A$AP Rocky, Electric Ballroom, London
Stooshe, Royal Albert Hall, London
Never mind hip-hop's great hope, here's a girl group going places
Sunday 10 June 2012
Is it time we all became a bit more demanding? A$AP Rocky – a name that absolutely oozes irony when he rolls onstage a whole hour late – is, along with Odd Future collective, the hipster's choice. He is, the NME tells us, a "new kind of rap hero", the main evidence for which seems to be that he isn't homophobic and that he says "sick" meaning "good" a lot.
In many ways, A$AP – aka 23-year-old Rakim Mayers – is as much of an unreconstructed bozo as the next rapper, littering his lyrics with more "bitches" than Battersea Dogs Home. He's also as materialistic (one song boasts of his "brand new yacht" and, mystifyingly, "microwave oven"), and as fond of violent imagery: almost every track tonight begins with the loud click of a trigger being cocked, and ends with the boom of a bullet being discharged. And he's more self-obsessed than most: the first two tracks consist of little more than his crew chanting "A$AP! A$AP!" until we give in and join them.
So, why all the fuss? Well, for one thing he is, by his own modest admission, a "pretty motherfucker". And he's got at least one great tune. "Peso", the single, is a dizzying, light-headed, lo-speed beauty, a return to the stealthy principles of early Nineties G-Funk (put simply, "speak softly and carry a big stick"). And it's surely no coincidence, given that he was named after the Rakim (of Eric B & Rakim fame). The subtleties of "Purple Swag", another single lifted from his mixtape LongLiveA$AP, are lost in the mix, and "Goldie", the third, was never that outstanding to begin with.
There can be no doubt that we're going through one of hip-hop's occasional slumps in creativity, and the warm-up set, from the DJ J Scott, rams the point home. A crowd-pleasing cross-section of what's currently popular, it's dominated by sluggish sub-50 Cent grunters. Against that backdrop, A$AP has just enough to stand out, and to raise faint hopes that his debut album proper might be a head-turner. In a bad year, he's getting away with it. In a good year, we wouldn't give him a second chance. Click. Boom.
Since the demise of Girls Aloud, there's been a vacancy for a great British girl group. (The Saturdays? Little Mix? Do me a favour.) The arrival of Stooshe, therefore, couldn't be more timely.
The south-east London trio are frequently described as a British TLC – and, indeed, an acoustic cover of "Waterfalls" is in their repertoire – but, for me, they're a proper feel-good British pop thing in the lineage of Bananarama (Stooshe's dance routines look like they've made them up on the spot).
They may have been assembled via audition, but Stooshe don't feel like manufactured androids. Instead, their personal eccentricities are amplified, cartoon-fashion.
Courtney Rumbold is the stand-out star: the vocalist whose side-shaved, quiffed-up hair may explain the band's strong lesbian following. Karis Anderson provides comic relief, while Alex Buggs takes the Lisa "Left-Eye" Lopes role, with a rap halfway through each track.
There's a massive Motown influence running through them, courtesy of production team Future Cut. The drums at the start of "Love Me" are either sampled from The Supremes' "Come See About Me", or a direct approximation thereof.
Stooshe can also play nice, as proven by tonight's brief PA at a JLS-headlined benefit gig for the Rays of Sunshine children's charity, but there's an unmistakeable edge to them. When they're interviewed on the tour bus they don't hide the vodka, and they look like they could drink you under the table.
There's also an undercurrent of pure filth. Breakout hit "Love Me" (featuring Travie McCoy) was originally released with a less radio-friendly title (featuring Suave Debonair), complete with a video packed with saucily bitten bananas and squirty cream. No wonder Nicki Minaj is taking Stooshe out on tour. More of this, please.
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