3rd December 2017
London Hammersmith Apollo
Hip-hop, I freely acknowledge, generally comes pretty far down on my list of preferred musical genres to indulge in of an evening. I was sort of around when the business breached the UK mainstream in the 1980s, when the likes of Rapper's Delight, The Crown and The Message gatecrashed the charts. I suppose that Run-DMC/Aerosmith collaboration Walk This Way fits into that category as well.
But fairly early on in the genre's musical evolution it appeared to me that all dalliance with melody was outlawed, to be replaced by what? Just angry shouting really. But, of course, many of these oppressed young men purveying the stuff had a lot to be angry about.
I occasionally dipped tentative toes into the Hip-hop pool over the decades but found little of interest for, as Morrisey once wrote, it “said nothing to me about my life”. But then I don't suppose its target demographic was ever intended to include moderately well-off middle-aged European Caucasian males.
Bryson Tiller, though, appeared to take a rather more laid back approach, musically speaking, to the whole business. Goodness, some of his compositions I encountered even appeared to house melodies. Exchange, Don't and Right My Wrongs all being (relatively) mellifluous songs, performed at no more than a brisk walking pace. Or at least at a rate an old fart like me could keep up with.
This gig was the final one on Tiller's 2017 European Tour, and had been squashed in at the last minute, but there were precious few spare seats in the whopping Hammersmith Apollo (or Odeon as was).
|Hammersmith Apollo (or Odeon, as was)|
|It is a big place, and I was long way back.|
|Bryson Tiller - London Dec 2017|
It is really hard to discuss Tiller's work without recourse to the dreaded N word; that poisonous brace of syllables which can lead to social pariahdom – or even end a media career - if uttered by a Caucasian. But, as I learned this evening, is perfectly acceptable to be yelled out at 120db by anyone with a skin of a darker hue.
For within minutes of taking the stage, Tiller was ensuring we all knew he was:
“a seven-figure, Self-made nigga
Blow the money, get it back the next day, nigga”
before giving us:
"Fuck it, let me demonstrate, nigga
Home runnin', not safe, nigga Guess I got what it takes, nigga
Can't keep up with the pace, nigga
Get the fuck up out the race, nigga."
It did set me pondering why I felt so uncomfortable in the presence of the word, whilst the rest of the audience (>98% coloured, I should guess) were lapping it up.
The opening few songs were each greeted with such unrestrained squeals of delight from the females in the place that I initially thought Tiller must be laying down all his trump cards early....but it soon became apparent this reception was standard for each and every rendition. The true measure, I noted, of a song's esteem was the number of phones which were brought out to record the event. I am sure it was merely a consequence of me being sited at the very back row of the balcony, but it truly appeared at times that every single one of the 4,000 plus bods in the place was recording.
Tiller's band consisted of a drummer and a couple of guys at keyboard/turntable type arrangements. On more than one occasion I noted the actual singing (or rapping or whatever) did not appear to be coming from Tiller himself; he being content to interject “Yea" and “Whoa" into the business. Which mean the lead vocal was being provided by either one of the other musicians or, more likely, a backing track.
Which just seemed a bit like cheating.
|Always good advice, I feel.|
As the evening progressed there was precious little sign of the slower more introspective songs. Most of Tiller's better-known tunes were given high decibel/high velocity/high energy reboots. A pleasing exception was Run Me Dry which developed into a singalong shuffle, and I felt the show could have benefited from a few more such interludes.
But, for the most part, Tiller pretty much kept up the fast 'n' furious onslaught throughout. And I did find proceedings at times a touch wearisome; the majority of performances to my (admittedly untutored) ears bringing forth the same message: I am cool fucker, who takes no shit.
“I'm a true fucking killer, like Rambo
No ammo, they see me on the Sanyo
Nigga, I just kill 'em because I can though.”
all bellowed out, without even the merest hint of self-parody or irony.
That being said, despite the fact I was by some way I noted the oldest individual in the place (and I include the bouncers and staff in that), and that I was one of only a handful of white faces in the place, I never once felt even remotely uncomfortable. Perhaps everyone thought I was some bewildered care-in-the-community case who had wandered in to get warm.
What I can say with pretty much absolute certainty, is that I was the only person in the building who the previous night had attended a performance of Bach's Third Brandenburgh Concerto.
Exactly what that assertion has to say about the indiscriminate nature of my musical tastes, I am unsure.