Live Review

El-P, Scala, London

It’s a pretty chaotic set with the audience going mental for every single song.

El-P’s been an important figure in rap for just under 20 years – part of the collective Company Flow in the late 90s and early 00s, owner of his own label Definite Jux and also a great solo artist for the last 10 years. This year he released ‘Cancer For Cure’, one of the best rap albums in 2012 which featured the likes of Danny Brown, Das Racist and Paul Banks as well as Killer Mike and Despot who he’s always working in close quarters with. Although it was always going to be unlikely that the whole ensemble would fly themselves out to London to accompany El-P playing ‘Cancer For Cure’ in full, there was a small hope that someone would enter side of stage at some point. Since the support tonight is from Despot, he does his best to fill in for those who couldn’t make it out as well as doing his own verse on ‘Tougher Colder Killer’.

Before Despot starts at least 20 minutes late, the whole of Scala is packed; waiting patiently for El-P’s counterpart to hit the stage. Having only heard guest spots from Despot, I was unsure as to what to expect but was pleasantly surprised as he held his own throughout, regularly making jokes throughout his set and getting the crowd warmed up. Down at the front, there were quite a few fanatics going crazy and singing along to every word, especially at ‘Look Alive’ which Despot introduced as being “a song that’s about not being dead.” Half way through his set, he introduced the crowd to his iPad which he called Calvin amongst other things – using it to play the backing tracks. His sharp flow and slightly aggressive delivery makes it clear why he seems to be working together so much with El-P.

The most bizarre but brilliant moment in his set is when he makes the crowd do aerobics with him as he said it’s hard to keep fit on tour. As he starts to warm up, El-P runs on stage and Despot says “if you don’t do it with me, this guy won’t rap!” jokingly. Doing an aerobics routine at a rap show feels surreal but fitting as Despot isn’t your average rapper ; listing all the rap show clichés, such as saying “Make some noise!” or “How’s everyone doing tonight?” and getting a response of “Woo!” (which, according to Despot, is not the right answer) - Despot does almost exactly the opposite to El-P, who fulfils most of the clichés you can think of.

For El-P, the response to him being in London seems to be a bit overwhelming – often commenting that “London is going OFF tonight” as droves of dedicated fans scream and shout each word back in his face as he interacts with them and nearly ends up losing his hat in the process. Playing the whole of ‘Cancer For Cure’, the first few songs see El-P raps even faster than on the recordings, making it hard to understand him. But as he feels the crowd reaction to his presence, he loosens up a bit and admits “I feel really good tonight” before launching into the next song. At one point, El-P starts a monologue about his hair and someone in the audience inaudibly shouts out something and El-P makes everyone be quiet so he can hear. The crowd member shouts “I love you and all mate but there’s too much bass!” which provokes a whole chorus of boos and no’s from the crowd who clearly disagree. However, El-P wants to hear him out and acts pretty considerately; just saying fair enough and carrying on.

We’ve all heard stories of rappers asking the crowd for cigarettes / drugs and El-P is no different, as fans clamour to hand him one of their cigarettes and lighter. Some of the fans at the front light up as well, despite not being able to smoke in any venue in the UK. It’s a pretty chaotic set with the audience going mental for every single song and El-P is pretty surprised that his Scala gig went down so well despite it being his first London performance in a few years.

Tags: Features

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