I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I have missed Arch Sixteen Cafe. The intimate venue just off the High Level Bridge in Gateshead has become a cultural hub for hip-hop in the North East of England in the last eighteen months. Thanks mostly to ObSceNE but also to From The Hip and other events making hip-hop and grime artists feel welcome into the venue while many promoters were being turned away because of prejudices towards the music.
It felt right for Naughty40 and Reali-T to host their EP launch at Arch Sixteen. Sure, they could have done something in Teesside seeing as it’s Naughty40’s hometown and Reali-T has become an adopted Smoggy since linking up with Tees Grime Fam on multiple occasions last year. No other venue with an NE postcode would have done Still Tuned?’s launch justice though.
Last year, Reali-T held his ‘album release soiree’ for Stay Tuned at Arch Sixteen but that was at a time where hip-hop heads were regularly returning to the cafe on a monthly basis for ObSceNE. It’s been a long time since the aforementioned open mic social night’s last event though, but Arch Sixteen’s importance to the rap sceNE is evident in its lasting power to lure the Still Tuned? duo back to the venue.
NE Dons opened up the night. A last minute replacement for grime veteran Blitz who unfortunately couldn’t make the event, the Tyneside newcomers were planning on attending the event as fans before being booked. They’ve been following HB for a long time, and now NE-O and Castle found themselves on the same line-up. Despite a technical difficulty with one of the mics up until the last song of their set, the Dons did themselves justice bringing an energy that they’ve become known for, instantly making fans of anyone who wasn’t already in awe of their talent.
Closing out their set, NE-O and Castle welcomed Listaa, 90BRO and H-Man to perform posse-cut ‘0191’ from their forthcoming EP. The track also features E-Mence, Zico MC, TM and Maverick. Judging from the partial rendition of the record, we’re going to have a grime banger on our hands whenever the Dons unleash their highly anticipated EP.
Noble was the next MC to take the mic, alongside former NNE rapper-producer Drew Rich. The pair’s performance counteracted the preceding pairing of NE Dons, but Noble and Drew’s throwback sonics to old school hip-hop were received just as warmly as NE-O and Castle gritty grime flows. Noble’s silky smooth delivery also contrasts with Drew’s more abrupt inflection, with an unapologetically Mackem accent, making for a nice balance of polished and ruggedness that always adds a little something to rap performances.
Ending the set on stand-out song ‘Old Skool’, Noble and Drew Rich were greeted with an ovation and probably a few extra downloads in the following days for Hard Drive Volume 1.
Before her set, Jamilah was nervous – something I’d never known from the poppy R&B songstress. The Jarrow singer wasn’t sure how her slower tempo tracks would go down in front of a crowd who had more than likely come for the faster energy of hip-hop and grime. Instead of not fitting in however, Jamilah stood out. Stealing the show with her natural charm and charisma, Jamilah ran through originals including the 2017 hit ‘Insta’ and new single ‘If Its Love’ alongside covers of classics from Jhene Aiko and Rihanna completely winning the crowd over.
It was arguably a gamble for Naughty40 and Reali-T to book HB as support acts for their EP launch. H-Man and Just B never fail to bring a big crowd with them and considering they hadn’t performed together for over a year, anticipation to see the legendary grime MCs was at a peak. They didn’t disappoint either, dropping four tracks from their forthcoming sophomore album, and ending with classics from The Perfect Storm debut.
The Stay Freezin’ duo hadn’t missed a step, with B’s breakneck double time and H’s quotables being screamed back and screwfaced at by a packed Arch Sixteen. This new album can’t come quick enough.
Then came the moment most of the crowd had been waiting for. After a performance of ‘Don’t Chat’, the first track Naughty40 produced for Reali-T, the duo delivered tracks from Still Tuned?. Everybody who had heard the EP early, myself and Johno included, had been giving it glowing reviews. I found myself rapping along to every punchline from Intro to ‘Biggest Fan’. T’s wit is still at a top-tier level but Naughty’s production brings out more aggression from Ya Boy From Hackney, and the performance from the pair was perfect.
40 is a man of few words, as evidenced by his speech post-show, but when he does speak, people listen. If the reaction to ‘Red Light Runnin’’ doesn’t get us more vocal released from the former Gang:Greenz rapper-producer then I don’t know what will. We need it for the culture (and also more launch shows at Arch Sixteen (and also Still Tuned? 2)).
Words and Photos by Lee Hawthorn