After initial rumours that they’d be on stage at the super early time of 8pm due to a club night having to start at 10pm in the venue, we all crammed in while DJ Snuff played a mixture of old and new hip-hop to get people in the mood (including a personal favourite, Stezo “To The Max”) . After what seemed like hours, suddenly the DJ changed over, and the Ultras burst onto stage, minus Kool Keith to get things warmed up further. After about 10 minutes, they were joined by the Kool one looking typically eccentric … In fact, all 3 of them were dressed in a brilliant and suitably unhinged manner. They looked fantastic ! Sadly, that was about it for the positives..
Do instrumentals of the tracks not exist? I own a couple myself on the 12″s so surely it wouldn’t have been too much effort to at least use instrumentals to rap over when available..These days its even possible to EQ out pretty much all of a vocal utilizing ultra (no pun intended) precise parametric eqing which I’ve definitely seen done! No, throughout the show the actual record was playing (well, CD) so that on the numerous occasions where they missed or messed their lines, you could still hear the beloved original vocals underneath. Similar to a group of annoying drunk men ruining your favourite tune at a house party by singing badly over the top. To be fair, at least they weren’t lip syncing, although on reflection it would have been easier on the ear if they had been.
What do you expect from a hip hop show? Surely one of the most important things is for there to be some level of performer/audience relationship at work otherwise you may as well just stay at home and play the album! Well again the Ultras scored badly. Between songs they mumbled inaudibly making no real attempt to involve or even speak to the crowd and exhibited little sign that they were excited, happy or humbled by the large turnout at the Clapham Grand. They had energy, and were running around the stage but for all the performance and madcap outfits, they were lacking personality.. a human touch was sadly missing and not once did they take a minute and talk to the crowd.. Unless you include the ‘when i say MC you say Ultra. MC……….MC……….’ bit which went horribly wrong when the DJ seemingly dropped the CD in at the wrong time. Instead of adapting to it and going with the flow, they stopped the whole show. Twice. Insisting on doing it over again from the beginning which just felt a bit pedantic (maybe they should have concentrated on the larger glaring mistakes!)
I’m guessing the DJ was a local hired hand as he didn’t quite have the swagger of a touring american hip-hop DJ. To draw a comparison, rock and roll legend Chuck Berry would save money on tour by travelling alone and hiring in a different backing band for each city he played. This band would then turn up having never rehearsed. (When asked by one such band what songs they were going to play, Berry famously replied “We’re gonna play Chuck Berry songs”). I believe the Ultras have employed this same principle for this tour which seems pretty haphazardly throw together. They acted like their DJ (who was there simply to press play on the CD at the beginning of each track) was invisible and only seemed to look at him when they were ‘counting him in’ for the above mentioned ill fated routine. All the great hip hop shows I’ve seen, the DJ has the respect of his (or her) crew and is there to get busy on the turntables. You can feel the love and pride Chuck D has for DJ Lord, and that he wants to show him off to the crowd, or the trust that Big Daddy Kane puts in his DJ, hell even Kanye West recruited DJ Craze to be his tour DJ . This was different. They were there to act along to their hits, suck up any stray love from the crowd, make some money and go home. The fact that the show could have been improved, even saved by a tight DJ doing live cuts or working in a few routines, seemed not to have occurred to them. Surely if you’re in tune with hip hop, you’re aware that it takes more than one of the ‘elements’ to put on a hip hop show? And I must add, that in no way am I hating on their DJ who i’m guessing was hired and told to press play when given the nod.
It’s possible i’m being a little harsh, what was I expecting? It was the Ultramagnetic MCs, performing Critical Beatdown, which in essence, in fact absolutely, is what went down. On reflection, I’ve been spoilt recently having witnessed Public Enemy, KRS One, Big Daddy Kane, Edan and many others who pour heart and soul into their performance so by comparison, it seemed lacking. Perhaps if UMCs were still together as a unit full time, then more effort would have been invested; in making instrumentals of the tracks, in building a rapport with a DJ… There’d be an interest in pulling out all the stops in order to sustain the longevity of the group instead of just going out on the road to meet demand then going their separate ways again.
The Ultramagnetic MCs are set to play Norwich on July 8th supported by one of the best acts that the UK have to offer; Chrome and Illinspired. These guys put on a proper live show and have been in the game for years and years (Chrome since the late 80’s). A masterclass in hip hop tag teaming, alternating lines, doing all their own cuts and very active on the circuit (They also play tonight alongside UK legends Son Of Noise, Suspekt, Whirlwind D and many more). I hope they have a full house for their set and that the crowd go home having been treated to at least one true hip hop show.
Review By Jerry Berry