Friday 2nd December
The HiFi Club, Leeds
Words by Luke Bird
Friday the 2nd saw another monumental night in Hifi’s hip-hop calendar, as it welcomed Brooklyn legend Talib Kweli downstairs for a bumping night of boom-bap claps and intricately developed rhyme schemes. Manchester’s very own Sleazy F Baby warmed the crowd up, alongside help from fellow Mancunian Black Josh, and Sleazy F- a Blah records regular under the tutelage of Scouse legend Lee Scott- rattled through banger after banger from his July release All Blahk Tracksuit without a care in the world. From the album’s title track to ‘Sleazy’ to ‘Ballin’, Sleazy F Baby strutted the stage like a king prowling his own castle, spitting venom with the prideful arrogance of an evidently brilliant young rapper.
Kweli played Leeds last summer at the Tetley’s Garden Party, and while the atmosphere never detracted from the man’s undeniable talent, the festival tent stage just isn’t designed for Hip-Hop artists. Instead, what you need is an intimate, acoustically dynamic environment with a top-drawer soundsystem, cheap drinks and a crowd that have ventured downstairs precisely to jump around and shout out the odd lyric they can keep up with. Kweli provided ample opportunity for the Leeds lot to sing and shout, starting in fifth gear and pretty much staying there for the duration. Whether spitting over the Jackson 5’s ‘One More Chance’, Bob Marley’s ‘Jamming’ or even The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’, Kweli did so with the seasoned wit of a veteran, scarcely seeming to need to breath, and all the while subtly nodding to the honestly-nicked sample-heavy, referential nature of Hip-Hop culture.
"all that attended Kweli’s gig left with a sense of admiration and inspiration, in the same way I imagine millions and millions of young Americans first did before picking up a pen themselves."
Kweli found rap reverence under his partnership with Mos Def and their seminal Blackstar album, and despite having a string of successful solo projects, it was the tracks from Blackstar that really set Hifi off. ‘Definition’ sent raucous cries of “One, Two, Three, Mos Def and Talib Kweli-i-i..” across the darkness, while ‘K.O.S’ (Determination)’s smooth beat allowed for Kweli’s Brooklyn-born homonymic swagger to cut across the room (“We in the house like Japanese in Japan, or Koreans in Korea, head to Philly and free Mumia with the Kujichagulia- true…”), and ‘Brown Skin Lady’ stood alone as epitomizing all that is great about Hip-Hop: a subtle rip of Gil-Scott Heron’s ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’, a politically-minded, witty admiration of the diversity of race, and no holds barred, fire rhyme schemes.
It’s amazing to think that hip-hop, almost thirty years after its advent, still faces struggles with its attached stigma of moral panic and social deviance, when for a couple of hours in Leeds’ underground, all that attended Kweli’s gig left with a sense of admiration and inspiration, in the same way I imagine millions and millions of young Americans first did before picking up a pen themselves. Kweli commented himself on Leeds’ place in a growing UK scene, along with my friend visiting from New York: “Dude, I didn’t know y’all Brits could get so lit. They knew all the words!”.
Here’s to hoping Leeds keeps representing.
Words by Luke Bird
Photos courtesy of Press Here & Now