Opportunity the Rapper, Brixton Academy, London — assessment

Hip-hop has reached peak ego. Kanye West’s onstage meltdowns during his US tour last week mark the tipping point, boos ringing out as he declared his assistance for Donald Trump amid rambling speeches, with one show curtailed right after 3 songs.

On the evening he cancelled a concert in Los Angeles, a prelude to the cancellation of the entire tour, a younger act from West’s property city of Chicago pointed a way forward. Opportunity the Rapper, 23, may possibly revere Kanye as a mentor (the pair have spoken of making an album with each other) but he does not share the older man’s rampant narcissism. The thousands chanting along to every word of his verses in a sold-out Brixton Academy underlined the shift in emphasis.

Opportunity, real name Chancellor Bennett, was backed by drummer Greg Landfair Jr, trumpeter Nico Segal and keyboardist Peter Cottontale the 4 contact themselves the Social Experiment. In contrast to the concentrate on the individual star at most rap gigs, right here the efficiency had an organic, collaborative good quality.

Cottontale’s organ licks and Segal’s trumpet solos supplied a mellow, jazzy backdrop for lyrics that went from addressing Chicago’s gun violence (“Angels”) to jokey nonsense rhymes (“Brain Cells”). Landfair Jr’s drumming and laptop-generated beats triggered by Cottontale came to the fore in livelier tracks such as “All Night” or “Juke Jam”, beefed up tonight from sultry R&ampB to party tune.

Despite a gruff edge to his voice, Chance’s rapping flowed easily, varying in volume with the swells and ebbs of his bandmates’ perform. An anti-Trump speech — his father is a Chicago Democrat who once worked for Barack Obama — ended with him claiming music as essential sustenance in black US culture. The sentiment was produced literal by the gospel influences in his own songs, a strain of religiosity neatly worked into the secular rap setting.

“Sunday Candy” was a warm, soulful tribute to household churchgoing. “Finish Line/Drown” had the sampled backing voices of a gospel choir, while the final quantity, “Blessings”, located him entering testifying mode with arms raised, chanting about being transported to the promised land. Post-peak-ego rap is about summoning a greater force, not becoming it.


Section: Arts

PJ Harvey, Brixton Academy, London — overview

The first of PJ Harvey’s two nights at Brixton Academy opened with the Dorset singer-songwriter and her nine-powerful band emerging from backstage gloom in a file wearing funereally dark garments. Two drummers led the way with a military tattoo as the musicians arranged themselves in an oval shape, a gothic encampment. The 1st notes they struck up were a grave blast of noise, fuelled by three horn players like Harvey on saxophone.

When she started singing, her voice rose higher above the ominous musical reverberations, telling the story of an old woman living in a deserted Balkan village. The song was “Chain of Keys” from her most current album The Hope Six Demolition Project, whose tracks had been inspired by Harvey’s visits to Kosovo, Afghanistan and the US. “Imagine what her eyes have observed,” she sang of the elderly villager she saw throughout the Kosovo trip. “We ask but she won’t let us in.”

Harvey is playing an unusual hand in The Hope Six Demolition Project. Created as a functionality art piece in which she and her musicians could be watched recording its songs in the studio, it addresses war, poverty and pollution, a world out of kilter. But Harvey is a reluctant agitpopper. Shouts from the audience at the Academy met with implacable silence, only broken at the end when she introduced her band. Like the lady in “Chain of Keys”, Harvey prefers to keep her public at a distance, even when she desires to engage them in wider problems.

Her all-male backing band played their role as retainers with formidable discipline: a saxophonist’s superbly wild solo at the end of “The Ministry of Social Affairs” was a rare moment of peacockery. Otherwise the theatricality was left to Harvey, front of stage in an artfully revealing black outfit, unencumbered by her usual guitar. The sound mix was completely judged, from the immense bass saxophone wailing like the dawning of an awful thought in “The Ministry of Defence” to the numbed subtleties of the ambient lament “Dollar, Dollar”, which ended with a wonderfully mournful tenor sax solo.

Harvey’s vocals have been dramatic, varying notes and tones expertly. At occasions she got carried away with performing, or becoming seen to be performing: the way she palmed her cheeks like Munch’s “The Scream” throughout “Dollar, Dollar” was pure ham. But largely her movements were expressive, as when her imploring gesture at the finish of “Rid of Me” was cast into darkness by an extinguished spotlight. She is a class act.


Section: Arts