October 1973. The lights in New York’s Boogie Down Bronx Club faded. The floor slowly filled up with people who came to spend the next few hours partying. This time, however, the youth gathered in the room did not groove to the music of James Brown; instead, DJ Kool Herc launched his DJ set. On that particular evening, 45 years ago, hip-hop was born, and later it proved to be a great tool in the fight against discrimination towards African-Americans, as well as in the fight for the civil rights.
Hip-hop was quickly recognized as the most politicized music genre. In comparison to punk rock, hip hop was turning out to be more blunt – and more ruthless. And yet at the start of it all, no one predicted that it would take the world by storm. With time, hip-hop grew to be the most rebellious musical trend, its growth fuelled by the genre greats – 2Pac, Biggy, LL Cool J, Ice T, Ice Cube, Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Doggy Dogg; to name just a few.
But what does hip-hop stand for nowadays? The people who contributed to the creation and promotion of hip-hop in the 70’s probably had no idea that another wave of hip-hop popularity would take place, with Eminem cutting the path open for new artists around the world. From the USA, to Europe and throughout Asia, hip-hop has now grown to become one of the most lovable music genres of the 21st century. Even though is has taken a more commercial turn, hip-hop itself is still considered to be the voice of a generation, but no longer of a single generation. It subdivided to speak to different people of different ages – and even different nationalities.
Woo Won Jae, DJ Pumkin, Gray and Loco in Troxy London (Picture © DJ Pumkin Instagram)
South Korea has become one of the countries that got overflown by hip-hop, with several artists gaining international recognition, including Tiger JK, a highly influential figure who is deemed ‘responsible’ for the development of Korean hip hop. With that success in place, more talent emerged from the country: Epic High, DoK2, Dynamic Duo, and the list goes on and on. Now, with the new generation of rappers such as Keith Ape, Okasian, Loco, Gray, Woo Won Jae, performing abroad as much as in South Korea itself, London’s Troxy opened its doors to the Korean artists once more. In July 2018, the prestigious music venue hosted Woo Won Jae, Loco – both winners of the Show Me the Money rap competition – Gray and DJ Pumkin. Even if you are not familiar with the artists themselves, in such an epic place, you can only expect an epic gig.
I got to the venue dead on time. I found myself surrounded by a very diverse crowd, young and old, and the anticipation growing minute by minute. The second DJ Pumkin walked on stage and opened the gig, the audience quickly started to groove and dance – even the old lady who stood behind me (always remember: you are never too old to shake your hips to the beat). With some well-known hits, both Korean and English, DJ Pumkin slayed his solo set for about 30 minutes; I was slightly skeptical at first; I have seen hundreds of DJs so far, but I quickly saw that DJ Pumkin, even without speaking much English, was fast to connect with the audience. He brought a much appreciated energy to the set, which got another boost when the 21-year-old Woo Won Jae walked on the stage.
Woo Won Jae, a young and charismatic artist, has a bright future ahead of him – no doubt about it. Each song he performed was full of energy and passion; the young artist’s performance was simultaneously understated and spectacular – and much to Woo Won Jae’s own surprise, the audience quickly started chanting his name. His skills as a rapper are technical and subtle; there is no unnecessary shouting, he doesn’t run out of breath – he is one fine rapper. The overall effect of the performance was dynamic; another moment of peaked excitement came when Loco and Gray joined him on stage to perform We Are, receiving a loud ovation from the fans. Woo Won Jae’s performance set the tone for the rest of the night right from the start, but more than anything else, what stuck out to me from the young rapper’s performance is his genuine love and passion for his music.
After Woo Won Jae, it was time for Loco to rock the audience’s socks off. Throwing up his most popular tunes such as Party Band + OPPA, Hold Me Tight and Too Much, he interacted with the crowd who kept a steady bounce to every one of his songs. The most memorable moment of the evening was when Woo Won Jae, Loco and Gray joined forces on stage and sang a few tracks together – it was like watching a family reunion abroad. I feel that these three rappers will stand the test of time with their live performances – their power truly resonates when they are on the stage together. Loco and Gray showed their onstage chemistry with Summer Go Loco – and they really pulled it off. The audience followed every moment of their performance with a repetitive cycle of chanting, singing and applause – the set felt explosive.
The headliner of the night was Gray, who is not only a rapper, but also a singer and the head producer of AOMG. He raised the bar with his songs and flawless rapping and singing; he addressed the fans quite often and the audience responded with support and enthusiasm for every word he uttered. Everyone took pleasure in listening to Comfortable, Dally and Summer Night; with the cover of Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You, Gray smoothly made his fans rock out to the tune of the song, as well as encouraged them to sing. Obviously, the gig wouldn’t be complete without Gray inviting Loco on the stage to perform two (of my personally favourite) tracks: I am Fine and Upside Down. With all the bouncing and dancing, I swear I could feel Troxy’s floor moving… The house felt literally ‘on fire’.
The artists finished the performance together on stage; their gratitude towards the audience was very sincere and honestly conveyed; Gray, DJ Pumkin, Loco and Woo Won Jae gave it their all, and all Londoners present felt lucky to take part in such a superb gig.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © AOMG & Cult of Ya