[Photo Credit: Nico via Doctors Orders Gallery]
Sunday 21st May 2017 was a historical day for Hip Hop culture in the UK. 30 years on from their conception, over 20 years after their last release, London Posse – arguably the most influential pioneers of Hip Hop in the UK, almost certainly in terms of the emcee – returned to the scene they’d helped to create. Putting aside whatever drama there had been (“a lot of water under the bridge” as was said on stage), Rodney P and Bionic, two giants of the UK music scene, decided to reunite their collective forces once again and show the new generation, and a few who missed out in between, what the original sound of UK Hip Hop was and is.
From the moment the comeback tour was announced, the hype online was wild. Across social media, tweets, posts, comments, shares – whatever else there is now — were poppin’ off, with supporters, contributors and legends of the UK scene, from every age and era getting each other gassed for the shows. This was was something many had wanted to see for two decades. Since the group had stopped working together, Rodney P had continued his career and life as a pioneer of UK Hip Hop culture and UK rap – performing regularly, being a key figure on flagship mainstream UK Hip Hop radio shows alongside Daddy Skitz, being instrumental in underground movements like Speaker’s Corner and People’s Army, filming documentaries and more; keeping his face, name and music in the minds of UK Hip Hop listeners and creators. Bionic took a completely different route, becoming a cult, even mythical figure of the scene; since the split, he became influential on the DnB scene before he went fully underground, leaving the people dem with only his classic London Posse cuts and scattered live tapes to get hold of his unique, inimitable flow. It was the thought of seeing these two contrasting innovators together again that had the scene so hyped, and I’d say, alongside a number of other recent factors, it has breathed some new life into the culture.
More important than the online hype was the fact that it translated into an audience – and ticket sales. We on the UK Hip Hop scene have been guilty for a long time of not properly supporting our own, especially financially. That wasn’t the case this time; the Jazz Café in Camden was ram. The age of London Posse’s fan base might have been a factor in this – fully matured Hip Hop heads with jobs and families were out in force to recapture the sound and feel of their teens and twenties, but they weren’t alone. Looking around – amongst all the well known faces in the crowd (including members of the Demon Boys) there was a wide range of ages, both men and women, from teenagers to heads in the 50’s, all anticipating the return of the original UK Hip Hop Raggamuffin Roughnecks.
When London Posse hit the stage the crowd went mad. The noise was deafening and the levels stayed high through the whole show. Rodney P, in his element, controlled the stage and the crowd, pouring drinks into people’s mouths, insisting this was first and foremost a party, but he let it be known that this night shouldn’t be focused on him. He said people (including his mum) had requested solo tracks, but he’d refused and said over and over that what made the night unique was the return of Bionic, so practically all the riddims played were London Posse originals. They ran through classics like Livin’ Pancoot, Live Like the Other Half Do and Gangster Chronicle, and Rodney helped his ‘emcee sensei’ shake off any rust he might have felt he’d built over the years of absence to put in a massive performance worthy of the occasion. The night began to peak when Bionic went in on a DnB track, showing why he’d been able to move effortlessly between the two genres and arenas, and both dedicated original fans and youngers could see, feel and appreciate why this was something special we were witnessing.
For me, it was a surreal moment; I was born in ‘87, the same year London Posse formed. I was watching a group I’d discovered when learning about the history of our culture in the UK of London, Caribbean and African influenced music, as the first to spit in a fully London accent and slang – something my generation took as a key principle for self and collective respect – with all those influences rolled in together. This was a crew that had been writing, spitting and performing for as long as I’d been alive but one that I thought I’d never be able to see on stage. To witness it, as an emcee, a lyricist, an artist and a Hip Hop head from London; it was something else.
The night fully climaxed when the biggest track was dropped. Money Mad had been the stand out hit of their career and when it dropped, London Posse had the whole crowd in a fucking frenzy. Gun fingers in the air, arms waving, everyone shouting or spitting the bars. It was the best ending, the perfect way to done the show. As the crowd filtered out, and the man dem went off to whatever after party plan they had, everyone in the building new we’d just experienced a piece of history.
The most poignant moment for me was hearing Bionic say that he couldn’t believe he’d walked away from this life, away from all the love that his supporters clearly have for him and Rodney. It made a real impact on me. I think most artists, especially emcees and musicians who are a focal point, struggle with being able to gauge the impact they’re having or have made on listeners, especially in the UK music scene with all it’s politics and socio-economic, racial and gender based barriers. Even someone as successful as Ghetts expressed a similar view in our recent interview with him. This would have been even more difficult to know in the 90s, way before social media followers and YouTube views, when the gatekeepers of the industry and airwaves had so much more power to limit talented artists’ access to their audience. Bionic said that one thing that had inspired him to come back was that when he joined social media in the last few years, the amount of love from fans that had flown in was unbelievable. It shows you just how important it is to try and gain a perspective of the things that you are achieving in your life. From when man like Bionic of London Posse, a genuine pioneer and innovator of an entire localised culture, with that many fans, that much love and respect, felt the need to walk away from his calling, it can definitely happen to anyone. There might be other people who we lose for 20 years for the same reason, or worse, may never even discover. It’s great to know that through the support shown from this show and the subsequent tour, that the man now knows how much he is valued, how much Rodney P is valued, how important and indispensable London Posse are, not only to UK Hip Hop and to emcees in the UK, but for UK music in general and to the fabric of the global Hip Hop and music world. Welcome back brothers, it’s bless to have you here again.
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