kweli’s performance, he stopped to address the recent massacre in Paris and to state that solidarity for all countries must be established. He then proclaimed ‘hip hop brings people together’…”
He opened his set with ‘Never Been In Love’ from 2004 album The Beautiful Struggle. The less politically inclined track features an also less aggressive ‘Just Blaze’, with romanticised lyrics, “Jewel of the Nile so I’m romancing the stone/ The rhythm is in the worlds and I watched her dance to my poems”. Kweli also played a lot of his more recent material such as ‘Every Ghetto’ alongside 9th Wonder, featuring Rapsody. Concerned with the Black Lives Matter movement, the song was a thought-provoking reflection on empowering deprived black neighbourhoods.
Halfway through Kweli’s performance, he stopped to address the recent massacre in Paris and to state that solidarity for all countries must be established. He then proclaimed ‘hip hop brings people together’ (before asking us several times if we loved hip hop). He expressed so much genuine trust in this genre of music and what it can bring to people. This is perhaps why his list of collaborators is so extensive, as he feeds off working with like-minded people. He’s teamed up with some truly great artists and producers from the likes of Hi-Tek to The Roots. He got the crowd up and jumping for ‘Lonely’, which distinctively samples The Beatles track ‘Elenor Rigby’. He was unable to release the track as the sample clearance was denied. He cheekily ended the song with a chuckle and “Yeah McCartney!”: a dig no doubt, but all in good humour. Kweli even dipped into the ‘Blackstar’ album, created with Mos Def back in 1998. He gave us the crowd pleaser ‘Definition’. From then on, I got the feeling that the set was coming to an end, but the crowd’s sense of awe remained long after we had left the venue.
There were undoubtedly similarities between Kweli and Carner. They both have the liveliness and fortitude to express themselves and their love of music through hip-hop and rap. Most importantly, they’re both amazing lyricists – real poets. Hip-hop shows thrive on energy and both artists were able to create this. My only criticism with Carner’s gig was that I would have liked to see a greater diversity in the age of the crowd. The average age was probably just under 18 years old, which isn’t a bad thing, but a greater diversity in age would have been more representative for all those who have heard his material. Kweli’s gig on the other hand, was made up of a slightly older crowd; it was great to see the long-standing hip-hop lovers of Nottingham out in force for the evening. Nonetheless, both these artists rightfully have a solid following; perhaps a future collaboration could be on the cards.