All photos by Anis Ali
It wouldn’t exactly be very Hip Hop of us if we didn’t turn up to the party late surrounded by a cloud of smoke, so you’ll just have to imagine the smoke for now and accept our apologies for just how late this review really is. Summer is still processing (read: taking it’s toll). Nevertheless, one of the key memories that raises it’s neck above the fog this time round is our third year at Boom Bap, undoubtedly the UK’s greatest Hip Hop festival, the fact that it’s arguably our only real Hip Hop festival taking nothing away from that. With their usual who’s who of UK Hip Hop supported this time by a US headliner in the form of legendary Wu Tang MC Ghostface Killah, they’d upped sticks from the previous venue to one bigger, bolder and grander in every way for a true tour de force on the festival scene and, to this happy neck snapper at least, that paid off.
While the rain threatened to put a dampener on the crews choice to go for a more traditional festival stage setup on the main stage, rather than the tent of previous years, it didn’t last long and when the sun pulled out from behind the clouds the benefits of that were truly apparent, lounged back far from the stage but still able to hear it loud and clear during the day or turning to see the full crowd splayed out behind us, lighters raised, during the night for SE London legend Blak Twang. Not to mention the Square One stage, a low ceiling tent that by day played host to relaxed cyphers and beat battles but took on a life of it’s own late into the night when it solved the ‘nowhere to go’ problem of last years music finishing at just 1am. Taking on the after party from 12-4, it ensured the night owls amongst us weren’t left at a loose end, with Dead Players in particular thriving in the small, confined space as they riled the crowd up into a sweaty rave.
We’ve already told you how incredible The Mouse Outfit are when they take to the stage, a charmingly refreshing, up beat attitude and well spoken patter taking the lead with a full band, cheeky funk covers and unbelievably quick tongued lyricism in tow, and I’ve previously waxed lyrical about just how good Rag N Bone Man really was at this exact festival (read here). You already know just how good High Focus are when they come together in full force, swamping the stage with some of the finest Hip Hop talent our country’s seen, or just how slick The Doctor’s Orders DJs are when they take over proceedings late into the night with party anthems and razor sharp cuts. You’ve probably read just how much Sonnyjim’s slurred, greazy vocal tones command a microphone and how much energy, aggression and atmosphere Triple Darkness bring to a crowd.
What you might not know however, unless you where there in the thick of it that is, is just how much of a good vibe Boom Bap really is when all that comes together. Because, fittingly for a festival which was born out of celebrating the strong and tight nit UKHH scene, the best moments at Boom Bap are always the spur of the moment ones; those funny ones you come away smiling about. Seeing suprise guest Skinnyman (filling in for visa deprived Clear Soul Forces) trying to sneak unseen through the crowds in an old white Nova and instantly realising he wasn’t just there to watch was one of those moments; later watching him throw handfuls of ten bags out into kids swarming on the front rows like some kind of cool uncle of the scene was an even better one. It’s not often someone as highly regarded, and also as hard to get a hold of, as him comes out of retirement and it isn’t something I ever thought I’d get the pleasure of seeing, but a full arsenal of his seminal Council Estate of Mind album definitely made up for him cancelling on Boom Bap just last year even if his memory didn’t seem quite on point for a couple of tracks.
What really took the crown though was Ghostface’s set. And by that I don’t just mean Ghostface’s set, as meticulously crafted and performed as it was, but one particular moment. For Ghostface was without the rest of his Wu Tang Clan and someone had to do their verses on Protect Ya Neck. Que a long silence, growing all the more awkward, as he searched for an audience member who was willing to step up and fill in alongside him. Now, I’ll wager there was a fair few people in that crowd who could spit that verse before breakfast, but doing it on a festival main stage, performing with Wu Tang, is a whole different ball game…..
In steps Four Owls lyricist BVA, turning away from a huddled crowd of MCs where he’d just been practicing the verse, to everyone’s relief. “I was just about to step up“, we all whispered. I’ve seen BVA and his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of Hip Hop verses fill in alongside a couple of US greats now and, needless to say, he smashed it. See for yourself in the video below. Made all the more special by his inclusion and the comedy of Ghostface’s surprised expression next to the wide grin of one of the UK’s finest rhymers reduced to childlike excitement at just what he was doing, Wu Tang’s legendary classic took on a new life in a way that, excuse the soppiness, felt more than a little bit special. Even the amount of times I overheard people retell that story over the next few days took nothing away from just how memorable a moment that was, completely overshadowing the debate about whether Boom Bap should remain a strictly UK festival by organically connecting both sides of the pond in a way that only Hip Hop can.
Another smiling, laughing, drunkenly staggering celebration of Hip Hop music that bonds and strengthens the scene with every year it returns, Boom Bap rose to higher heights once again as it proved that the current wave of interest in, quality and work rate the Uk scene is benefiting from isn’t going anywhere just yet. With teasers about an imminently releasing lineup for 2015 already floating about on the internet and tickets currently available via their website here, you can be sure to catch us back by the bass cones next year.