Before getting into the review of CHAT Trust’s third hip-hop showcase, it’s worth telling you a little about what these events are all for…
CHAT Trust, the organisation that runs these events, is a youth charity based in the West End of Newcastle that aims to give children from the surrounding area that may have had a tough upbringing a creative output, like making music, to keep them out of trouble and on a positive track. Last year the charity was hit with unforeseen funding cuts, putting its future in some doubt. Since then, CHAT has put on three showcases at the O2 Academy in order to fight to keep its doors open. It’s a fight that they thankfully seem to be winning at the moment, with a fourth showcase already set for July.
The third showcase headliner, Kema Kay, is one of CHAT’s biggest success stories. Coming from nothing and armed with an unflinching determination to succeed, Kema used what he’d learnt at CHAT to hone his skills as an actor and musician. In 2015, he landed his biggest acting part to date in the BAFTA award winning ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and CHAT’s third showcase sees Kema headline the O2 Academy Newcastle for the first time in his career.
NATO was first on the stage with the daunting task of taking the audience’s attention away from the on-going dance offs already happening in the crowd. Thankfully, NATO was just the man for the job. The experienced rapper and club hype man knew just what to say to get the youthful crowd engaged with some classic back and forth call backs. NATO was the perfect opener for the night, putting on a solid performance as always – however given his experience and talent, you might argue he deserved to be further up the bill.
Next to the stage was Shayce Opal. Again, Shyche had to fight a little to get the attention of the crowd when he took to the stage, but as soon as he hit his first high-note the audience were in the palm of his hands…or at least the women were; the soulful pop singer’s entire set was punctuated with a chorus of screaming girls after each song.
The night’s host and CHAT’s resident father figure Rex Regis was next to spit some bars. One for the hip-hop purists in attendance, Rex’s signature gritty style got heads bopping and hands waving as he weaved his way through a relatively short set packed with some classic NE tracks like ‘Married To The Game’ and one new track ‘Third Time’s A Charm’ written especially for the night.
The next act on stage didn’t just ‘perform’, they took over. Upcoming UK drill collective 243 filled the stage, instantly shifting the energy and atmosphere up to top gear before even spitting a bar – they were so hyped to be on the stage that you just couldn’t help but be hyped for them. For the first three acts the crowd had been evenly spread across the floor, that all changed after 243 stepped on stage, everyone seemed to flock to the front of stage to get in on their infectious rowdy energy. Their latest track ‘My Only Thing’ had the crowd going wild, with the energy peaking at 243’s anthem for Newcastle, ‘From The Toon’. 243 totally transformed the energy of the night, drenching the crowd in two bottles of champagne in what was an insanely fun set – 243 are a group on the up.
Following a performance like 243’s wasn’t going to be easy. However, rap duo Hot Chocolate and A$AP Alberto were more than up for the challenge. According to Rex, out of all the acts performing on the night, HC and A$AP had sold the most tickets for the event. So, it was no surprise that a crowd full of already converted fans went crazy for the pair – taking nothing away from the guys, those in attendance that didn’t know who the feisty performers were beforehand certainly won’t be forgetting them anytime soon
Compared to the last duo, the next two performers on stage could almost be described as ‘veterans’…sort of. Despite only making music seriously for just over a year and a half now, J-Smirk is a name that continues to be in the forefront of the mind when it comes to North East hip-hop. The same could be said for his more experienced partner in crime for the night, Kay Greyson. The two aren’t ‘officially’ a duo, but with the amount of chemistry between them and a decent number of features on each other’s tracks, the joint setlist flowed smoothly with neither rapper out shadowing the other.
Finally, the man of the night took to the stage. Suffering from a sore throat and a loss of voice, Kema still managed to power through a passion filled set of brand new material for his upcoming album, as well as classic bangers like ‘Not Today’. It was clear from the off that Kema was grabbing his first headline show at the O2 Academy with both hands; he spit every last lyric with conviction, not taking a moment on that stage for granted. The final song of the night, ‘DNA’, saw all of the performers from the night join Kema on stage for what was an emotional end to a superb night that highlighted the incredible wealth of hip-hop talent that we have here in the North East of England.
Written by Johnathan Ramsay
All photos by Jack Herron (Unless Stated)