Words by Mass Dosage
1Up @ Metropolis, Friday 28th April
Billed as South Africa's biggest Hip-Hop event ever, 1Up drew a record crowd to Metropolis (Jozi's latest Hip-Hop hangout). While the club has operated as a Hip-Hop venue for a number of years during the day (attended by a younger crowd), it has only been open at night to over 18's for a few weekends. 1Up drew a mixed crowd of people from all over the city in addition to Metropolis' core following of Hip-Hop heads.
DJ Blaze held things down nicely with a solid Hip-Hop set, after which a group of local spoken word poets opened the mic for the evening. It was a bold move that worked well as the poets were generally well received by the crowd. Database's Fatboy did the most damage without resorting to crude and harsh words that many of the other poets used to get a rise from the audience. Jozi's hyped up MC's then got on the mic to do their thing with performances from Waddy, Snazz, X-amount and Mizchif.
Company Flow's Mr. Len hit the decks and the party started getting serious as the sounds of "Patriotism" marked the official meeting point of the Johannesburg and New York Hip-Hop mentalities. Mr. Len dropped a few hardcore tracks for the enthusiastic crowd and then What?What? busted onto stage and really heated things up. She mainly ripped verses over well-known Hip-Hop beats from the 80's (such as Main Source's 'Live at the BBQ' and Awesome 2's 'Top billing'). Some of her verses were adapted versions of the original rhymes to these tracks, something most of the crowd didn't seem to get. She delivered a few tracks off her upcoming album and then got into some freestyling, giving love to Jozi by inviting Mizchif, Snazz and Waddy onto stage with her. Together, the 4 MC's delivered their verses while fervently trying to outdo each other. Waddy had his moment in the sun and shone with some lovely off-the-head verses that had the crowd and What?What? in stitches.
Bobbito stepped up next and talked the crowd down a bit while he gave them an abbreviated version of his views on Hip-Hop culture and its African origins. His set started off on an ethnic Latino-inspired note which caught everyone off guard - this was not the typical hardcore Hip-Hop set many people had been expecting. Noticing this, he moved things into more familiar territory and rocked some jams which the audience recognised and got into. Bobbito had warned people to open their minds because he wasn't going to play a conventional set of tracks, and over the next 3 to 4 hours he lived this out.
Gradually moving back in time, classic tracks from the 80's emerged from a selection of records that Bobbito had spent days assembling. Classics from Eric B & Rakim, BDP, Public Enemy and Nice & Smooth were delivered to the crowd and at this point the whole vibe seemed to go over a lot of people's heads. It was disturbing to see the effects of a generation who had grown up on 90's Hip-Hop but hadn't bothered to research their own culture's roots. The dancefloor emptied a bit, leaving those in the know and those with open minds to enjoy the sounds. Bobbito then took things back another decade and got into the culture's early building blocks of funk, R&B and soul tracks - virtually all of which have been sampled in some way or another by various Hip-Hop artists. The history of Hip-Hop over the past 25 years was delivered powerfully and Bobbito obviously had more on his mind than just making people dance.
For a lot of people the event was a truly memorable experience, although it might not have lived up to all the hype it received in the weeks leading up to it. A lot of people were probably disappointed when their own individual wants weren't catered to - they should have come expecting more than just another big party where the stars would wow them with amazing skills and radio-friendly tunes. Whether this was the fault of their own closed minds or a difference in lived Hip-Hop experience between Johannesburg and New York is debatable. What is certain is that this was a major jump forward for live Hip-Hop performances in South Africa and heads from both sides of the ocean learned a lot from each other. Hopefully this learning experience will translate into actions which will improve the awareness of the culture's early days and how it all began.