London has always had a place for rap music - it’s too great a city not to - but finding the right hip hop club can be a little trickier. You can dance to just about anything here if you want to, and you’ll probably find some people losing their minds and some others looking on indifferently. When I moved to London three and a half years ago I naturally tried a few hip hop nights, most of which were run by jaded DJs and named after twenty year-old Dre and Snoop songs.
These kinds of nights have been playing the same sets for years, ‘perfected’ in such a way that you can almost guess the running order. A little bit of Tribe, a little more DJ Premier, Joe Budden’s ‘Pump it Up’ and the obligatory Biggie medley (obiggietory, anyone?). All great music, sure, but it’s pre-planned, shock-free, and it runs like fucking clockwork. It’s the type of set you might understandably book as a warm up for a heritage act, but rap music is so much broader than the east and west coasts and it never got anywhere by living off past glories.
This is where Southern Hospitality comes in; a perma-packed London clubnight, music blog, record label and rap karaoke host. Starting out in 2007, it’s neither the first nor the only hip hop club in the UK playing current and exciting rap music, but it might just be the best. As well as its regular nights at East Village (Player’s Ball) and The Social (Hip Hop Karaoke), the success of Southern Hospitality has taken it to Glastonbury, Europe and SXSW where it now has its own showcase. Meanwhile, last year's release 'Blueberries (Pills and Cocaine)' from Danny Brown and London's own Darq E Freaker was one of the liveliest and most played club tunes of 2012. Whatever the format or location though, the focus remains on wild, high-energy party rap with an emphasis on the southern states, playing out tunes you love before you know you love them.
I spoke to the club’s founder Rob Pursey about running successful rap nights in London, who also made this knockout mix featuring the best of 2013 so far according to Southern Hospitality.
- Shawty Wassup - Yung Nation
- Perk N Twerk - GB The Flyboi
- Pour It Up (Remix) - Rihanna feat. Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Juicy J and T.I.
- Banger - D. Carter
- R.I.P. (Remix) - Young Jeezy feat. Kendrick Lamar, Chris Brown and YG
- Hit Em Up - Tyga feat. Jadakiss and 2Pac
- Change - Iamsu! & Problem
- This D - TeeFlii
- One Night - Domi Young feat. Ahmad
- Like Whaaat - Problem feat. Bad Lucc
- I Been On (Remix) - Beyonce feat. Bun B, Z-Ro, Scarface, Wille D, Slim Thug and Lil Keke
- Ahh - Laudie
- Band$ On Band$ - John Hart
- Tron - The Dream
- Off Dat Oil - SBE feat. Jeremih
- Chosen One - Future feat. Rocko
- Body Party - Ciara
- Hold Up - Ty Dolla $ign
- Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe (Remix) - Kendrick Lamar feat. Jay-Z
- Satellites - Kevin Gates
Starting with the basics, what were your initial intentions for Southern Hospitality?
Southern Hospitality started around 2007 with us really wanting to push a lot of the music we felt was a little under-represented in the UK, both in clubs and online. We're fans of all types of rap and all music in general, but we have a particular love for much of the music coming out of the Southern states (hence the name) and that’s been the driving force of a lot of what we've listened to. Our intention was definitely just to spread the word of good music, connect with artists and make all our clubs fun and current.
In the six years you’ve been doing it, then, have you noticed any change in the UK’s rap scene?
Yeah, there's been a huge shift towards what we've been playing for years at events like Players Ball - even in rap clubs that once would have scorned the music - but it's all good as the more exposure these artists get the better. Even the music coming out of the UK is more bounce and bass-heavy than it's ever been, so the transformation is almost fully realised from a few years back.
Obviously you have a strong focus on southern rap, but there’s almost as much of a Bay Area influence in your sets too. How much regional focus do you try to have with Southern Hospitality?
We definitely have no agenda whatsoever in what we think is dope - genre, region, whatever - but it's just been the case that the Bay Area has been home to some of the most innovative artists seemingly forever, so our attention keeps returning to that area. Plus we have a common bond in our love for the legend Mac Dre (R.I.P.) - so there's that too! Same with the myriad of scenes that the South seems to foster, it never seems to get boring. We've worked with many artists from both regions as a result and our 2013 SXSW showcase was a great representation of the rap music that has been powering our clubs and the website forward.
Have you noticed any change in terms of gender and race demographics at the nights you’ve promoted?
Without sounding too bland, our nights - HHK, Players Ball, Rated R etc - are well known for being pretty much all demographics in one club - Hip Hop Karaoke in particular. We definitely place the emphasis on music rather than belonging to a style, trend or scene and that probably helps in making everyone feel like they can just party together, a reputation which we're proud of. Southern Hospitality parties get pretty wild and it’s incredible just to see everyone embrace the music and each other in such a positive way whilst partying hard.
What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen happen at Hip Hop Karaoke?
I've seen people come out in full on costume (including the R-Kelly mask for 'Hotel'), strip on stage at festivals, perform many NSFW visual actions and just generally wild out on a regular basis. Also, sometimes the craziest thing is just when a person who looks the least likely to perform a song well, stepping on stage looking nervous etc. and proceeds to rip it.
What are the most popular songs at Hip Hop Karaoke?
Over the years I've got to say that the staple songs that more than likely get done are - The Notorious B.I.G. 'Juicy', Warren G 'Regulate', Lauryn Hill 'Doo Wop (That Thing)' and Dr. Dre 'Forget About Dre'. The newness of the songs that get done has seemed to increase over the years too, so we'll literally get people performing a new Kendrick Lamar or Drake record the week it has been released. As the years go on I can see it shifting to the Ludacris, Nicki Minaj and Kanye records, but for now the ones mentioned first remain the common denominator.
In terms of the label releases, have there been any specific goals in mind? A collab like Blueberries, for example, feels like it might not have happened without label input.
The label has really just been an outlet for Davey [who co-runs Southern Hospitality] to package and present some of the many collaborations he's been responsible for. It's really only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what he's actually done in bringing together artists from different walks of life. To a lot of producers in Europe especially, Davey is their main conduit to the rap world. Label wise, there are always collaborations in process. We feel like the next catalogue release would have to top 'Blueberry' in its impact and reach so we're definitely not in a rush to get something out for the sake of it, but no doubt there'll be something in the pipeline very soon.
And finally, tell us a bit about the First Quarter Future Jams mix you’ve made for us.
Well we kicked it off with Yung Nation's 'Shawty Wassup' which for us is definitely one of the freshest rhythms around. We've also got a heavy emphasis on the current sound out of the West Coast, with producers like DJ Mustard, The Invasion and League of Starz. Also, now that Jeezy, 2 Chainz and the rest are getting on a Mustard beat it's not long before that sound takes over the industry and we know for a fact that there are hundreds of records like that to come, including some killer Ratchet & B from artists like TeeFlii (who we also featured). Obviously there's a few undeniable heavy hitters on there and the usual suspects, along with our personal favourites - The Dream and Future in particular - and those that we believe are the future of Rap and R&B like Ty Dolla $ign and Kevin Gates. This mix pretty much sums up 2013 so far for us.
This edition of The Playlist begins with Young L, whose single ‘Atari’ dropped just after the last Champion Sound column and has been floating around my head ever since. Young L is doing his best 808s-era Kanye impression on this, while the beat builds like crazy to the point it so nearly falls apart. Somehow it all hangs together really well though, and I’ve been having dreams about the French fries in the video (at 2.50) for the past two months. Elsewhere there are new tunes from the likes of Chance the Rapper, IAMSU! and a double dose of Kevin Gates, whose The Luca Brasi Story tape continues to dominate my 2013 more than any other release.
Featured mixtape: Young Thug – 1017 Thug
I feel like I should preface this by saying that a lot of people will hate 1017 Thug, and that’s okay. This is a mixtape so garish and wilfully tuneless (despite being lathered in auto-tune) that I suspect it was engineered in a laboratory specifically to induce nightmares in cranky golden age rap dudes. In fact, when those same rap fans are arguing over whether hip hop died in 97 or 98, in their minds Young Thug might as well be the human embodiment of its killer. I’m not saying that this is why 1017 Thug is so enthralling, but Thug’s complete disregard for conventions is to be relished.
From a production standpoint, Gucci Mane’s Brick Squad stable has moved into perhaps its most warped and leftfield territory yet, but this has mostly been balanced by the comparatively straightforward styles of guys like Young Scooter and Gucci himself. Here, on the other hand, we have Young Thug literally bawling out verses in whichever way feels most natural to him, leaving auto-tune to do the rest. As a result, the hit rate on 1017 Thug isn’t flawless, but at its best – such as on inebriated rallying cries of ‘Nigeria’ or the bafflingly brilliant ‘Pikacho’ – Young Thug is on an entirely different playing field to his peers.
Deniro Farrar – The Patriarch
Deniro Farrar’s beat selection has always made his tapes worthy of a download, but more recently it’s his bleak, hopeless hood tales that have drawn me in. Reflecting on his personal struggles and the incarceration of his little brother, Deniro’s delivery is consistently cold and steady, but his words and the mournful samples which surround them reach for a deeper emotional strife. Not many emcees manage to balance these elements with this level of conviction, pulling on your heart strings but keeping an icy distance all at once.
Sure, Cassie is not strictly a rapper, but if she’s going to sing all over Mike Will beats and feature Too $hort (as well as many other emcees) then she’s more than welcome here. She’s calling this a mixtape, but it seems absurd to make that distinction when it’s as finely produced and expensive-sounding as anything else I’ve heard this year. Cassie nails the aesthetic best herself, singing “I make music to numb your brain” over a beat that sounds like it’s thumping through from another room. It’s rare that an emotionally flat Rick Ross verse feels quite as appropriate as it does here, but Cassie’s music has a blankness that I find strangely appealing and seductive. In a way then, I wish this was less guest-heavy, and it might be easily improved by shedding away with some of the more unnecessary features – here’s looking at you French Montana. Still, Cassie’s first official release in six years does not disappoint.
Big K.R.I.T. – King Remembered in Time
Big K.R.I.T. doesn’t sound nearly as fatigued as he should on his latest mixtape, but the truth is that he needs some time off. King Remembered in Time sounds exceptional, of course, but by now K.R.I.T. must have hard drives full of beats labelled according to the three types of song in his repertoire. This is a mixtape that actually updates and improves on his last two or three releases, but at times it feels like you’re listening to an album of sequels –even complete with the same regal catchphrases and self-referential lyrical tropes.
The truth is that once you cut through those songs that lean heavily on his past work, K.R.I.T. still has the creative spark to match his magic touch in the studio. The final stretch is particularly impressive, with ‘Banana Clip Theory’, ‘WTF’ and ‘Bigger Picture’ among the most thoughtful and evocative songs he’s ever written – if only he could apply this freshness to the more upbeat songs here as well. The problem is that his relentless release schedule won’t let his new ideas breathe, and as a result his projects aren’t quite as flawlessly brilliant as they once were. Still, despite my frustrations, K.R.I.T. is perhaps the most likeable guy in rap, and I can’t envision a day that I won’t enjoy a release with his stamp on it. Props for sampling Blakey's 'Wilhelm Scream' and making it not shit too.
Grande Marshall – Mugga Man
Philadelphia’s Grande Marshall sets a purposefully slow pace throughout Mugga Man, expanding ever so gently on last year’s impressive debut. There’s something so effortless about the way this guy constructs songs, not that he does anything particularly flashy, but really, there aren’t many 19 year old rappers this comfortable in their own skin. Samples hang in the air longingly on the title track, soon to be joined by snappy drum combos and lyrics with just enough nuance to leave a pack of gormless stoner rap peers in his wake. If only this tape was trimmed back by five or six of its less vital songs it’d feel damn near essential, but fuck it, it’s 2013, delete them yourself and then try being as relaxed as Grande Marshall.