Ugly Heroes landed in London for one of the final few shows of their first European tour. The group, made up of a combination of legendary producer Apollo Brown and MCs Red Pill and Verbal Kent, were flying around the continent on the back of a successful 2013, which saw the release of their self titled album. After having already spent two and a half weeks jetting from place to place, they would have been excused a fairly jaded performance. Instead, they turned out a display of intense energy and emotion. Hip hop was well and truly in the building.
I turned up fashionably late, so I missed the opening acts unfortunately. I turned up to the venue, situated in London’s funky central-east, with Brick Lane and Shoreditch around the corner. It’s a great place for people who are into soulful music, and you will always be guaranteed a cool crowd. Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen – a mouthful that name – does like a lot of venues in that area does, with the bar at the front and big room out the back, walls covered in psychedelic images. The room itself was fairly big, with lighting and an awesome sound system, which sounds kinda geeky but it really does make all the difference.
Anyway, so as I walked in Apollo Brown was already up on deck, doing his thing. Let me tell you one thing: on speakers his beats bang, but live with a sweet PA his beats activate beast mode, compelling you to jerk your body and snap your neck, likeyou know it’s invading your mental state but you don’t care, you just embrace it. His beats remained soulful, of course, but the darkness, the bass, the kick, all thumped through the system. I was surprised to find out during the gig that it was actually his first time in London, so it was a real privilege to see him in the flesh. He kept pulling out beats, warming up the crowd for a verbal assault. It got me thinking how I’d love to see Jay Electronica murder some Apollo Brown production, ‘Exhibit C’ style.
Once he deemed us ready, Apollo Brown welcomed on the two MCs. Juxtaposed with the swagger and presence of the controller behind them, seeing Verbal Kent and Red Pill really helped me understand just how apt the name ‘Ugly Heroes’ was. Not that they are ugly – although I’m not sold on Red Pill’s hair – but they don’t look like furious MCs, or Henry Cavill, or what the genre has dictated is the construct for a rapper. But it is in that which they find their strength. Their lyrics are honest and raw, and their vulnerability is on display when they are on stage, augmented even, and this is what helps them find solidarity with the audience. This is especially true in a venue such as this, intimate, humble and packed, and the energy in the room was so symbiotic it was a real experience to be there. The artists seemed grateful for the fans, and vice versa. So this is what I mean.
Anyway, so Verbal Kent and Red Pill came on, and ripped the mic. They seemed to be enjoying how the crowd was vibing with their music – even if Red Pill found himself on the verge of a stroke – as their passion and energy came through the speakers. They spun out some of their Ugly Heroes joints, before Apollo Brown and Red Pill put on a Detroit one-two with some solo stuff, with Verbal getting his chance to shine solo. Every so often, one of the MCs would spit a bunch of lines so fire it’d heat up the crowd enough to let loose woops of excited admiration, and Apollo Accompanied them nicely with some subtle live edits, even getting the chance to show off some of his beats again. The banter among the trio was a nice sign too of them enjoying themselves and being relaxed.
Overall, it was a great show. Humble, but great. A fair portion of the crowd stayed behind to say thanks to the artists and there was a fair bit of encouragement for them to come back. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later. If you are in Berlin or Manchester, don’t miss out!