It begins. Route2Roots take to the stage with effortless swagger, the reason for which becomes apparent with the strum of the first chord. This is a group that serves up something seriously lacking in live hip hop: pure unadulterated music. With nine members taking to the stage, the volume and depth of their sound pierces through the still sober crowd pricking up ears and getting feet moving.
The Social Southampton has a decently sized stage and yet it wasn’t enough to accommodate this rabble of rapping rebels. We watched Bob Harris on bass play the set from off stage, staying completely in sync with the rest of the band, even without hearing them through the monitors, which is a testament to how tight these musicians are. The unity between the band and MCs is phenomenal, each and every member has their moment in the spotlight, shining their individual talent then slipping straight back into a soundscape richer for the diversity of its cast. The funked up keys and soulful sax soar atop the backbone bass and explosive drum beats; it’s a bed easy as a Sunday morning and the jazz genesis plays perfectly for this unique group.
MCs Resco, Idealest, Oski and Spitfire come together in harmony, four brothers on the mic making it sound like one. Each has their own unique flavour and flow but pass the mic seamlessly providing echo, callback and mantra. The songs and lyrics are well crafted with narrative and message. It’s clear to see they’ve got “The Format” and if you want to know how they got it check out “Handle That” which is a kicking little tune charting the band’s formation. Over the course of their short but sweaty set they enthuse the crowd bringing them to the front of the stage to soak in the flow. Route2Roots provide a passage into the heart of hip hop, with their incredible dedication to such well crafted live music it would make it hard for even the snobbiest of music purists to label this as anything “lesser” than true artistry. Delivering stimulating food for thought atop delicious musicality, it’s a journey we’ll definitely take again.
Akala takes to the stage to a chanting crowd in a frenzy that has been well stoked over the course of his 10 year career. Truly embodying the often forgotten 5th element of hip hop, Akala is knowledge. A far more stripped back set up than the bands before, he is alone on stage except for a drummer and a set of decks. Behind him is a screen showcasing lyric videos which help concrete the building block of his message of history, humanity and piercing the narrative of mainstream media. A polished performer, he never falls out of sync with this multimedia show, exhibiting another way that hip hop can transform itself and stand proud on the live music scene.
It’s an energetic show and deliberately plays with the tempo building and ebbing, highlighting this MC’s incredibly versatile range. Old school garage tracks like “Roll Wid Us” and “Shakespeare” get a “little twist” to reflect Akala’s evolution but pack a punch when deployed. He brought the pace down in the middle with “Peace” but the crowd remain dead set in heckling him for his “Fire In The Booth“, a shame as the power of this track with its spoken word delivery allows the consciousness of the lyrics to sink in and it could have been a reverent moment before diving back into the vicious roar of tracks like “Sun Tzu“. The end of the set is dominated by Akala’s truly devastating visits to Charlie Sloth‘s Fire In The Booth, deploying parts 1, 2 and 3, it is truly amazing to witness the entire crowd mirroring these intricate and intelligent words back to him. Perhaps it was due to lack of time but the Fiery Booth tour meant that tracks like “Find No Enemy” were left out, every bit as prophetic this is a track that may have found slightly stronger legs live. It was clear what the majority of the crowd wanted from the outset and Akala didn’t disappoint.
The generation of MCs that we listen to now will all tell you how they were listening to people like Rakim or Chuck D; how it was through these artists they were introduced to the lens of hip hop and how their reality was forever changed for the better. Knowledge is power and introducing ideas, writers, thinkers and musicians that champion intellectual growth to your listeners has always been an integral part of the art form. Akala serves up raw and pure knowledge, as a teacher he is invested in honestly changing and improving the minds of all those he encounters.
Don’t you dare tell us that hip hop is dead, because we just saw it live and kicking, shaking its booty and strutting its stuff all over this stage in Southampton. Maybe the mainstream is a little rotten, but if you want to see the resurrection then break out a shovel and get digging underground.
Hear more from Akala and check out his incredible body of work here.
Words by Matt Miles