Afropunk festival photo

Review: Afropunk Festival – London – July 22

In Hip Hop by Nick Russell

Our review on the Afropunk Festival in London

The appropriately named cultural phenomenon that is Afropunk Festival came to London for the second year running, with names such as Kojey Radical, Saul Williams, Little Sims, Danny Brown and JME highlighting the first day’s events which is what we came to cover and review! 

 

Taking place over two days in the vast ex industrial site of Printworks, near the London’s financial district, the Brooklyn born festival, which also takes place in Johannesburg and Paris, attracted a diverse and multicultural range of sharply dressed, loud and proud and downright swagged out revellers from across the spectrum of afrocentric culture.

London poet, singer and visual artist Kojey Radical brought a whole range of confidence on as he stepped on stage, with emotions and energies for his show which saw with plenty of crowd interaction. His ability to rap, sing and deliver spoken word left a lasting impression with current fans and new. The set was  topped off with ‘Preacher Preacher’, which had the most impact, backed up by singer O Zulu. The unique track covered the topic of contradiction within his religious and and spiritual upbringing. 

New Yorker Saul Williams’ show was one of the greatest shows I’ve seen to date! As someone who has collaborated with everyone from Kanye West to Blackalicious, the 45 year old embodied everything Afropunk stands for; subversion, integrity and deeply proud and unique cultural expression in the most quirky and creative way possible. Williams delivered his blend of poetry and rapping over a range of genres from techno, jungle and hip hop to everything in between, and proved his presence was as potent as the bass which hit the floor to make the whole room vibrate at a frequency not experienced in almost every other venue!

 

North London emcee and artist Little Sims upped her feisty intelligent street chick ante with her set. The pint sized femcee is definitely one of the most globally successful and far reaching hip hop talents out of the UK over the past few years, and showed this on the day.

Sims’ content was that of a pro which meant she had a solid technique and her diction also delved into more controversial range of language and slang, with strong crowd engagement. This was especially when she brought out Syd (of The Internet and Odd Future), which is when the crowd nuts, almost in disbelief. When Sims performed ‘Dead body’, it showed she had a strong hand of both grime and alt, laid back hip-hop.

Danny Brown is one of the most charismatic rappers hip hop has seen over the past 5-10 years, echoing the eccentricity of ODB and prowess of any of the current crop of hard bodied rappers of today. He came out on stage in a finely cut suit and ran thru his hits, both the known and loved ones like ‘Growing up’ as well as the lesser known ones. His notable change of hairstyle and general appearance (opting for a mature and trendy socialite as opposed to a seasoned party animal who’s had his fair share of wavey nights. Despite the change in aesthetics he retained that grimey techno and hip-hop delivery, especially with his performance of ‘Smokin’ and drinkin’, proving he’s a rounded artist who isn’t slowing down anytime soon!

 

The headliner of the day raised the roof in the best way he knew how. Having one of the biggest buzzes in the history of grime music, JME isn’t an artist who appears on stage very often nowadays, which is probably one of the factors which lead to his dedicated following. His live stage performance definitely fed into the crowd’s roaring energy, which saw at least 3 circle pits formed leading up to the drops of bangers like Man Don’t Care. His professionalism and banter was received well whilst his charming stage presence, ethical standpoints on social issues and 100% authentic British grime sound was clear from his delivery of tracks. All these combined to  make him a great choice as headliner and close off the first of a two day cultural celebration of afrocentricity. 

Words: Nick Russell // Photos: Callum Jack (except Kojey Radical & Saul Williams)