With a lengthy queue snaking its way down the side of Leeds O2 Academy and the majority of attendees waving the free flashing batons handed out by sponsors VK, it was fair to assume that there was some excitement in the air for Charlie Sloth’s opening night of The Plug tour. The debut album from Sloth comes after years of being a household name within the UK grime and hip hop scene, hosting shows dedicated to the genres on both BBC 1Xtra and BBC Radio One. Featuring a long list of acts, the album showcases Sloth’s production skills, while emcees such as Giggs, Ghetts, Lady Leshurr to name but a few lay their bars over. While not every collaborator could make it to the tour, the likes of Big Tobz, K Koke, Abra Cadabra, Fekky, and very special guest Michael Dapaah joined Charlie on the Leeds leg.
Kicking off proceedings, local Leeds DJ Manny Brown takes to the decks and starts spinning all things grime, hip hop and even throws in some dub and dancehall to get the crowd well and truly warmed up. Once the crowd had danced their way through tracks by Stormzy, J Hus, Ghetts and more, a rap battle featuring a pair of anonymous emcees allowed to build up even more hype, with their take on traditional rap battle smack talk conjuring “ooo’s” out of their spectators. The winner (decided by the noisiest crowd reaction) was granted the honour of performing a full track for the crowd, and although nobody in the room knew the lyrics, the reception more than made up for it.
Momentum had well and truly peaked, so referring back to the night’s resident DJ felt like a bit of a step back in the night’s progression, and with things running behind, it was evident people were eager to see the next act. When Big Tobz bounced onto the stage, all energy was restored, and the crowd swelled to hear his bars live. Talking to others at the gig, the general feeling was that many were here to catch K Koke, some had even travelled from further afield at the chance to hear this guy’s flow. Considering his popularity came off the back of a Fire In The Booth hosted by Sloth, it made sense that his presence was through an invite by him. Although his emceeing skills were faultless, his energy was lacking and his laid back attitude to live performing would have suited a more intimate setting, but this audience wanted to feast on raw energy and exhilaration.
Without any indication as to what the running order would be, the distant and sporadic shouts of ‘the ting goes brrrraaaap’ showed that people were waiting for the moment that Big Shaq aka comedian Michael Dapaah would take to the stage, to offer a live rendition of what’s become one of the biggest memes of 2017. The announcement of his stage presence signalled the crowd at their most energetic yet, as many pushed their way forward and held up their phones to catch a live version of ‘Man’s Not Hot’. Everything about Dapaah’s time on stage - albeit short - was what a grime night should be as the crowd was so hyped to shout along to his track that his own voice was almost inaudible amongst the fans - he of course wore his coat for the entirety of his set.
Even the most established of performers would be nervous to follow that up, but up and coming grime act Abra Cadabra gave it as much as he could. Warming up for the headline act, the MOBO award winning act showcased his unique husky tones by spitting bars over the track which he collaborated with Charlie, ‘Running’ much to the appreciation to those in attendance - who swelled and jumped on the rhythm.
The man himself finally graces the stage and looking genuinely happy to be there, Charlie Sloth greets his crowd before taking his spot behind the decks and getting straight into mixing. Anyone finding themselves a little tired due to the late running of the show definitely found some energy once Charlie had spun some tracks. Audience interaction can go one of two ways, and having had previous performers already tried and tested the “let me hear you Leeds” call outs to no avail, Charlie’s fresh take on gaining the engagement of his crowd certainly paid off. If not, a spin of his album tracks certainly excited his viewers - this is what the people had come to hear, after all. Out of all the acts, it’s the headliner whose personality shone through in his presence in such a way that the sound is secondary to his appearance, but with production skills like his, it’s definitely an added bonus.
Having also released his debut El Classico this year, Fekky’s appearance on this bill was a given. Although his finale slot is a great end to what has been a fantastic showcase of talent in the rap and djing scenes, it seems Sloth should have closed his own show. Still, despite people leaving thinking this, the addition of the South East London representative’s distinct flow truly is the cherry on top of an extensive - and long - night of hip hop and grime.