Thursday night in London
It was almost 5.30pm when I strolled out of the Live Nation office into Angel Central, just 2 minutes around the corner from the Islington 02 Academy, the venue for Jaykae’s London stint of his ‘Where Have You Been?’ Tour. By chance (honestly) I ran into Despa (Jaykae’s Manager), DJ Free, and the man of the hour outside the venue. We greeted each other, ensuring I was still down to cover the Birmingham Show, and then he asked what I was doing tonight. Next thing I know, I found myself backstage debating the size of the guest list with a stern-faced promoter rep. It was brutal, and tough to make the cut.
Jaykae, the Brum Town Captain, first announced his tour and EP not long after we featured him in #0121TheRiseofBirmingham over the summer. It’s been little over 4 months since then, but it’s seemingly been the most triumphant, progressive months of a solid year for 0121, as well as for the man himself. 10 years in the game and now, the iTunes charting EP, the tour, and the many other wins have finally arrived. It’s December, and a cause for celebrating the victories of a city.
After breaking the bad news to Jay that there’s no Footlocker nearby (he had copped the wrong shoes from his yard), I ask him how the performance in Manchester went the previous night, his insouciant reply – “Yeah it was sick ya know”. As he roams around the cramped backstage area in a long blue trench coat, you would think it wasn’t a sold-out Grime-scene frenzy that I later found out it was (or that he was pissed off at there being no Footlocker).
Murkage Dave, long-time artist and collaborator on the first single ‘Every Country’, who had arrived just after us, assures me that Manchester was in fact, a shutdown. He explains why the set-list was key to the performance, about it’s ability to load up for a big finale, before likening it to intercourse, the first of several epic analogies he would drop this tour.
‘Moscow’ is the track where I get mad, that’s the first one where I go for it.
“You know what it is, I have to brace myself…” Jay explains. “When its half an hour set, you can belt it. But for this, like an hour or so, I have to pace myself. ‘Moscow’ is the track where I get mad, that’s the first one where I go for it.”
The conversation about set lists continues for a bit, as do the guest list dramas. But ears spring up when there’s mention of Lotto Boyzz and MIST coming to perform two tunes. Little did we know, that wasn’t even the half of it…
Whilst Jaykae is doing his sound-check, I take the opportunity to ask Murkage Dave about the Giggs Xmas dinner that made everyone in attendance the target of envious Instagramers. He tells me it was a good night, and the simple fact of looking at where Giggs has come over the past 6/7 years ago to now, made it even more special. It’s been a huge year for him, but I didn’t get quite get the industry gossip I was hoping for.
Straight after, a few of the Birmingham crew arrive. Dapz (another star of the #0121 series), Anthony (his manager) and Scorpz all in attendance. It feels like a city takeover. The vibes and excitement are already in the room, and by the time I get kicked out of the backstage area, it feels like half the city is down here, and rightly so.
For a Grime MC who’s had this heavy, almost bullish, presence for so long in the scene, the recent success is both more compelling and influential for both spectators and artists alike. It’s an underdog story from an underdog city. This is most certainty the picture painted throughout the ‘Where Have You Been’ project. ‘Knock Door Run’, the third track on the EP, exemplifies it perfectly. Growing up in an environment where the path is pre-determined and only the context/situations may differ (Grew up on knock door run… now when I knock your door won’t run). This menacing declaration ingrained into the melodic descents of the instrumentals on this track, amid moments of lyrical wit, reinforce the melancholic, almost submissive mentality of a gifted soul in a place of peril. (Not to say it’s a major 3rd-world type place, I mean, he said it himself, “This is Brum town not Beirut”) It’s a mind-state to escape, something, which Jaykae has done so successfully, although, traces of this mentality continue to expose themselves through his almost nonchalant, relaxed character. In and amongst Grime Royalty, perhaps, then, he should be considered one too.
By the time Tana comes on stage, the venue of a couple hundred is getting rammed. I’m standing in the cornered off VIP section at the bar with Anthony, I grab a drink (the first of many that night * gulp *), and ask him how the upcoming Dapz project is looking. He doesn’t give away too much, except for the fact that the track list keeps extending. What was before a 6 track EP is shaping up to be a full-length album… but it’s not an album. He lets me know that ‘Champion Settings’, Dapz’s follow up to 2017’s ‘Spring Clean’, will be out early next year. If ‘Mini Valet’ is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat.
I step outside to escape the heat for a minute, and catch up with some familiar faces. We all head back in to find Young Smokes on stage giving his utmost energy to shut it down, always. Then, I see Wretch 32 appear at the front door, I rush outside like the fan-boy I am to greet him before giving the most casual ‘sup’ I could have ever delivered. An issue discussed earlier on in the night, was the fact there there’s only one entrance into the venue, Wretch questions me and the bouncers about how he’ll get in. I put the AAA pass on his wrist, tell him to hood up, and follow me. This is my moment of fame, escorting Wretch 32 through the crowd to backstage, that is until we get there, and find out his wrist band has fallen off. Turning into a moment of shame, I spend a panicky 30 seconds scrimmaging on the floor with my iPhone torch, only to find it back at the front door. We get him in and I go to the bar, tell my boy what happened, and we order another double.
By the time Dapz takes to the stage and performs an unreleased cut, ‘Off To Work’ most of the room is buzzing. We’re stood at the bar still, and Jammer is there in a duffle coat, sunglasses on, causally rolling up. I approach him, say hello and spew out my admiration about a talk he did at a music seminar a few weeks back. He thanks me, we fist bump, and then I move on. Mad.
Just after 10pm Jaykae hits home. His arrival is greeted with a jubilant response, almost ceremoniously, as if to say, “I’m here now.” As he dives right into my favourite cut off the project, ‘Headache’, I can’t help but realise the power of his music. It’s supposed to be an industry night, and, although the room is dotted with industry players, it is his game.
The opening lines of the EP set the tone. He’s tearing away from the old ways, saying goodbye to people, shedding his skin, a rebirth, a new man. His sharp aggression is ever-present however, clear from the self-referential “I should probably pull up on certain man that are toothache/too fake”. It’s rooted in the pain and anguish experienced, something shared and vividly detailed in the first few minutes of the project, with mention of intoxication, emotional instability and grievance. It’s safe to say said energy is channelled into one heck of a performance. The energy levels he brings, especially towards the end of the set, are equal to, if not, above and beyond those that Lotto Boyzz, MIST, MoStack, Wretch 32, and dare I say it, Stormzy, all bring to the stage. Not to detract from their solid performances that is. All of them are met with unbearable screams and screeches.
By the time Stormzy has declared Jaykae his favourite MC and broken into ‘Big For Your Boots’, I see the venue manager warn Despa there’s just 20 minutes until curfew. We still have three major tracks to play, not to mention the multiple wheel-ups, and I’m pretty sure by the time we are finished, it’ll be well over curfew. But if the mainstream media are unable to mitigate the impact and influence of this culture, what chances has a venue manager surrounded by the culture’s children got?
I see Jamal Edwards in the back so I go say wassup to him quickly before the finale, and after Stormzy disappears backstage, it’s on. The moshpits for ‘Pull Up’ and ‘Toothache’ are wild. The raw rage of the tracks transforms the floor into a jungle for a few minutes. The crowd is sweaty, beat up, and left ready for more at curfew when he waves goodbye, and disappears until tomorrow.
We hop outside, still wavey. Stick around for a while, and then dip out. Birmingham is next.
Friday I’m in Birmingham.
The previous night had left me hanging more than the deceptive cadence dropping us into the first verse of Kanye’s ‘MBDTF’. Regardless, I got ready and headed back to Brum. It was the homecoming show and at 3pm I found myself outside the venue, freezing cold but there were already a couple of girls waiting in the queue. I gave Anthony a bell, he told me to come round the back and that I should be ok to come through. Luckily Despa was driving out as I walked in, thank god. I had insufficient energy or too much ethanol to deal with bouncers today. We shook hands through the window, asked if all is good, then continued on.
Once inside, I post up in a warm, cosy production office for the next hour or two where we talk a bit about the previous nights show, industry politics and before long, the evening ahead. Whilst sound check begins, I chop it up with Murkage Dave, we’re sitting in a small dressing room below the stage, the noise from above is unbearable as we exchange stories of the previous night.
“I was aware of Jaykae, a fan of his, and I reached out to Despa.” Dave begins to explain how ‘Every Country’ came about. “We’re both into the introspective vibe, he goes hard, but he’s got that side to him, so that’s where we connected. Skepta must’ve sent him that vibe, he sent it me, and I came with the hook and sent it back. We did do one session in the studio in Brum when I came up, where I added a few bits in.”
He delivers it in a different way on that record, the vocal is usually quite aggressive, this one he pulls back a little.
I continue to ask him about the highlights of his year before he tells me this tour has been amazing, and hearing a crowd sing back a hook that he wrote in his underwear sitting on his sofa at home, is crazy. I tell him I think it’s the pinnacle of performance, when an audience repeats your lyrics. He concurs and drops another gem. “Studio is like a war of attrition, like trench warfare. You got your lines, picking a man off, taking a couple meters a day. Stage is like headshots bruv, (Mannering a sniper) just lenging a man down.”
6pm hits and the queue is all the way across and down the street. After checking it, we come back inside, warm back up and Dapz drags JD aside for an impromptu photo shoot. I quickly ask him what his favourite track off the EP is – he tells me – ‘Anymore’ ft S-X, explaining as he’s walking down the corridor, that it’s the one that took the longest. Tana is due on stage shortly and the 1400+ crowd begin to flow in.
I sit down with legendary Birmingham producer, now artist, S-X, in the second dressing room, with a couple other man inside with us. Given his highly established presence as a producer, I ask him if he always wanted to do his own show as an artist – he explains, rather subtly that he always wrote for people, and when he dropped ‘No Shoes’, “then I just started doing it more. Just having fun man but its working out quite well.”
“Full creative freedom,” is his response when I ask what he’s found different about becoming an artist over the producer. “I know exactly how I wanna make the beat and how I want to sing it”
Young Smokes arrives and I’ve never seen such a big entourage. The corridor is jam-packed and the ceilings are vibrating aggressively. It gets hot in the dressing rooms, plastic cups and bottles of Belaire signify the arrival of YASeeN RosaY, who I catch up with after he performs his track ‘Let Me Go’ with Jay on stage.
8pm. I head back into Jaykae’s dressing room after having a quick look from the stage. It’s busy, almost show time. Food is being laid out as I catch Jaykae’s eye and ask him if he’s ready. He looks me dead in the eye, nodding and goes back to chatting with the lads. He’s ready. He doesn’t want to talk about it, you can tell. He’s in the zone, enjoying the last few moments before show time.
I overhear two of his boys having a heated, passionate discussion about Jaykae’s music.
“Have you ever had a toothache blood? It’s pain. He’s spitting pain.”
As plates empty and drinks begin to flow, a flurry of emotional, motivating lines and talks fly across the room. The focus shifts to ‘Moscow’, the latest single from the project. The video recently hit 1 million views with what has proven to be a prolific concept, “Moscow man. All the big rappers are giving it the clean as well,” he humbly reveals.
The time is near, as Jay steps out of his dressing room to take a peak inside the fire exit door to the packed-out main room. A few minutes later we’re queuing up behind him at the stage door. He seems calm, calculated, and his head begins to nod as the football-type chants blast from the speakers. The crowd are rumbling, and you can feel it. There’s silence behind that door. The dark, murky, cold ‘Headache’ beat drops and he bounces his head more, bringing the mic up as he steps serenely out onto the stage, and starts barring.
There’s a lot of man on stage and most are kicked off. I make the cut, standing next to Despa on the side of the stage thinking, ‘damn, you put this sh*t together’. I look out to a full main room at the Institute, the crowd is bouncing, lights flashing, bars blaring, it’s incredible. Murkage Dave and S-X join on stage for their respective tracks before YASeeN Rozay bounces out, first to sing his melodious hook and chorus on ‘Let Me Go’, and again during ‘Pull Up’ to spray the front rows with a bottle.
Between those two moments we find ourselves talking again down in the dressing room. Yaseen is waved and it’s a convo I’ll never really forget. Bottles in one hand, Instagram in the other. “Yoo, this tour is a Mazza. It was sick fam.” I challenge him to rank the 3 shows he’s just done. “Manny was sick fam, shutdown. I wasn’t expecting it. Then we got down to London. Got there… 100k lineup. MIST, Mostack, Lotto, YASeen RozaY, that was 70 out of the 100”. The room fills with laughter, he then tells us to listen to the project in a year, and you’ll see how good it really is. “Jaykae is a grime legend bruv. Trust me.” We head back out to catch the final few tracks.
Next thing I know, we’re on ‘Moscow’. Jaykae is joined on stage with Bowzer, suited and booted, looking like McGregor and Fury, then comes the real moment. ‘Toothache’ drops, Despa, manning the stage door all night, urges everyone to run up to the front on stage, it’s something like the scene out of 2 Fast 2 Furious when they open the garage gates and 1000 cars come speeding out. We all rush up, jump around and go bar for bar as he spits his realest sh*t. A moment to never forget.
After the show, the changing room is like a eulogy for 5/10 minutes. Quiet. I can’t help but feel we were just taking in what we had just witnessed. A home-town shutdown. Not even just the night. That was the pinnacle of the year, the year Jaykae’s had, the year Birmingham has had. It’s an emotional moment. After those few minutes, the locker-room type vibes begin to kick in. More drinks, more people, more life.
After such an incredible year, it’s difficult to refrain from contemplating what could succeed it. 2018 is truly now set-up for the taking. Opportunities lay ahead, and the flight won’t take off until Jaykae is on board.
The night goes on, and Bowzer tops it off correctly.
“We’re in the premiership now lads. And we’re third from Top. We’re coming for that top spot. ‘To the brummiesss!’’