It hasn’t always been like this. Black music, underground music, Sound System culture, bass driven sounds have been birthed by our communities for generations, but haven’t always gained support within our communities or outside them, at least not in the way it is now, for a lot of reasons. The exuberance and excess of major labels dominated the decision making of who was successful throughout the 80s and 90s, and when that industry and lifestyle crashed in the early 2000s, a void was created alongside the infantile ecosystem of downloading and streaming that made it one of the most difficult times to distribute and promote music, especially independently. This era was the time when Grime was formed, which despite being attacked by the powers that be has survived and thrived thanks to the ambition and dedication of the people who created it, some of who have now rightly reaped immense success today, as that online ecosystem is now mature enough to work in the favour of independent artists. That same period also coincided with the “boom” of UK Hip Hop – classic, boom bap, rugged, lyrical UK Hip Hop. More rappers and beatmakers seemed to exist then than before and now, though it rarely produced successful careers; by the time we reached the place we are now, the wave of interest had mostly moved on to the younger siblings of Grime and Drill.
There are artists though, who not only laid the foundation for our current moment, but shaped the art form and culture, maintained it though those difficult years and have come out the other side with their lives, sanity, respect and reputations not only intact, but enhanced. Rodney P, Blak Twang and Ty are 3 of those artists – representing 3 different generations each inspired by and building on the one before. To see them come together as The KingDem, with a national tour, an EP on the way (produced by Nutty P and set to be released on Tru Thoughts) and shellin’ riddims on platforms like Charlie Sloth’s new Fire in the Booth is a significant moment for lyrical Hip Hop music, our culture, those who make it and those who have always supported it. That fact has not been lost on our community, around the country but especially in London. The last date of The KingDem tour at Jazz Café sold out completely, with people who’d assumed they’d be able to pay on the day missing out.
For those who didn’t miss out (or were blessed to have a press pass!) it was a special night. I’ve been to Jazz Café a lot over the years, and seen crowds like this for the likes of Jedi Mind Tricks and Onyx, or maybe something close to that for a huge compilation line up of London based acts, but this was different. This was for one crew – yes, a supergroup made of 3 legends – still, it was a powerful statement. What was also telling was the range of the audience; a beautiful mix of Hip Hop heads in their 20s, 30s 40s and above, and too many influential names to mention. Importantly, a large proportion of the crowd were sisters. One criticism UK Hip Hop has faced over the years is the marginalisation of and inability to attract women to events like this. The KingDem have bucked that trend, not only in the demographic of support but in the homage paid to the Cookie Crew, already being referred to as The QueenDem, in the promotional events and at this show – as the fundamental inspiration for Rodney P to start rapping back in the 80s.
It also manifested in the wildly dope Isatta Sheriff being brought onstage by Ty, to add to the support from Rotton family’s K9, Nottingham veteran and community builder Jah Digga, pioneering selecta and tastemaker DJ 279 who all killed their sets, all held together by Rapscallion as master of ceremony. The homage paid, the support of old friends, the promotion of youngers, the bring in of heads from other cities and the support and reactions from the crowd was evidence of what The KingDem said all night – this was about more than 3 men – this was about Hip Hop, and the branch of its culture born in the cities of these isles. At the same time though, it was all about these 3 legends, as it should be. We were treated to a mix of classics and freshness, through their individual sets and their collective performance. Another legend, DJ Teddy Ted, held down the decks for the whole night, making the crowd go crazy as Ty dropped tracks like ‘Heart is Breaking’, ‘Ha Ha’, ‘As the Smoke Clears’ and ‘Somewhere Somehow Someway’. Tony Rotton went in with his classics ‘Dettwork SouthEast’, ‘Help Dem Lord’, ‘G.C.S.E.’ and ending on what probably got the biggest reaction of the night ‘So Rotton’. With the tone set, Rodney P took the stage, his set playing like a history of Black London music, moving from his ‘Live Up’ collaboration with People’s Army and Mighty Moe, through classic London Posse tracks ‘Money Mad’ and ‘How’s Life in London’ to solos like ‘Riddim Killa’ and ‘The Nice Up’, with classic Jungle, Ragga and Hip Hop vibes mixed throughout. You could feel the genuine appreciation and enjoyment from the crowd all the way through, and looking around there was big, big smiles on faces all round. The night reached its climax when all 3 KingDem shared the stage, performing new tracks ‘The Conversation’ and ‘Kingstep’ and the bars performed on Fire in the Booth, showing that 30+ years of grind, growth, perseverance and creating has sharpened the skills, not dulled them.
These brothers, legends, kings showed beyond all doubt that lyrical, substance driven, home grown Hip Hop was not only alive, but thriving in this era of merged genres, new sounds, revitalisation, independent achievements…and mumble rap! The KingDem is a movement, with a lot more to come, that was not started but has definitely been continued through this show, this tour, this crew, the music they’re about to release and the bridges that will be built through their continued success. A corner has been turned and there’s no turning back; again, I feel blessed to be witnessing it and be a part of it.
Follow the movement at www.kingdem.co.uk
Photos by Ernest Simons (@ernestsimons)