Featured Review: Jehst at The Marble Factory, Bristol
Though the boom bap productions, sampling and scratching that typify UK hip-hop originated in the US, the setting here could not be more different. Far from the high-rise projects of Brooklyn and even further from the hot sun and golden beaches of California, hip-hop fans gathered in Bristol for the UK’s answer to any number of American legends. The rain hammered down as fans in winter coats trudged past an industrial estate, en route to the old warehouse that was to be the venue of the night’s gig. Absent were the guns and glamour of the US scene. Instead was the grit that permeates much of UK hip-hop, encapsulated by the headline act.
Of course, popularity has never correlated with artistic merit, but it is still disappointing that the venue wasn’t completely full, considering the talent of the performers. Those who did make it, though, were almost cultish and responded warmly to supporting act Lee Scott’s unmistakable scouse accent. Drifting around the stage, his comic personality shone through, particularly during the rambling introductions to his songs. Far from LA, the beat to his final track had been produced on Fruity Loops in a bedroom in Liverpool.
With the excitement building, the lights were cut and from the speakers came Gil Scott Heron’s iconic diction, performing his poem ‘Billy Green is Dead’. The short work, an outpouring of frustration at the shallow nature of fraternal unity, is the inspiration for (and title of) Jehst’s new album. It is fitting that one considered a godfather of hip-hop continues to have a tangible influence on those still dedicated to the art.
The end of the poem was met with the arrival of Jehst, who came bursting from backstage with all the energy of a hurricane. Donning a cammo cagoule, he launched into ‘Billy Green’s Theme’, setting the tone for the rest of the evening.
After seemingly covering every inch of the stage in what felt like a genuine attempt to proclaim that Billy Green was dead, Jehst was joined by Confucius MC, who assisted him whilst performing ‘Good Robot’. The pairs natural chemistry was further exhibited during their rendition of ‘Kennedy’, which included the full-length outro of the album version. This syllable-perfect recreation was replicated for every track, but with the added bonus of the stage presence of the performers and the enthusiasm of the crowd. Confucius, Lee Scott and Jehst did ‘karaoke’ for (i.e. performed) any absent guest’s verses, a privilege that Jehst joked he had earned because of his age.
Like the poem, the album’s themes are complex and varied, but Jehst tackled them with a passion, energy and humour that ran counter to the often somber and sobering content. His wordplay and style made the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary ordinary; the unrelentingly macabre nature of the record was delivered with a breezy matter-of-factness that kept it light and made it relatable, but the more you think about what he is saying, the smarter it becomes.
Discarding the jacket and throwing a towel over his head, the rapper expertly manipulated the mood. The head-banging-inducing ‘44th floor’ and ‘Smokescreen’ were intertwined with more nuanced performances of ‘Jonestown’ and ‘City Streets’ that involved sitting alone on the monitors and an acapella segment. Unsurprisingly finishing on ‘Billy Green is Alive’, but with the audience none the wiser as to who Billy Green was, an encore was demanded. Seconds later, Jehst was literally ‘Starting Over’, as the lead track of his previous album was met with an enormous roar from the crowd. They were still chanting the chorus as he jumped off the stage, vaulted the barrier and ran over to the merch stand to meet his disciples.
THE GIG IN REVIEW:
- Amazing energy from all the performers.
- Incredible “syllable-perfect” recreations of each track.
- Disappointingly empty venue.