Tonight at London’s Scala, the crowd is quietly bubbling under. An evening of legendary performers is mapped out, with the likes of Tall Black Guy, Rob Swift and the hip hop forefather billed for this, a special showcase by the capital’s own The Doctor’s Orders. However, despite this stellar line up, there is one particular act we’re excited to see; a man who we have been waiting to welcome onto these shores with the anticipation of greatness since release of his benchmark opus ‘No Poison No Paradise’ earlier this year.
Black Milk has been touring his latest release across the US and Europe and tonight’s hotly anticipated performance marks the only UK date on his lengthy NPNP tour. Before he has even set foot on the stage, Black has already stepped, inspiredly, from hip hop’s beaten track with the addition of a live band to his performance. The quite phenomenal Nat Turner add something very special to what is about to emerge as a true masterclass in performance and communication through the art of rap.
As Black is played onto the stage by NT, his boundless energy and lyrical skill cascades out into a largely unsuspecting crowd, daring those unfamiliar with his rhymes and rhythms to immerse themselves for the next hour and ‘keep it going’ as he frequently encourages. We are promised an all-encompassing performance: ‘through your Tronics and your Album Of The Years to the new record No Poison No Paradise’. A special cheer in the audience is reserved for the latter – as well it might be.
Every track on the set-list tonight is delivered to levels of perfection that we have rarely seen achieved in any form or genre of live music. From the opening bars of recent single ‘Sunday’s Best/Monday’s Worst’, the audience is justifiably transfixed. Black’s lyrical prowess is already self evident but reaches new levels of intensity and heightened emotion when witnessed in the live arena. Bounding across the stage, the frenzied wordsmith enthralls the crowd tonight, moulding his rhymes into shapes and colours that cannot be appreciated properly in any format other than a face to face performance.
Nat Turner’s technically brilliant bass/keyboard/percussion combination allows for inspired interpretation of the beats that Black Milk is famous for and when your producer is also your frontman, the arrangements behind the vocals are bound to go beyond the expected. This more dramatic, soulful, punctuated form is particularly effective tonight on Tronic’s ‘The Matrix’, encore ‘Long Story Short’ and has the crowd going seven shades of crazy on a hyperactive and wildly perfect rendition of ‘Bounce’.
However, the evening comes to a glorious apex with the inclusion of fan favourite and modern hip hop classic ‘Losing Out’. From the opening snippets of the track, cut in to the previous beat, to the full glorious rendition that was to follow, this widely revered earworm is given new life by the delicious blend of Black’s lively articulation and Nat Turner’s unrivaled musicianship. As the song closes, the audience reels and we come to the conclusion that we have just witnessed something incredible.
Playing as part of a showcase is always a gamble; half of the crowd is likely to be coming out for another artist and capturing their imagination can sometimes be an impossibility. However, it is testament to Black Milk and Nat Turner that tonight at Scala, every pair of eyes and ears was focused on that stage. Heads are bobbing, feet are tapping and mouths are hollering in appreciation of a very special performance.
Black Milk isn’t reinventing hip hop, but he is cultivating it from the ground level upwards, nurturing a sincere, original, inspiring version of the artform that can be appreciated on so many levels. Particularly raw and unedited on stage, the NPNP tour is busy demonstrating this around the world and tonight, we were schooled in a bright vision of the genre’s zeitgeist. And what a beautiful lesson it was.