Forbidden Fruit 2015

Looking at the Forbidden Fruit festival, lineup aside, it really is quite an exceptional festival. Considering it is right on the edge of Dublin city centre, everything really went of without a hitch. There was no huge traffic jams throughout the weekend, just about every act was on time and the atmosphere is one of a kind. With plenty of great food and attractions, it really is easy to get lost in the festivals characteristics before even reaching a stage.
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After a brief sit down in the Hotpress tent for interviews with Rusangano Family and Joey Bada$$, the first act I saw perform was Earl Sweatshirt. Completely abandoning his older material in favor of a set that is very heavy on his new album works wonders for his show. He fully immerses himself in each track, something that couldn’t be done on older songs that do not fully represent where he is at now in life. He may not like to go outside, but he is not as much of an introvert as his album title would have you think. He commands the stage with a new found decisiveness but is always willing to keep it playful throughout.
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Next up, Joey Bada$$ delivered something a lot different from the last set. Where Earl commanded the stage, Joey owned it. This being his second festival set in Ireland in as many years, he’s very comfortably on the larger stage. He bounds and leaps around through tracks Christ Conscious and No 99, never missing a beat or a line. With Statik Selektah on DJ duties the show was s always going to sound crisp. His live cuts and scratches add an essential air of improvisation to create a classic hip hop show for the young emcee.
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Only the Wu Tang Clan could really follow the great sets from the last two artists. There is always going to be doubts and fears going into a Wu show, mostly concerning the lineup but also the overall quality. However, they proved that even without two vital members (Method Man and Raekwon) their legacy holds up regardless of who is there. GZA and Ghostface Killah seem most at ease controlling the pace of the show. They break out all the old material, including their solo work, leaving little to no room for anything from the November release, A Better Tomorrow. It seems like an odd decision not to push the album, but they obviously have listened to people opinions on it and are not willing to sacrifice the energy of such a well executed show. It may run a bit shorter than advertised but they no doubt left their mark on the main stage. As far as their live shows go I think we got the best possible one available from Wu Tang Clan in 2015.
11281704_902161956511497_630921381_n On Sunday, the Undergrowth stage got very full, very quickly in anticipation of Run the Jewels‘ set. Walking on stage to ‘We Are the Champions’ is a sure fire way to get any crowd hyped for a show, but what followed was chaos that was bound to happen, Queen or no Queen. Their self titled opener and subsequent ‘Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)’ only drew more people into the tent to expend the last of their energy before making their way home. Killer Mike ,El-P and Trackstar the DJ all looked as happy to be on the stage as the mass amount of their fans watching them. Mike’s signature dance moves during ‘Get It’ were in no way stifled by his arm in a sling and El-P is as charismatic as ever, controlling the crowd at the helm of the show. The closing encore of ‘A Christmas Fuckin Miracle’ and ‘Angel Duster’ no doubt left an imprint of the letters RTJ on anyone who had stumbled into that tent unknowingly for the best set all weekend.
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Words & pictures by Ross Logan
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Flying Lotus, Vicar Street Dublin

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Even though this was advertised as an AV show, it was still quite jarring to see the stage setup initially. Any idea of what was to be expected was thrown out the window with the first sight of the hexagonal cage placed in front of Flying Lotus’ equipment. Premature doubts that the show may not deliver in the relatively intimate venue were completely unfounded. As soon as a suited and masked Flylo appeared on stage and gave a brief speech about Ireland and ‘yokes’, the visual and musical spectacle began.

He incorporates every facet imaginable to create an incredibly immersive live experience. There is no doubt that he is a true visionary with such a mind bending display of constantly morphing graphics that swallow the Vicar Street stage whole. Visually, it is literally jaw dropping at times as each colour or pattern change syncs perfectly with the tempo and tone of the music. He has assembled a visceral presentation, one that rivals the quality of any other live show around at the moment.

The swirling lights and designs are only slightly more hypnotising than the music. There’s plenty of Flying Lotus material, both new and old, and his villainous and verbally gifted alter ego Captain Murphy makes an appearance. There is even some Schoolboy Q and Dr. Dre thrown in for good measure. However, one of the secret ingredients of the show was the last minute addition of Thundercat. He adds an air of improvisation to a clearly well planned and thought out display.

It is evident to me now that Flying Lotus and truly revolutionised the idea of a live performance. He highlights not just the importance of the visual aspect but also knows that it is important to treat fans to something they could not hear anywhere else. He previews an unreleased Chance the Rapper verse on ‘Ready Err Not’ and remixes his ‘Wesley’s Theory’ beat that opens Kendrick Lamar’s latest album. The audience should feel like they are witnessing something special and this is an element that Flying Lotus has cemented into his show.

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-Ross Logan

Hank Shocklee (The Bomb Squad), the Sugar Club Dublin

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Hank Shocklee is one of the members of Public Enemy associates and producers, the Bomb Squad. In the late 80s their chaotic and attention grabbing sound helped to influence and shape hip hop as we know it today. Since ChoiceCuts were able to book him for a DJ set, it was no surprise that a Q & A would take place also, considering the wealth of knowledge and experience that he has garnered over the years.

Before this could take place, the audience were treated to a screening of Prophets of Rage. This BBC documentary about Public Enemy details everything from their early beginnings to the controversies that eventually led to their downfall and demise. Opposing sides of stories are told, from the militant perspective of Griff to Flavor Flav’s colourful outlook on past events. The documentary also served as a basic introduction to P.E, allowing for the more detailed and exploratory questions to be kept for later on.

The Q & A, which was hosted by Olan from All City record shop, went into everything from early sampling techniques, to the equipment used, to what it was like to have so many musicians working on one project. Some producers are known for being introverts who become almost obsessed with their craft, but Hank is as outgoing and enthusiastic as they come and still stays dedicated. As expected, he is full of stories. My favourite being about Flavor Flav’s previous job of driving a bus full of children with cerebral palsy. Certain anecdotes would seem unbelievable if they hadn’t had come straight from someone who was there to witness it all.

Unfortunately I had to miss his DJ set. Coming one of the most influential producers of all time, we can assume it was great. The Q & A section of the night was most definitely the highlight. It is rare to come across a night as informative or inspiring. Due to the crowd’s reaction, we can hopefully expect more night’s like this with hip hop’s elite.

-Ross Logan

Ghostpoet, the Button Factory Dublin

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Despite the downtrodden nature of many of his tracks, Ghostpoet had no problem entertaining the Button Factory with vigour and enthusiasm while opening his current tour in Dublin. His past experiences of touring have paid off and gifted him with an obvious prowess for performing. For a set that runs well over 75 minutes, his smooth voice and high level of charisma never falter. While he may be the main attraction for the night, the accompanying band contributes just as much to the show as he does.

Each member of the band is as professional as they come. They amplify the sound of older tracks (‘Cash and Carry Me Home’) achieving a much bigger sound than the original recording. His keyboard player/backup singer assists him with a serene and reserved quality to her vocals. She replicates the voice of the female role on his current album, Shedding Skin, with a haunting perfection. It is often the new material that provides the most enthralling moments of the show.

It feels like there is an unspoken bond between him and his audience. One that allows tracks like ‘Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me’ and ‘Yes I Helped You Pack’ to be performed with compassion, despite the deeply personal subject matters. He bares this weight with no burden, trusting in the crowd to be as receptive as they are. It’s clear that he is comfortable being at the helm of the show, always controlling the pace but never undermining the importance of musicians joining him on stage.

While there may be a slight reluctance to his showmanship at times, he is clearly thankful of the position that he is in. After an encore of ‘Lines’ he jumps into the crowd to embrace his fans. He makes an impression on everyone from the diehards to the casual gig goers, humbled by the full venue for a Wednesday night. A turnout like this can be expected with a truly personal and intimate showing like this from one of the U.K’s most unique artists.

-Ross Logan

Pharoahe Monch, the Sugar Club Dublin

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Screening Dave Chappelle’s Block Party before a gig sets the standard pretty high for any headliner, regardless of who they are. This is because the crowd was (technically) warmed up by Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu and The Fugees to name a few. However, Pharoahe Monch had no problem smashing this standard from the get go during this Sugar Club gig. He has the ability to do this because he somehow posses the energy of a rookie and the skills of a veteran. It results in a fantastic and entertaining showing from one of hip hop’s most underrated emcees.

He has been around for quite some time now, so the fact that he can deliver a captivating set that runs much longer than a lot of similar shows is no surprise. Having such reliable production to fall back makes for an incredibly consistent collection of tracks, with a variety of different sounds represented. Slower songs can sometimes be a rap gig’s downfall, with shoddily delivered hooks or a complete lack of interest from the crowd during the less upbeat selections. Pharoahe knows how to entertain regardless of tempo as he proved while singing along to the sombre hook of ‘Broken Again’.

The show isn’t perfect. Some of the crowd interaction feels like a routine, which no doubt it is, and there is the occasional mistake, but a hilarious Busta Rhymes impression and an Organized Konfusion encore can always make up for that. As far as the performance goes it is very hard to falter. It is admirable to see an emcee that doesn’t have to try too hard to win a crowd over, or rely on his most recognisable tracks to do so. He has a formula that has worked for years and will continue to if he maintains the sky high levels of passion and love that he clearly has for performing.

-Ross Logan

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Jay Electronica, Whelan’s Dublin

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Any time you talk about Jay Electronica, questions are raised as to whether the hype surrounding him is justified. This is mostly due to his unwillingness to drop a debut album despite having signed to Roc Nation five years ago. If this gig in Whelan’s is anything to go by, he has evidently been mastering the art of performing live. With pure showmanship and raw, undeniable talent on display, his set is 10 times larger than any other I have witnessed, despite being in somewhat intimate settings. The hype is most definitely justified and from the looks of things it will only continue to grow.

After yet another stellar opening set from Dah Jevu, with a full band in tow, massive applause erupted for the headliner. The audience were pleased to see the enigma that is Jay Electronica had actually graced Dublin with his presence. His voice instantly demands attention quite like no other artist, straight from the beginning with ‘Exhibit A’. Even when he invites most of the crowd onto the stage, he still keeps everyone somewhat contained and has them hanging on every word with his commanding vocals. Going acapella for almost half the set only stresses the importance of what he is saying and proves that he really is as good a lyricist as they come.

He also has no trouble asserting his position as people’s champion of the rap game by stopping to take pictures, taking song requests from audience members and then jumping into the crowd to rap the song to them. It is elements like this that make it far more personal than your average hip hop gig. He wants to take the time out to leave an impression on everyone in the room, even giving two people a chance to showcase their own skills, (one of them being Emzee A). They both had no problem proving their worth to everyone, including Jay, who seemed pleasantly surprised by both of their abilities to flow over ‘Shook Ones Part 2’.

If you were to view this show from the perspective of a veteran in hip hop, it would not only be intimidating but inspiring. Seeing a relative newcomer perform with such professionalism and awe inspiring skill would have to ignite something in even the most egotistical, self absorbed of rappers. Jay Z wanted to sign him as soon as he heard him rap and that is no surprise when he has the ability to put on a display like the one in Whelan’s tonight. Personally, I have never seen Jay Z live but I know he would have to do something pretty damn spectacular to top this.

Hats off to Jay Electronica, Dah Jevu, Hidden Agenda and Whelan’s for the best night of “real hip hop” I have ever been lucky enough to experience.

-Ross Logan

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Run the Jewels, Opium Rooms Dublin

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Run the Jewels self titled debut album gained Killer Mike and El-P plenty of well deserved attention, but it was with the release of Run the Jewels 2 in October that they were finally able to establish themselves as the best act in hip hop right now. They have accepted this position with grace and humility and in the process have gained a massive fan base all over the world in just two years. With support coming from arguably the best Irish hip hop act this year, God Knows, MuRli & MynameisjOhn, this sold out gig in Opium Rooms was exactly what was to be expected, a joyous celebration of some of the best hip hop around right now.

After petitioning online to ensure they got the support act slot God Knows, MuRli & MynameisjOhn knew they couldn’t disappoint and they did far from that. From the get go they create the type of energetic atmosphere that artists crave to get from their gigs. The beats bang out a constant rate, with little to no pauses between tracks. God Knows and MuRli rattle off their verses with ferocious energy while leaping around the stage and causing general ruckus with no hint of aggression, just expression.

With Christmas being 4 days and Killer Mike and El-P wrapping up a massive tour in Dublin, the celebratory nature of the gig comes as no surprise. Both walk on stage to Queen’s ‘We Are the Champions’ and break straight into their self titled track, emitting a huge sound. ‘Blockbuster Night Part 1’ and ‘Oh My Darling Don’t Cry’ initiate a frantic pace that is kept up for the entire set, that clocks in at well over an hour. It seems to be the newer material that spurs the bigger reactions, with ‘Love Again’ sparking a loud and pretty hilarious sing along. ‘36” Chain’ & ‘Sea Legs’ both sound as sharp as they do on record, with the only minor faults being scarce breaks in Mike’s voice which to be honest can be expected at the end of a tour anyway.

Leaking the album early, letting Meow the Jewels happen, having a longer set than most, are just a few of the reasons why the crowd shows such appreciation towards them. They are willing to go the extra mile that most rappers won’t to please their fans and it works both ways. Mike gives someone a bottle of vodka, only under strict instructions that he share it. They even request that the security be removed from the front of the stage, on the grounds that they unnecessary because the crowd is a family. It may sound cliché, but he’s right. It may have gotten a bit rowdy but no one appeared uncomfortable, no one got hurt. It was simply a sold out room of people having a good time, with one of the biggest acts at the moment who were as appreciative, if not more, of their presence.

We gave them album and artist of the year on this site so it may seem almost biased to award this gig of the year. However with such an amazing support act in God Knows, MuRli and MynameisjOhn and a perfected set delivered from Run the Jewels, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t the best gig this year.

-Ross Logan

Yasiin Bey, Vicar Street

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Yasiin Bey, better known as Mos Def, is perhaps one of the most intelligent, charismatic and thought provoking emcees of all time. He blends soul, jazz, funk and blues like no other, infusing all these elements with hip hop, only by means of his voice and wise choices in production. A key thing to remember is that Mos Def & Yasiin Bey may be the same person, but they are still two different entities and tonight is all about Yasiin. He may have been joining us to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his debut album, Black on Both Sides, but that is not the centre of attention of this gig.  He has taught his long-time collaborator Talib Kweli that the crowd are “paying to see what he feels like expressing, so it doesn’t matter whether he does the hits or not.” Luckily for us he does deliver the hits, but also offers a glimpse into his own mind and what inspires him, keeping everything 100% on his own terms.

His live show has been somewhat berated in recent years, but his consistency throughout this performance leaves very little room for criticism. His renditions of classics like ‘Love’, ‘Mathematics’ & ‘Ms. Fat Booty’ may not resonate in the same tone as they do on the record that we are here to celebrate, but it is important to realise that the change in his style of delivery or production is what makes this such a personal performance, one that is much more than your average hip hop show. It is hard not to marvel at an artist who can make their oldest and most overplayed material refreshing for a new audience, while still pleasing the people who have been following him for 15 years. It is a thin line to tread but it is one that Yasiin does with ease and grace.

An overzealous fan jumping on stage mid song doesn’t even break his stride. What could have turned into an altercation became a lesson learned for a young fan, that his happiness is not more important than everyone else’s. It is only at a Mos Def show that a stage jumper, instead of being thrown out, is let back in the crowd after genuinely being taught a lesson. He performs his newer material with an energy that is not present during the older tracks. He appears happier to have the opportunity to inject some soulful crooning into the songs and it is something that feels improvised, even when it’s not. This only testifies to his ability to command the mic and captivate the crowd like no other. The only things that manage to over shadow the music are his charisma and elegance, and that can’t be a bad thing.

-Ross Logan

Serial Killers, Voodoo Lounge 25/9/14

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The supergroup is a format that is rarely well executed in hip hop. Many are just groups of label mates who come together to feature on each other’s songs and get a leg up in the charts because of it. Serial Killers, B-Real, Demrick and Xzibit, are on the way to changing the way we view rap supergroups. The 3 emcees have undeniable talent and huge amounts of respect for each other which results in ego never coming into the equation during this one of a kind live show in the Voodoo Lounge.

They begin with a short medley of tracks from their debut mixtape, released last year. Then it’s straight into some Cypress Hill material, even featuring a Rage Against the Machine inspired remix of ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man’ that evokes nostalgia and awe. While still recovering from that, ‘Symphony in X Major’ drops and Xzibit delivers his verse with as much venom and menace as on record. The key to this live show is the set list. Very few shows have the ability to touch on almost every era of hip hop quite like this one. They even lead the crowd in a chant-along over the Sugar Hill Gang to bring things full circle.

They keep up a ferocious pace when playing their lesser known group material. “Angels Come Calling’ & ‘No Coming Back’ prove that they don’t rely on the classics to keep the crowd happy. They may differ from each other greatly, but united under the one banner they are a force to be reckoned with. There’s the rough and rugged styling of Xzibit, the high pitched, weed inspired raps from B-Real & the razor sharp rhyming from Demrick. It is their contrasts that result in a consistently entertaining show that is a must see for any hip hop fan.

-Ross Logan

Mobb Deep, Voodoo Lounge 1/8/14

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Just under two years ago it was uncertain if the two members of Mobb Deep were on speaking terms. Prodigy was just finished a 3 year prison stint for weapon possession, during which Havoc had been tweeting argumentative statements, claiming his associate was “gay for stay”. With such a heavy gangster reputation surrounding the two, this could have been career ending. However, following their impromptu reconciliation they released The Infamous Mobb Deep in April, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of their second and most critically acclaimed album, The Infamous.  In many ways their new material is easily comparable to their live show as both only give you a small glimpse into how good Mobb Deep actually were.

The levels of anticipation and excitement were raised to an almost hostile level during an extended wait for the group to appear. Usual hip hop crowd-pleasers from the DJ were not met with the joyous reaction that is to be expected. After being promised an 11 o clock performance, it looked as if it may not happen at all and rightfully so, the crowd grew restless.

Just after midnight Havoc and Prodigy both appear on stage in a cloud of smoke to perform a frankly dull rendition of the classic, ‘Survival of the Fittest’. Energy levels from the two are raised during ‘Taking You off Here’ & ‘Say Something’, showing they still have the hunger to try to win over the crowd with the more unfamiliar new material. It is surprising that quite a few older songs don’t translate very well to the stage. The once venomous ‘Right Back at You’ falls flat as they must cast aside their laidback, murderous flow in order to be heard on the microphone.

With their previous beefs, along with Prodigy being diagnosed with sickle cell, it is a huge surprise to see the group perform together. All things considered, it was not a completely lacklustre performance. Obvious encore ‘Shook Ones Pt 2’ provides a brief insight into how a mid-90s Mobb Deep show might have felt, which was more like the best house party you’ve ever been to, rather than a slightly disappointing night out.

-Ross Logan