In a week that saw a huge loss to the world of hip hop through the sad passing of Prodigy - one half of the legendary NYC rap duo Mobb Deep - it was somewhat relevant that fellow Queens, New Yorker and Godfather of East Coast gangsta rap, Kool G Rap was on UK shores to play a handful of dates for the first time here in 25 years.
Widely regarded as one of the most technically skilled emcees to ever bless the microphone, the old skool hip hop legend has hugely influenced several generations of emcees including both the late Prodigy and Havoc of Mobb Deep, as well as those often considered to be the greatest rappers of all time including Notorious B.I.G,Nas, Jay Z and Eminem, to name just a few.
His recording career began in 1986, initially as a partnership with DJ Polo; collectively known as Kool G Rap & DJ Polo, and as a member of the Juice Crew following the recording of the duo’s debut single ‘It’s a Demo’ at crew fulcrum Marley Marl’s studio. During their time together the pair released three landmark golden age hip hop albums: Road to the Riches (1989), Wanted: Dead or Alive (1990), and Live and Let Die (1992) all of which exemplified G Rap’s trademark multisyllabic rhymes and storytelling prowess. They paved the way for the Mafioso-tinged strain of hard-core gangsta rap lyricism that was heavily adopted by a whole new generation of New York emcees throughout the 90’s and onwards.
After parting ways with DJ Polo in 1993, KGR pursued a solo career that to date has spanned over two decades and yielded seven full-length solo effort’s including debut LP 4,5,6 in 1995 and 2002’s underground classic The Giancana Story, along with a number of collaboration albums and multiple guest appearances. While this month he’s just dropped Return of the Don, his first album in six years, following time out from the music game, which is in part the impetus for a long overdue tour outside the States.
In Bristol for one of only five UK shows, G Rap wasn’t here to simply showcase his new album, but instead to give his most hard-core fans within The Fleece exactly what they wanted to hear - all the classics. And although he arrived an hour later than scheduled to perform, he delivered an assured yet brief set to an audience whose prolonged patience eventually paid off. With the crowd’s appetite whet through a classic 90s hip hop set by DJ Anthony Mace, the NYC native rocked up on stage, accompanied by Likwit crew member J.Wells, who held the supportive role of hype man.
Dressed in all black attire and accessorised with leather gloves, dark shades and a cap, Kool G Rap certainly looked the part, almost as if portraying a character from one of his own cinematic tales of organised crime. Fortunately though he wasn’t here to pull off any kind of grand stick-up, although metaphorically speaking, his opening salvo of songs, including the grimy ‘Take ‘Em To War' from solo debut 4,5,6, ‘On The Run’ and ‘Ill Street Blues’, both from 1992’s Live and Let Die, were delivered with the same kind of ferocity of such an escapade.
By this early point in the set the once restive crowd - largely made up of males aged thirty plus – were firmly in the palm of the Kool Genius’ hands. The raucous atmosphere pervaded the entire venue, as fans snapped their necks back and forth in full appreciation, and others eagerly rapped along to every single line, whilst jolting their hands up and down. Despite KGR’s status as a highly revered lyrical giant, he was humble as ever and constantly expressed his gratitude for the love that Bristol showed him on the night.
One notable moment where the show lost some of its momentum, however, was when the emcee casually left the stage about twenty minutes into the set - presumably for a breather of some sort. Upon this exit, he declared: ‘”Bristol, I’ll be back” in an almost Terminator-esque fashion, which left some hope for the crowd, though quite a few attendees were visibly at their wit’s end. It wasn’t the typical stage etiquette you’d expect from an experienced act, so it was kind of understandable that some people were feeling slightly short-changed at this point. Thankfully though the Don Giancana kept his promise and returned around ten minutes later with a renewed energy that saw him dart into a fusillade of hard-core rhymes.
First off, he dropped his scorching hot guest verse from Mobb Deep’s ‘The Realest’, which was tremendously received, as were tracks like ‘First Nigga’ and the sax-laden anthem ‘The Streets of New York’. It was tracks like these where G Rap best demonstrated his signature flow and masterful use of multi-syllables, which swiftly won the crowd over again.
Saving one of his oldest fan favourites until last, the rapper concluded the show with ‘Rikers Island’, which is without question one of the greatest lyrical narratives about prison life ever recorded in music. Whether KGR’s decision to close the set with this cautionary tale was a conscious one, in some sense it made for a genius linear end to a set-list that featured some of his most seminal songs of gritty street life and crime, but in stark contrast warned of the possible consequences if one chooses to live that way of life.
All in all, Kool G Rap was in good form lyrically, seeing as he has been out of the live gigging loop for a number of years now. Granted, some would have preferred to have seen him perform during his prime, but the majority – who’ve never had such an opportunity - seemed to be grateful enough to have finally witnessed one of hip hop’s most gifted lyricists live and direct.