KOKO – 3rd December

2017 has been a golden year for UK rap. This is something that’s especially apparent on Sunday night in Camden, where a queue winds its way down the high street from KOKO ahead of rising South London rapper Dave’s sold-out headline show. People have been there from as early as 4pm.

That excitement about local rap is evident too from the boisterous energy in the room – sure, everyone’s singing along to the DJ playing ‘KMT’, but the real enthusiasm comes when they can yell along to Giggs’ bars and, obviously, when the DJ then puts on Big Shaq.

There’s palpable joy when Tottenham MC Avelino takes to the stage, fresh from the release of his engaging NO BULLSHIT project. Channelling that sweet afrobashment sound that’s been ruling London’s sound systems of late, glimmering tracks like ‘One In A Million’ get people swaying, though his mash-up of ‘Sweet Luv’ with Kendrick’s ‘Loyalty’ slows things down a little too much.

Then again, there’s hardly a danger of lagging energy, such is the fervour tonight. When Dave bounds onto the stage dressed in quintessential Stone Island – all in white like a Hype Williams-era hip-hop don – his performance seems so much more accomplished than his 19 years of age should possibly allow for. This is the Game Over tour, in support of his sublime EP of the same name, and the set is a superb blend of humid dance tunes and insightful conscious rap.

Visually it’s fantastic, but it’s the acerbic precision with which he spits out each bar that’s especially impressive – the way he has the crowd hanging onto every syllable that pours from his mouth, be that during a song, or when he’s endearingly shouting out his mum and explaining the premise of Game Over (taking responsibility, treating loved ones right, and going for what you want in life).

These impassioned sentiments are most apparent during musically minimalist and heartbreaking ‘How I Met My Ex’ and the searing polemic ‘Question Time’ – both are over seven minutes long, both have the crowd fully enraptured. In the aftermath of what Grime 4 Corbyn galvanised, this is another step in heartening youth engagement – as Dave says at one point, “I love jumping around and shouting just as much as you guys, but the fact you can listen to me rap about politics for seven or eight minutes means so much to me.”

Though the crowd goes wild when he brings back out Avelino, plus J Hus, MoStack, and AJ Tracey for some excellent heavyweight features, his presence alone is the most impressive thing about the show. Intelligent, emotional, and extraordinarily talented, Dave stands unphased, very much at the forefront of this phenomenal phase of British rap.

Photos by Ashley Verse.

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