It is perhaps appropriate that, for a music so feverishly obsessed with being fresh, when forced to actually contemplate its own future hip-hop ends up delving back into the past for answers. On Thursday night we were treated to a glimpse, perhaps, of things to come.
Atlanta's Shape Of Broad Minds stung the audience at Queen Elizabeth Hall into life after the fairly low-key opening set by DJ Flying Lotus. The Atlanta outfit quickly displayed their virtuosity, bringing live drums and guitars into the mix and exhorting the audience to shake their thang. Production-wise, SOBM maestro Jneiro Jarel is steeped in the grooves of Madlib and Londonist fave J Dilla, crafting soulful beats with warm snares and a booty-bothering 'snap' to the rhythm. The interaction between the two rappers invoked ATLiens of yore, namely early OutKast, before 'Dre started tie-dyeing his own shirts, while lyrically the duo's positive message outed them as Native Tongues descendants.
The crowd was happy to groove along with them, yet security were quick to clamp down on any impromptu jiving. What exactly were they expecting? Hip hop is a form built on dancing and B-boying, so asking several hundred people to sit rigidly still like they were sweating through a Politburo address was never likely to happen. Happily, as the show went on the security detail got bored of trying to keep people still, and shapes were thrown liberally.
After an interval, Dälek quickly woke up any narcoleptics with an all-out aural assault that would be classified torture if piped into cells at Gauntanamo: tinnitus was guaranteed from virtually the first snare. The New Jersey pair make music layered with the industrial decay of their native state, all raw metallic sounds and architectural collapse. MC Dälek, an imposing, malevolent presence on stage, spat out rhymes that sounded as if they'd been honed during a spell on Riker's Island, while his man on the boards, Oktopus, squealed savage noises and shuddering, apocalyptic rhythms from his minimalist kit. The teenybopping performed by one section of the audience to such visceral music was absurd - the sound called for the relentless pounding of one's fist into a brick wall, not grooving like an extra in a Girls Aloud video. Yet the performance was spellbinding, a reminder of the pure outrage that rap was founded on before it became yet another marketplace commodity.
The show's title may be a misnomer - all three acts cast an eye backwards as much as they did to the future - but if the rap landscape of tomorrow has such bold groups carrying the flag, then we the listeners will be lucky indeed.
Photographs by Steve Cromwell and Dean Nicholas