Women of Soul – My Black British Top 5

It’s Black History Month, so why not (shrugs).

I’ve never had that typical musical upbringing. You know, the usual narratives like…

“My Dad had – insert classic artist names here – in his vinyl/CD collection”

or the infamous “My mum always played – insert popular artist name here – in the front room when we had to clean the house”

Yeah, none of that. My mum didn’t often play music at home and if she did, it was her Worship music compilations. Still, that didn’t stop my young, inquisitive self putting my ears in places it shouldn’t have been; It opened me up to the big, beautiful musical world. I developed a real appreciation for R&B and Soul but I feel sometimes the British trailblazers don’t get enough credit. I’ll do my bit. Here’s my top 5, in no particular order of course.

1. Sade Adu

If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you might have noticed this is not the first time I’ve mentioned her name and probably won’t be the last. Sade-Adu7-600x488I don’t know what age I was when I first heard “Smooth Operator” but that song has stuck with me for the longest. There’s no-one I know that sounds quite like Sade. She just has a way with words and her vocals & tone are so full of character that they could tell a story when words may fail.  I personally don’t think there are many famed singers  who wouldn’t cite her as a source of influence and inspiration. She has developed a strong global fan base (she’s a lot bigger in the US than the UK) which is evident from her ability to tour and make a #1 hit record despite going on more than one hiatus, in an industry where it is not difficult to become yesterday’s news today. While these days she has become more reclusive, she is most certainly not irrelevant.

2) Beverley Knight

‘The Queen of the Black Country’ or ‘The Queen of British Soul’ or whatever you may wish to call her, Ms. Beverley Knight is a household name and has been a staple in the British Music industry for a few decades now.153265 It’s crazy because just the other day I stumbled across “Keep This Fire Burning”, a song which I haven’t heard since Primary school (a banger might I add) and I could almost sing the whole chorus AND the video gave me crazy nostalgia feels. While her traditional Gospel and Soul background is greatly evident in the way she performs, especially live,  the beauty of her artistry is how natural her catalogue of hits navigated through different genres… and how simple she could make it all look. Beverley Knight encapsulated an era of music in Britain where R&B, which was essentially Pop back in the day, was really in heavy rotation. She was a name that you were bound to hear on the radio and see on TV.

3) Estelle

I’m not biased because we’re birthday twins. For me, Estelle was one of the first artists of my generation that I recognised really making major moves. I became a fan from when she dropped “1980” (which happens to now be one of my favourite Estelle songs) and Estelleshe was on my radar ever since. She has definitely come a long way from her humble beginnings and in every interview or public appearance, she definitely flies the flag and is proud of whom she is and where she’s from. If there is one thing I have always appreciated it is her versatility; the soul in her, the R&B, the Pop and Hip-Hop can all shine on a particular album as a reflection of her own influences. Despite her last album dropping in 2015, she’s been generally flying under the radar as of late with the exception of features here and there for De La Soul and Tyler, The Creator but it’s high time that we got a brand new Estelle album.
She dropped a new single “Love Like Ours” – go pree that.

4) Marsha Ambrosius

Marsha Ambrosius needs not an introduction but ‘The Songstress’ is renowned for being one half of the legendary R&B duo Floetry. Fans of R&B/Soul music the world over know of the Grammy nominated pair for songs like “Say Yes”, “Getting Late” and “SupaStar”. marsha-kimWhile I feel their active years were quite short lived, Marsha never stopped contributing to the world of music and staying true to her genre and art form. She is appreciated for the bold and effortless way she works her unique tone and it has gotten her the chance to work with just about everyone BIG in the game – from Nas to Queen Latifah, From Dr. Dre to Robert Glasper, from Kanye to Jamie Foxx. Not only does her talent lie in her vocals but also in her pen, writing one of my favourite MJ songs (originally recorded by Floetry) “Butterflies”. She often isn’t the first name the comes to mind and like Sade isn’t as embraced in her homeland but her contributions definitely paved the way.

5) Lianne La Havas

While it’s not the typical soul … I have really developed a special and deep rooted affinity to Lianne La Havas and the wonderful way she has concocted her brand of Soul b8d40aca0412d6bf75fa703482f7f3abe6df5f5cwith elements of Folk and R&B. Arguably, one of Britain’s best soulful exports in recent years excluding the giants like Adele, her Grammy, Mercury, MOBO, Brit and Ivor Novello award nominations are testament to her craft. I believe it is the power of her style of music and her sophisticated writing ability that has allowed her and also her beloved guitar to take to festivals and stages all over the world. A genuine fan of her 2015 album Blood, she is not an artist you should pass up on by any means. If you don’t at least have “Lost and Found” in your Spotify or Apple Music playlist somewhere then I really question what you are doing.

 

While there can only be a top 5, honourable mentions must go to Corrine Bailey Rae, Melissa Bell & Caron Wheeler, Emeli Sande, Shola Ama, Cynthia Erivo and Gabrielle. These ladies plus the 5 aforementioned have really helped make British Soul/R&B what it is today and I would hope their names can live forever more.

The 4 pillars of a great album

New music is literally being released every day. As you read this, someone somewhere is getting ready to premiere a body of work to the world for appreciation and scrutiny. And everyone’s taste is different. No matter how hard you try, you can never have the PERFECT album because as human nature dictates, people’s tastes vary. However, some of the best albums to touch this earth followed some of the same principles. I’ve taken the liberty to package it into a nice acronym for you guys for easier reading – PACT. As subjective as it can seem, I could have found some sort of answer.

Production
We are moved by the power of sounds. When you listen to a song, EP or album for the first time, your immediate reaction and your opinion on whether it deserves another play or a straight skip is determined on what it sounds like. The instrumental, percussion, the use of real instruments or synth-bass and 808’s; we enjoy being able to identify the elements and appreciate the hard work making a melody sound so nice.
An artist can’t afford to be lazy in this regard. While they may rely on a producer for that banging beat, they must also have a musical ear to decipher what works and what doesn’t. Many artists and producers have a sound that is synonymous with them. Quincy Jones is noted for having a beautiful relationship with Michael Jackson which birthed two of his greatest albums Off The Wall’ and Thriller’. I liken it to the relationship J Hus has with JAE5. JAE5 has helped make J Hus’ ‘UK-afro-bashment’ sound so unique and stood as executive producer in his critically acclaimed and Mercury Prize shortlisted Common Sense.
rick-ross-kanye-studioSome artists take to production themselves because, I mean, who knows your musical style, taste and preference better than yourself. The likes of Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder have really shaped their respected genres by taking the music into their own hands.

 

Ability
We judge the greatness of an artist based primarily on their ability. For a rapper, it’s their abstract metaphors or double-time flow, rhyming style, storytelling prowess. For a singer, it’s their tone, their vocal control, riffs, runs & harmonies. We can sometimes be so swayed by a singer or rappers acrobatics on a song but it is that well executed dynamism that ultimately have people wanting to listen to the song or the album again and again. No better example than ‘Section.80’  by Kendrick Lamar and in particular “Rigamortis” . Take time to really listen to the song, you may be wowed by his effective use of double-time flow but what is more fascinating is his subtle and elaborate rhyming style. 15-phenomenal-female-british-soul-singers-u1
A sign of a great rap album is when you can listen to it much later and discover a new metaphor astonishingly like its the first time you heard the song. As crazy as that sounds, I still have that feeling when I listen to Wale’s Attention Deficit’ or Wretch 32’s Black and White’.
In like respect for a singer, it’s how your songs are vocally arranged, how you work through your range and no one did it better in prime like Sade. With songs like “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love is King”, her famous sultry vocals crowned her introductory album Diamond Life’ a top album of the 80’s era.

Content
After you first listen to an album and decide that you like it so you listen again, you’ll find yourself picking up on the messages of certain songs and the album as a whole. Whether the artist speaks on real-life experiences, a storyteller for others or speaking figuratively, listeners have an expectation for a quality written album (unless your songs lack proper lyrics, no shade).
lecrae-tickets_11-04-17_17_598899b350492Lecrae’s in-depth look into the African-American social-historical condition and being self reflective of his own personal journey while inspiring hope, faith and political change made ‘Church Clothes 3’ one of my favourite projects of 2016. Joey Bada$$ contribution to the message with ‘ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$’ was less historical, more passionate but powerful all the same. Especially the video for “Land of the Free“!
And while heartfelt messages arguably don’t achieve proper commercial success, her mature take on love and nostalgia fittingly made Adele’s ’25’ one of the best-selling albums of the 21st century.

Theme
Theme slightly differs to content for the reason that it can be executed in a number of different ways. It’s not strictly confined to what the artist speaks; it should realistically be always down to the artist to have the freedom to express and execute his creativity. GoldLink’s At What Cost’ was greatly inspired by his D.C. roots and that gave for an album that had a go-go, funky groove from top to bottom, with songs like “Summatime” “Hands on your Knees” and “Meditation” being prime examples.
Great albums have retrospective themes that can go beyond just the audible which the listener can follow and become immersed in. I took a real liking to Jon Bellion’s ‘The Human Condition’; what he presented was more than an album. He intertwines his own stories and relatable life experiences with a hint of imagination, and with the added artwork accompanying every song on the album, creates a visual-audible experience.

If I say anything else, let me say AGAIN this is not a comprehensive neither is it industry standard but my own personal opinion based on preference and listening experience but I feel like even you, the reader, after reading this may start to see these things yourself.

On The Come Up – Noname

Next up, we have Noname. Anyone who is familiar with that Alternative R&B/Hip-Hop realm might be familiar with the name Noname (brilliant pun, see what I did there?). As well as having features on a few songs with Chance The Rapper she’s befriended and worked with new school names like Mick Jenkins, Xavier Omar and Smino.

Here you have quirky, young black Chicago native doing what one would say is the equivalent to Slam Poetry…and it is dope! Excuse my colloquial English. While her artistry roots are found in poetry circles, Ms. Fatimah Warner has always had a love for music as wide reaching as it comes. She cites her inspirations being blues musicians Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf from an early age as well as Tina Turner, Jay Electronica and Tony Morrison. Her love for music, passion for poetry and being around other Chicago creatives helped evolve a pursuit into rap.

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After the delays and a shift in musical  direction, she released her debut project ‘Telefone’ to become one of the most critcally acclaimed albums of 2016; one of the reasons being that it bent the rules of what we define as Hip-Hop. Sure you have gender benders all around but Noname is different and Telefone was a breath of fresh air. Centered around important telephone conversations that Noname has had over the years, Telefone speaks of black women’s strife and also highlights the struggles of growing up in her Chicago hometown with a unique blend of melodies, rap/poetry and out-of-the-box production. Definitely long awaited as well, three years in the making. But being able to endure life experiences and put it into your music makes for true art. For her , it was the introduction officially and finally to who Noname is as an artist.

Despite controversially not appearing on the XXL Freshmen Class of 2017,

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she still has managed to develop a name for herself and her mixtape featured on The Skinny’s ‘Top 50 Albums of 2016’ and Noisey’s ‘The 100 Best Albums of 2016’ as well as a coveted appearance on NPR Music’s notable ‘Tiny Desk Series’. Now fans in America and beyond sit and wait for her next project to drop ‘Room 25’. The hope is that she doesn’t delay for three years AGAIN but releases in timely fashion and carries on the momentum that she has. Will she remain an independent is not known but the path she treads is most definitely working for her.

 

“I don’t typically think about myself when I’m thinking about making music like [I’m a female rapper and this is my role in Hip-Hop], I’m more so just making art…”

Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator – Open and honest

“This is the best album he’s ever produced!” I hear some say.

I’ll be honest and say I was a little sceptical about listening to this album. Tyler is not my go-to Hip-Hop artist but I can appreciate what he does for the culture. However, there was something with this album; the low key hype as well as the buzz Tyler is getting in general, I had to sit myself down and really listen to the album and decipher it for what it was.

There are different themes that run through the album, encompassed in this overarching nature/garden motif. As mature as the content is, we still exploring the breadth and tyler-the-creator-unreleased-track-00depth of Tyler’s mind. He presents his human condition to us in all its forms. Tyler is an eclectic soul which fits the narrative as well as the album title and artwork in itself.

One of my favourites “See You Again” is Tyler showing the emotional  side to him. An ode to a fantasy lover which only exists in his dreams and the emotional agony that such a longing is having on him. He really puts across his innermost thoughts, running alongside the daydream, orchestral chorus and the contrasting beat flip in the verses. It really brings his emotional turmoil to life. Combine “See You Again” with songs like “Garden Shed” and “Glitter” and you see a level of vulnerability now more than ever as he opens up, alluding to the possible idea of him being gay.

Both “Pothole” and “November” reminds us that Tyler is still human…
“Pothole” he speaks on him dealing with the fame, its after-effects and all the ups and downs that has come with it all in reference to the idea of driving. All these obstacles in 5_a4gw5u-1_yca13bhis life are the potholes which are in the way, stopping him from having an easy cruise. while the beat itself is nice and easy to cruise to.
“November” – filled with low-key anxiety. It’s as if he running through this thoughts so frantically and airing out his insecurities as he is longing for the better days; his “November”.

“911/Mr. Lonely” is like one of those classic singles from back in the day; Side A with the subtle old school hip-hop and R&B nuances while side B is new school Rap. The content has heart-rending undertones transcending both sides alluding to how his old issues of depression may actually not be ‘old’

The album presents deep issues but its not all doom and gloom. The closing track “Enjoy Right Now, Today”  tops off everything with a very positive and bright sound in a way showing all through the ups and downs, it’s important to be positive. If Tyler can do it, so can you.
The album title serves as a metaphor for Tyler himself. A ‘Flower Boy’, a guy who don’t fit the typical ideals of a manly-looking man. An internal struggle between soft romanticism and rugged aggression and depression laid out in fine musical form.

 

Sounds From The Other Side by Wizkid – Rhythm personification

A highly anticipated release from when the high profile collaborations started rolling in and his stock started to rise, now we have finally been treated. Wizkid brings us ‘Sounds From The Other Side’, his latest release since 2014’s ‘Ayọ’. The ‘King of Hooks’ has a way of making the songs he touches hits and with this album it’s an eager attempt at such.
Now let us be honest, this EP is a far cry from the afropop/highlife sounds of Ayọ and you definitely shouldn’t listen to it with that expectancy…but that’s clear from the singles he churned out. You can see that he is paving a new path with his sound.
img_1760Honestly, this is more Dancehall project with Afrobeats/R&B stylings, more so than his previous material. Certain songs definitely have its Africa feels – My favourites are ‘Sexy‘ with the Fela Kuti vibes and ‘All For Love‘  which is flavoursome from top to bottom with the Afrohouse sauce straight from South Africa. For both, the percussion is very important in bringing out the feels.

While African producers did work on the “EP”  OVERWHELMINGLY it is not an African project.

This is me in no way saying it’s bad. I can definitely see most of the songs, like Ayọ, being played on radio and in the club; a parameter for a successful album. It shows growth for Wizkid as an artist. But there is remission of more soul-filled anthems, which I hoped for. What this project lacks in soul it makes up in Rhythm. It is IMPOSSIBLE not to vibe to it, the likes of ‘Sweet Love‘, ‘Naughty Ride‘ & ‘One For MeWizkid-performs
More so than not, this album may be an actual reflection of the modern day blueprint for an artist from the African continent to make it big time. Sure there are African artists who are quite famous (Fally Ipup, Sarkodie, AKA to name a few) but not all break through the glass ceiling. Whether the move it is good or bad is subjective.

 

I was hoping for this to be a full length album. Only having 12 songs with almost half of them already being familiar with left me wanting more. SFTOS is roughly less than 40 minutes long. Almost all songs are under 4 minutes and more than half have features and while almost songs all are radio-ready, all of this combined left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

Nonetheless, Sounds From The Other Side is to me a metaphor. For those already aware of Wizkid and his status as one of the kings of the Afrobeats, he shows a other side to him; the “mainstream appeal” side to him. For those immersed in the mainstream who he is trying to target, he is showing the ‘other side’; the afropop, rhythmic, dancehall wave that is the new trend.

 

On The Come Up – Anik Khan

The start of a new segment. Highlighting the up and coming that are about to do major things in the industry. Keep your ear to the ground. These guys are bubbling up in a major way

Kicking things off, we got Anik Khan. A rapper and singer/ songwriter, he is the son of Bangladeshi migrants but was raised in the home of Music, New York. He takes inspiration from his Queens home town which he hails all the time. His main drive for music comes from his father, a poet and prolific speaker in his time but found himself hustling in New York as a cab driver upon moving to The States.

His culture was never lost on him –   coming home to an immigrant family made him real Anik Khan micappreciative of his Bengali side, but being on the block surrounded by the sounds of Jay Z, Eminem, Nas, and Biggie gave him almost a dual upbringing.

While I find Anik’s smooth, silky vocals go along way with his penchant for harmonies, what is more captivating is how he manages to blend his influences together; his New York, urban vibe and his Bengali folk heritage. His joint ‘Cleopatra’ for example. The Bengali folk vibe preludes to a hip-hop-like syth-bass and the same sort of fusion is present in the chorus. As opposite as such styles can be, they work.

One of my personal favourites has to be ‘Too Late Now‘. With almost 1 million streams on Spotify, it is probably one of his most famous and it is a incredible mix of jazz, dance/electronic vibes, vocals and rap finesse. Definitely a crowd pleaser. Word to Jarreau Vandal on the production.

 

His EP ‘I Don’t Know Yet’ is a journey both the listener and artist take as Anik paves his way to find himself and develop equilibrium in two worlds, to achieve harmony betweenAnik Khan Flag his American and Bengali personas. Anik speaks for those like him who left their homeland to grind for that ‘American Dream’.

While his EP is very lyrical and flow, his 2017 debut album ‘Kites’ takes a more vocal direction which came as a surprise for me. Not that it was a bad body of work but I hoped for a mix of styles to really show off the artist that he is; more commercial I would argue. The full extent of his talent and artistry is his USP and he should hold on to it.

“When you hear an Anik Khan song, there’s always gonna be some flavour. You’ll get the salt and pepper but there’s also Cumin and Turmeric in there…every time”

 

Gang Signs & Prayers by Stormzy – Impressions, Thoughts, Appreciation

It is an album that had an incredible amount of hype well before the idea of the album was probably even conceptualised. From when ‘Know Me From’ dropped, it was only a matter of time. What is purely evident is the love that has been shown to Stormzy from then till now, industry and fans alike. His debut album, Gang Signs & Prayers is finally here.

If there’s anything I appreciate it is that it doesn’t have a ‘filler’ type of feel, even though it has a few interludes, each song is deserving. c5xhreiw8aqnuttI am definitely a fan of ‘Big for Your Boots’ which I’d recommend for anyone’s gym playlist. ‘Velvet’ is ultra-smooth and
reminds me of that 2000’s British R&B vibes. There’s just something about ‘Cigarettes and Cush’, combining the smooth piano and sax sounds, Lily Allen and Kehlani’s amazing vocals and heartfelt content that makes it a soulful ‘love ballad’ on the album. ‘Blinded By Your Grace pt.2’ is the definition of uplifting and inspirational. The choir and guitar shredding is pure euphoria. His faith in God comes through emphatically. Can’t hate it.

It is an album that low-key pays its homage. Anyone who is clued up enough to catch the “Where’s Carlos” reference on ‘Bad Boys’ and know the origin, kudos to you. The Crazy Titch interlude. Salutes to the legendary “Lady of Soul”, Ms. Jenny Francis. Having Wretch 32 himself on an interlude is paying homage to one of the greatest from this scene.

In a sense, it is a very British album. It doesn’t try to be what it isn’t sonically. You can tell it is not a Grime album by definition but definitely a Grime influenced album, from the use of instruments & fast tempo on certain tracks as well as the use of ‘samples’. The roster of English talent, the likes of Ghetts, MNEK, J Hus, Nao and Raleigh Ritchie is beautiful to see.

What this album has is clear themes that run throughout its entirety. Gang Signs & Prayers is an exploration… a presentation of his urban upbringing and the rugged exterior that it has produced (‘Return of the Rucksack’, ‘Mr Skeng’ etc.) and at the same time delving in-depth into his vulnerability and his inner most thoughts and emotions (‘Lay Me Bare’, ‘100 Bags’ etc.). It is a metaphor for the life he has lived.c5wkyukwyaagihs

I feel the album has GREATLY lived up to its expectations. It’s not an album on lyrical wizardry; that’s evidently not his style. Nonetheless his storytelling ability is definitive enough for listeners to hear and feel the emotion he lays in every song, whether it be pain, rage, pleasure, love or gratitude. A balance of the brash and the pensive.  Not eloquence but rather potency with his vocals and flow and beautiful sonics. This may possibly go down as a classic.
24th of February was officially National Stormzy Day and I definitely know why.

Why isn’t Politics compulsory in schools?

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screen-shot-2017-02-22-at-20-25-03This is the truest tweet I’ve seen in a very very long time. Social sciences tend to be looked down upon by other academic disciplines but it seems as though the consequences of the lack of its teaching is globally evident. I tutor part time and on particular days of the week my company will tutor 11+ kids. This will involve extra curricular sessions on things outside of the national curriculum. One particular session was on money. Most of the kids had heard about the recession but didn’t know what it was. And in an activity where they had to rank objects from most to least expensive, they put a Mini Cooper car over a two bedroom house in London. It honestly made me think “What’s the point in raising kids who know how many wives Henry III had but don’t know how to manage their finances?”

In schools we…

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Grammys 2017 – Surprises, Remissions and Music firsts. My thoughts

The 59th Annual Grammy Awards has now come and gone and it had some memorable moments with James Corden at the helm as the host. 2016 was a notable year for music so l was already anxiously waiting to see who would make it onto the shortlist let alone win. Some names were a given, some were a bit of a shock to me. Good and bad. But I am allowed to be subjective as long as it makes sense, no?

Chance the Rapper himself was one highlight of the entire night for me. One of the biggest shake-ups this year was streaming-only works being considered for nominations. The Head of the Awards said that ‘Colouring Book’ had nothing to do with it but numerous nominations say otherwise. On his debut to the awards, he gave the performance of his life, doing a mashup of some of Colouring Book’s favourable songs accompanied with Francis & The Lights, gospel choir, Tamela Mann’s raw vocals and Kirk Franklin as the coolest hype-man ever.
He praised God numerous times and mentioned his team aiding his artist independence in his acceptance speech for Best New Artist and also managed to take away the award for Best Rap Performance AND Best Rap Album. Many congratulations to him.


Beyoncé graced the stage with what looked like one of the most visually captivating performances of the night with the best use of what looked like holograms and special effects I’ve seen. Singing “Love Drought” & “Sandcastles”, her regal/goddess-like styling and concept was not a far cry from the recent baby photos that have hit the web and all the while she effortlessly sang and did not hide her beautiful, pregnant body. She also had a successful night, claiming two Grammys for Best Music Video and Best Urban Contemporary Album. I personally wanted KING to win the latter but Lemonade was a soniclly excellent album so it’s very well deserved for her.

Another one of my highlights was seeing Hip-Hop came out in full force on the night. It was only right that after legendary crew
A Tribe Called Quest dropping an album late last year, it was only fair that they perform on the Grammy stage. 
Alongside Busta Rhymes and Anderson .Paak they gave one hell of a socially and politically ril
ed up artistic presentation with references to Donald Trump and the Muslim ban. Milit
arized perfection. Paak himself unfortunately missed out on Best Urban Contemporary Album.

Boy, did Adele have an interesting Sunday night. First of all, she initiated the show onstage under a spotlight with a moving performance of her hit song “Hello”. Brilliant. On the night itself, she had a Grammy clean sweep, picking up 5 awards for (clears throat) … Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance AND Best Pop Vocal Album. That I wasn’t expecting. I would have liked to see Beyoncé pick up Album of the Year and apparently Adele thought so too; as she dedicated the win to Beyoncé and made both of them shed tears. To make her night more interesting, after a shaky start to her George Michael tribute, she accidently cursed and insisted to start again. I don’t know about you but I don’t call that ‘not being professional’, I call it ‘keeping it real’.

The night itself also saw tributes galore as to Prince expertly honoured by Bruno Mars and The Time; a tribute to The Bee Gees respectfully done by the likes of Demi Lovato and Tori Kelly  and was topped off with John Legend and Cynthia Erivo combining to honour those who recently passed. It wasn’t a completely smooth show but that plus Corden and his quirky self definitely made a feast for the eyes.

A night with Christon Gray and J Givens – Concert review

I had the pleasure of being in attendance and witnessing one of my favourite artists Christon Gray take to the London stage for the first time and, along with J Givens, he gave the audience at St Mary’s Church a night to remember. After seeing the flyer for this early in December, there was almost no way at all I was going to miss this. I took the trip down to West London, awaiting the legends that were. Now let me tell you all about it.

Jay Ess was first up, with a new and improved vibe, accompanied with his fresh choir.

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 JayEss and his band

He gave us some new material from his up-coming project and along with the major throwback ‘Intoxicated’, he reminded us why he was once considered one of UK Gospel’s golden boys. Kat Deal was up next. A relatively new face to the scene, known by very few. The crowd warmed to her with her Alternative Pop look and Jazz vocal stylings. Singing original songs and a soulful cover of Kirk Franklin’s “Smile”, she definitely made some new fans by the end of her set.

Now to the main event. J Givens took to the stage and the crowd flocked to the stage.

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J Givens in his element

If there is anything I have admired about him it is his lyricism, quick flow and to match that with his active performance style, it made for a feast for the senses. He engaged with the crowd while taking us on a journey through his album “Fly Exam”, the hype tracks and the mellow joints. The essence of Hip-Hop is alive and well. You felt a part of the family as he shared his testimony about his drug addiction and by the end, the crowd were shouting Hallelujah in agreement. For the die-hard fans reciting the bars alongside, he did not fail to deliver.

The man of the hour, Christon Gray came and fans flocked even more quicker than before. Gray started off his set with some of his older material. The whole crowd singing along to “The Last Time” set the tone for what was an amazing night. He is definitely a showman, displaying his full versatility as an artist flowing from R&B to Soul to Gospel to Rap. Contrasting moments of electricity with him rapping, bringing out J Givens to do “Stop Me Remix” leaving you unable to formulate words because you’re so excited THEN moments of hush and awe with his slow ballads accompanied with his keyboard; literally him playing the keys and singing “Black Male” you are literally without words. It felt as if I was going down memory lane as he performed songs from his whole catalogue. Trust me I was singing at the top of my lungs when I heard “Long Way Down” and “Isle of You”. Crowd engagement didn’t go amiss as he spontaneously put together an ‘airband’ to help him perform the funk groove that is “SuperDave”. Then he brings half the crowd on stage during ‘Open Door’ AND THEN jumps into the crowd. Totally unexpected.

The night was filled with love, laughs and pure vibes. Both Gray and Givens were both incredibly down to earth and both artists’ presence complimented the night perfectly. Shout out to Zion Promotions for bringing down one of the 4 artists I HAD to see before I died; and they were gracious enough to chat to the ‘FANmily’ afterwards. All I ask is for more dope shows like this in the future.

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