British hip-hop legends on the cusp of stardom decide to celebrate early...
It’s difficult to fully explain what happens here tonight. After all, this is hip-hop, the genre with the sneer, and the band on stage are British, which usually means the audience will be wearing their most inscrutable “impress me” frowns. Yet this is like a gigantic wedding reception. And rightly so – because Mark B & Blade are on the point of taking UK rap, pop’s perennial bridesmaid, up the aisle. The title track of the duo’s lavishly-praised ‘The Unknown’ album is on Radio One’s playlist, and its release next Monday ought to catapult them into the charts.
So when Blade, a short guy in a grey sweatshirt, baseball cap and jeans, tells us this homecoming gig is “the biggest night of my life”, he’s not just going through the showman’s motions. He and Mark have struggled for over a decade to make the music they believe in pay, and for the first time they’re able to look out on a thousand people who’ve packed in solely to see them. They’ve played bigger gigs, but not as headliners, and Blade, an energetic and full-hearted performer at the best of times, responds with an affecting mixture of enthusiasm, pride and more than a little head-shaking bewilderment.
He puts a chair high on the riser between Mark and fellow DJ Plus One’s decks and sits to perform ‘The Unknown’, a monarch on a throne surveying his kingdom. As the audience respond by jumping, punching the air and bellowing out the hookline, he’s visibly moved. He brings his six-year-old son Jordan on stage, explaining that he wants him to be able to go back to school tomorrow and tell his friends exactly what Dad does for a living – then Jordan follows his father’s lead, and crowd-surfs to the back
of the room.
And, to prove that to Blade and Mark family is a larger concept, a gaggle of Britrap’s finest are invited to take the stage at the end of the set, Blade getting down on his hands and knees to kiss the floor they stand on. “This is where it starts,” he proclaims, vowing that any success he and Mark enjoy will mean nothing if they’re the only ones who break out of the music’s ghetto.
A final, euphoric encore of Blade’s 1991 anthem, ‘Survival Of The Hardest Working’, brings things to a satisfyingly messy conclusion, most of the band ending up among the crowd, everybody high on the sense of occasion. It is, quite simply, thrilling, and for anyone who’s ever cared about UK hip-hop and/or Mark and Blade, little short of magical. This time, you feel, it’s really going to happen.