Jurassic 5 and Ugly Duckling – O2 ABC, Glasgow, Mon 23 Jun 2014
Underground hip hop double bill that rates humour and fluidity above bitches and bling
Ugly Duckling are under no illusions about their place here tonight: self-aware first track, ‘Opening Act’, is followed by a short history lesson ‘for those of you wondering who we are’, detailing the fertile mid-90s Californian hip hop scene that spawned both UD and tonight’s headliners Jurassic 5, as well as fellow underground acts like Dilated Peoples and (at the time) Black Eyed Peas. Their lyrical hip hop braggadocio schtick – plus a brief interlude in which DJ Young Einstein adorns himself with a comically fat gold chain – suggests a posse at peace with their reduced stature, quite happy to make jokes at their own expense. The modern rap of Jay Z, Kanye et al fetishises wealth to the extent of seeming insecure about it; having never hit such lofty peaks, Ugly Duckling are free to goof around and have fun.
Jurassic 5 carry a similar vibe, though their higher calibre of stagecraft allows less room for outright goofiness. Not that it’s completely absent – at one point, MCs Akil, Zaakir, Marc 7 and Chali 2na leave the stage so DJs Numark and Cut Chemist can step up and conduct a duel using ever-more-elaborate turntable gadgets (a guitar, a necklace), before working together to operate an outsize turntable prop that may or may not be made out of cardboard.
This short vaudeville routine aside though, tonight’s gig affirms the group’s lyrical fluidity and cohesion. Signature track ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ makes a surprisingly early mid-set appearance, with the back end of the set reserved for latter-day highlights like ‘What’s Golden’ and a new release, the White Stripes-sampling ‘The Way We Do It’. And while the grey-bearded Akil impresses with a brief breakdance routine (after which he understandably has a sit-down), it’s the perennially youthful Chali 2na who holds the crowd, grinning beatifically and effusively showing his love for the fans. Today’s rap star pretenders can keep their bitches and bling; J5 are holding on to what’s golden.