Hailing from Croydon, south London, hard-working MC Hardy Caprio broke through to the mainstream last year with track ‘Unsigned’. A fun, sunny collaboration with One Acen, the track became a warm favourite across the UK over summer 2017. A robust success in the charts, getting into the UK Top 50, and reaching #2 in the official UK independent chart, ‘Unsigned’ has now has garnered over 11 million YouTube views, and almost 20 million streams. On top of the single, Hardy released both the ‘Hollywood EP’ and ‘Hardy Season’ last year.
Proving he’s set to be as active this year as last, Hardy completed a three-leg mini tour this week. Hitting the cities of Birmingham, Manchester and his hometown in London, we went to the sold-out final night at 02 Academy Islington on Friday 26th January to celebrate Hardy’s successes.
As I arrive at the Angel Central Shopping Centre early to grab some food before the show, there’s already a healthy queue forming outside the venue. The majority of the crowd are young bodies adorned in sportswear and manbags, of a similar type to when I’ve seen Stormzy perform. However, there are also a number of both older and younger faces (the show is actually 8+), showing testament to the reach of Hardy’s current sound. As I enter the venue, it’s clear that energies are already high. The crowd are already getting turnt to the DJing flailing out tracks from Kanye West, Migos and Post Malone, with Cardi B’s legendary ‘Bodak Yellow’ proving it still holds the clout to turn the place upside down.
Shortly after arrival, with just enough time to get a beer in, One Acen is welcomed to the stage to warm up the crowd. Showing his confidence in front of a large and energetic audience, Acen reels off track after track, with ‘Verified’ and brand new track ‘Vice Versa’ receiving the loudest congratulations.
As Acen finishes his set, we are treated to a surprise appearance from afro-swing trio Belly Squad, who also enjoyed an amazing 2017 with their ‘Banana EP’, along with a number of other successful singles. Their unique sound works a charm to build the tension before Hardy, who finally touches the stage shortly after Belly wrap up.
Walking on to chants of ‘HARDY, HARDY, HARDY,’ the show begins with an impressive usage of Islington’s Academy lighting set up, shooting multi-coloured beams in every direction. Hardy also makes use of TV screens set up across the stage, rolling through various pieces of footage throughout the show. Straight away, a massive moshpit opens in front of the stage. Shouting out “late 90’s crew make some noise”, Hardy runs through his Hollywood Takes 1, 2 and 3, which offer a throwback to the garage era by sampling Daniel Beddingfield’s ‘Gotta Get Through This’ and Three Of A Kind’s ‘Babycakes’.
Hardy’s clearly a confident performer, and speaks with the audience in between tracks, informing us it’s the last time he will be performing the ‘Hollywood’ tracks. He keeps the energy high by inviting Belly Squad back on stage to perform ‘Selfish’. In the next forty minutes, he runs through ‘Jezebel’ (which samples Sade Adu’s track of the same name), and ‘Wifey Riddim’, which utilizes Digital Iris x Kyianx’s instrumental for Tinie Tempah’s ‘Wifey’ in 2006. It is worth noting Hardy’s consistent use of samples, providing nods to the UK music scenes that have paved the way before him.
We are then treated to yet another unexpected guest in the form of Hackney’s 23, another afro-swing artist that achieved high profile recognition in 2017. His track ‘Ain’t Bothered’ was one of the certified bangers of last year, which he performs, giving Hardy a break off stage to catch his breath.
Coming back on stage, Hardy previews an unreleased song, getting the crowd to join in chanting “saw bottles on the table, must think I’m a rapper” at the chorus. The track was punchy, and should be a banger when it drops soon.
The night takes more of an introspective turn for Hardy when it’s time for ‘C’mon’, his collaboration with Tion Wayne. Those of you familiar with Tion will know that he is currently behind bars for his part in a violent mass brawl outside a club in Bristol last year. Obviously a close friend of Hardy’s, he leads the crowd in chanting ‘FREE TION WAYNE’.
One Acen is then called back to the stage for the final two (and most looked forward to) tracks of the evening. After launching into ‘Super Soaker’, Acen and Hardy perform their hit track ‘Unsigned’ to a jubilant audience. I am impressed by the energy and consistency of the audience, noting that the genre of afro-swing sound seems to be able to bring out more from an audience than most standard Hip Hop shows can. Whereas sometimes rappers find it hard to inspire more than a head nod, Caprio gets his fans full up turnt. As the soundsystem powers down, and the lights come on, I am excited for what the coming year will bring Hardy, and the heights that the sounds of his genre will reach.