Saturday, 30 July 2011

Unfound Latitudes

"It seems rather quiet for the main road into a major festival," I mumble.

Unsurprisingly for the UK's most famous chap-hop superstar, Mr B does not reply, but checks his reflection in the rear view mirror. His moustache is perfect, not a hair out of place. In a single, fluid movement, he makes a perfect u-turn. Fairly soon, we are stuck in a reassuringly slow tailback.

Since his warm-up act consisted of two rather earnest British hip-hoppers - a weak rapper and a superb beat-boxer - I was concerned how my chaffeur's set would go down at Latitude. It's the day before the main festival starts, and only the poetry tent is really open for business. Waiting for Mr B, watching the line up of shouting lads trying to convince themselves that they are not sissies for writing poetry, I was reminded Why I Hate Spoken Poetry.

These boys remind me of myself, an incoherent mess of literary pretention and social outrage.

I've only seen fragments of B: cabaret slots, a third of a show with Des O'Connor and Sarah Louise Young, a couple of YouTube specials.  Over an hour, he is capable of far more diversity than I had expected. He even slips in a hand-waving, passionate ballad, dreaming of the day hip-hop become courteous.

Chap-hop would not work without Mr B's knowledge of hip-hop: I have heard rumours that he was once in an early UK crossover act. He might be bang on with the details of English aristocratic style - I wouldn't know. But his affection for rap's aesthetic - unlike the early acts, he has flow as well as the ability to spit rhymes - and his keen eye for the absurd makes Mr B more than a novelty turn.

Bookending his set with anthems - a history of hip-hop and the classic Acid Ted - Mr B moves through a variety of moods, from wistful (Kissing in Porn) to educational (All Hail the Chap), through satirical and slapstick. Love songs to having a quiet shit alternate with rocking takes on the history of rap. The tent is flapping in the wind, the crowd are dancing, and the next act on is in the wings, looked terrified.

Let's see if 2011 is the Fringe of Mr B...

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