Let me start of by saying Korean Hip Hop artists visiting London is categorically a rare event, coming around with similar frequency to the FIFA world cup. Though a city renowned for underground music culture , our Korean Diaspora is miniscule in comparison to many U.S and Canadian cities making us appear to be a more “Risky” date for acts touring the West. So when it was announced by reputable promotion and clothing brand Cult Of Ya that Okasian & B-free were gonna be performing in Shoreditch , a rapid sell out was no surprise given the growing number of Hallu Wave adherents in the city.
On arrival at the venue it was clear that the audience for this show would vary from many other hip hop concerts i’ve attended across the ages. The que bristled with excitable chatter from K-pop fan girls, who have eagerly been tracking the duo’s moves on instagram since they arrived in the country. They excitedly handed their phones to each other , showing evidence that the unknown special guest added a week ago was actually SMTM4 Producer and fellow Hi-Lite records member Paloalto. If it wouldn’t have been for support act Macca Wiles and entourage filling the cold East London night with a strong “Blue Cheese” aroma i could have convinced myself i was waiting in line at a BTS concert. Safe to say i was expecting more lingerie trajectory than gunfingers on this night.
The support acts were almost all London based and possessed a certain ‘TrapStar’ quality. However the show began in earnest when Macca Wiles (yes you’ll be hearing his name alot) took the stage. His slim frame, blonde dreadlocks(Trap guys and their hair, seriously!) and red silk varsity jacket make him a visually striking act. It didn’t take long before he slashed raw energy into the mix and forced the crowd to react to him. At that point the crowd alleviated any worries this would be a vanilla affair as the night burst into full colour with spontaneous moshpits and general bouncer stressing activity. Favourite’s such as “Mr Finesser” and “Chillin” allowed Maccaa to display his particular brand of raucous “Trapboy” revelry.
Towards the close of the Macca set , something unexpected happened, B-Free & Okasian came to say hello early. With security slightly unprepared and a scurry of activity at the front, the crowd and the stage became indistinguishable. Among the chaos a genuine moment of magic happened. The stars were out and the well spirited crowd began to set the energetic tone for the night to come.
Once order had been restored B-free picked up with Green Kawasaki sending the crowd into the trance they’d been waiting. With decisive crowd control he told the baying crowd to chill for a moment as he sent for his donnie. Okasian Half lit , swaggin one gold crucifix earring , waltzed on and IT G MA’ D! Early! … Is it even necessary the explain the scenes that followed. Phone dropping , back shoving , body flinging , near deafening fun. Whilst most artists hold out on populist banger till the end of the set , the Hi-lite team clearly decided to go the shock and awe route.
Shortly after the song ended , Okasian requested some water. To be fair , he had taken to the stage with a bat out of hell fury and the lights could be felt from my spot, When i realised halfway through the following song that nobody was gonna help dude , i felt an obligation as a fellow rapper to hand him a bottle. Ironically my camera was almost doused in my own juices after the Hi-lite star playfully splashed the crowd with the remaining quarter of the bottle. With no malice intended it all added to illustrate the cool intimacy of the venue.
It wasn’t long before underwater rebel (can’t make this stuff up) followed and the compact emcee was transporting across the stage with swift thrashes of his precured hair. Some support acts from the night gathered on stage behind the Hi-lite tag team to lend charismatic support sending the crowd into frenzy at will.Okasian’s voice is remarkably sharp live , especially when bearing in mind that his stage performances have always tended to be quite vigourous. The Cohort member conducted himself with all the swagger i envisaged him with back when i first got the track “helium” on my ipod. Though ,there were moments where a concentration on his vocal delivery rather than impeccable stage presence probably would have benefited the performance. B-free was very much a no nonsense performer on the night, proudly displaying new tracks that he’d wrote and produced , urging the crowd to vibe with him rather than attempting to sing along. Whilst Okasian certainly felt like the rookie of the moment at times , especially when he called for a second helping of It G Ma before he bought the support acts to spit again , B-free offered an authoritative voice on the ship , ticking off DJ’s if he felt song transitions were too lengthy and generally maintaining good communication with the crowd. B-Free was vocally capable live and offered noticeably more of his new material than any other of the Hi-lite headliners.
At one point B-Free threw out some Kawasaki t-shirts causing a kind of mini chaos to which he reminded the crowd that they were “just Fucking T-Shirts” It was these kind of honest interactions that made the gig enjoyable. There was also a choice moment when a wasted fan boy tried to get a little too close to Okasian and fair play , B-free not wanting to risk any security issues ordered the culprit be escorted from the venue. Okasian rapidly intervened ordering security to” chill” and give the over a familiar concert goer a second chance. A quick insight into their off stage persona’s?
Having seen Paloalto only last month in Busan at the last date of Show Me The Money 4 Arena Tour it was a privilege to see him in such an intimate setting. The founder has had incredible year with his legendary label being merged with major CJ E&M. B-free introduced him subtly by first introducing the track “My City” and with Paloalto appearing just before his verse was due to start. With B-Free’s assistance Paloalto offered a more mature feel to proceedings on his opening track. Delivering verses with experienced comfort he demonstrated his seniority effortlessly.
After the performance section of these evening all artists hung around for the afterparty. Artists quietly entered the the smoking area among fans , posed for selfies and joined in general conversation when it seemed fitting. The atmosphere was fairly easy going at the after party , where fans had the opportunity to meet the artists. It must be said though that Paloalto went out his way to please fans, even jumping behind the decks to keep the party going into the early morning.
Overall it was a great night. A true chance to see Seoul’s finest on UK soil as well as a chance for a new generation of Korean artists to see that London is a viable tour location nowadays, With rumors of a visit from another big KR label early next year, the event felt like a milestone. As the Korean , British , French Mc’s set the crowd alight with their shared biggiesque “party and bullshit” aura and Cartoon and computer game references they have accidently made a comment on unimportance of language in the new trap subgenre where cadence trumps content. Hi – lite gave the city an overdue Korean Hip Hop dose whilst providing a platform for local acts in a similar lane. This kind of multi-national hip-hop exposure can only aid the UK’s understanding of where it belongs in this crazy hip hop Universe. Long Live Currency Exchange.