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El - P & Despot Live Review: Scala, Kings Cross, London

Underground hip hop icon is plagued by the oldest of rap concert curses
Kings Cross was a paradoxical place to be on the evening of Wednesday, September 12.  Pockets of hysterical teenage girls littered the streets opposite the station in the midst of ‘Bieber Fever’, clutching books freshly signed by their teen idol. Just a few hundred yards away in The Scala, a crowd of ernest rap fans quietly waited to see an underground rap icon.

El – P has been a king of indie hip hop for three decades now.  A producer who is able to create larger - than - life soundtracks for artists as diverse as Killer Mike, Trent Reznor and Das Racist without spreading himself too thinly. His lyrics and his delivery are as powerful as anyone in hip hop  and in 2012 he is riding high on a wave of well deserved praise for a one – two punch of classic albums: the incendiary ‘R.A.P. Music’ he produced for Killer Mike and his own magnum opus, ‘Cancer for

It is safe to say that expectations for this gig are astronomical.

This is a fact clearly not lost on the man himself, or his support act tonight, Despot, an MC who was once on El - P's indie powerhouse label, Definative Jux.  Despot is an artist who was overlooked by many during his tenure, in favour of the label head and many of his alumni, rap royalty including Aesop Rock, Mr Lif and Cage.

With this in mind, the MC came on stage with a point to prove. Prove it he did, winning over a hesitant crowd.  An enigmatic MC, diminutive in size, with a powerful delivery and charisma, whose tails of hustling and Lo – Life affiliation are juxtaposed with almost self - deprecating humour.  Despot’s opening salvo was one of the success stories of the night.

Along with success however, came failure.

Firstly, no Killer Mike.

The wave of disappointment was palpable when, during the breakdown for ‘Tougher, Colder, Killer’ – a standout track on an album full of standout tracks which features Mike in captivating form - El announced that ‘unfortunatley Killer Mike will not be a part of this evenings proceedings’.  Rap gig budgets are understandably small these days if you are not The Throne, YMCMB or Iovine affiliated, but after Twitter banter hinted that Killer Mike may be involved, this was quite the let – down.

Secondly, even worse, was the failure to ensure that El -  P could be heard properly.

After exhilarating renditions of the two opening cuts off his new album and the night now looking to deliver on all it’s promise, El’s vocals lost nearly all clarity.  This led to an awkward exchange between him and a crowd member who demanded that someone ‘sort the f*cking sound out’.  The Scala sound engineers failed to do so, El - P's vocals seemed to be lost even more than before.  This meant that one of hip hop's most verbose lyricists struggled to not be overshadowed by both his own epic production and the clearer mic’d Despot.

A mixed evening, saved by Despot’s victorious opening, El - P's stage prescence and hip hop anthems so big not even technical difficulties could fully extinguish the energy.

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