For young MCs trying to make the jump from the British grime scene to mainstream success, looking to other genres seems to have become a well-worn path.
There's Dizzee Rascal who, despite gaining critical plaudits since his debut album Boy in da Corner in 2003, got his first No. 1 in 2008 by teaming up with the producer-DJ Calvin Harris for "Dance Wiv Me". This was followed by two more dance-tinged collaborations, one with Armand van Helden and one with Harris again, both of which topped the charts.
Similarly Tinchy Stryder, the scene's latest breakout star, has reached the top spot twice by teaming up with other artists, although he has gone down the pop route, recording with N-Dubz and then Amelle Berrabah of the Sugababes.
Lethal Bizzle has found himself a niche by bringing the sounds of east London to the world of indie and rock. A former member of More Fire Crew, his second album – 2007's Back to Bizznizz – included guest appearances from Kate Nash and Babyshambles, while follow-up Go Hard (released earlier this month) sees Bizzle teaming up with Gallows and Mark Ronson.
Bizzle – real name Maxwell Ansah – has also played with Pete Doherty, appeared at a number of festivals not known for their hip-hop credentials and reached No. 5 in NME's 2007 Cool List. Add to this the fact that he's taken on David Cameron over whether hip-hop encourages knife and gun crime (he called the leader of the opposition a "doughnut"), and Bizzle has certainly made a name for himself.
His warm-up act, Killa Kela, may not be quite such a household name, but the English beatboxer is considered one of the greatest practitioners of his art. Tonight he appears on stage with a DJ and a drummer, an interesting combination for a man who can accompany himself. It works though, as Kela flits between showing off his incredible vocal gymnastics by himself and rapping in a more standard style. It is a wise decision, given that his beatboxing, despite being highly impressive, might not sustain a whole set. For the last few songs he is joined by Aggi Dukes who, with his more straightforward style, provides a perfect foil.
The crowd do not have to wait long for Lethal Bizzle to take to the stage, wearing a pair of sunglasses which he doesn't take off, and he starts off with "No!" from his 2006 debut Against All Oddz. Followed by "Oi!" from his More Fire Crew days, it is an old-school start.
Bizzle has clearly picked up a large amount of touring experience, but it seems to show itself mainly in a love for formulaic audience interaction, such as seeing which side of the room can be the noisiest. A reliance on call-and-response routines may well be needed at festivals where the audience is not familiar with the music, but in a small venue like this it seems a shame he can't try something a bit different.
Still, the mostly young audience does not seem to mind, and the crowd enjoys the non-stop attrition of beats. It may not be subtle, but it is loud and it is effective, especially on "Crazy Nightmare" from Bizzle's latest album. Another crowd-pleaser is a straightforward cover of House of Pain's "Jump Around", while "Go Hard" segues into Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" – the one overt nod to Bizzle's rock ties.
For the encore, the crowd is asked what they want to hear and the answer is virtually unanimous; the call is for "Pow!", his controversial 2004 anthem, which was accused of glamourising violence. That it what they get, and it is rowdy, brash and hard to ignore – a fitting end to the night.Reuse content