The Air Inbetween – Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, Scotland, 29 March 2019

WRITTEN BY LAURA DOCHERTY

This was a defining moment in Scottish Hip Hop, a moment that I had the privilege of witnessing and here’s why.  When you make comparisons in music, say for instance, Hip Hop and Opera, you have two genres of music which are polar opposites. In sound, content and of course socially. Our label loving world would have you think that Opera is for the well educated, upper class members of our society, who has abodes in only the best areas in town and that Hip Hop is for the lower-class commoner who reside in the council estate.   Well as some of you know I am not a great lover of labels and preconceived notions on what we should and should not like based on our upbringings and social status.  So for me to stand and witness our extremely talented home grown Hip Hop Artists and Musicians from The Glasgow Barons, along with their conductor and a composer from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland pull together to create an amazing album and an even more amazing sound, I couldn’t be more impressed or happy that all these talented paths crossed and entwined. Tonight, I witnessed a whole new genre of music in the making.  Tonight, I experienced “HIP H-Opera” (and YES, I am taking full credit for the naming of this new musical genre, if it’s not already under copyright of course). 

On entering the venue, I was greeted by two very pleasant security staff members who thought I was one of the artists (I wish).  As I ascended the stairs there were two lovely ladies with the gentlest of smiles waiting to greet me and grant my entrance.  As I entered, I was struck by the eclectic mix of people in the room, lots of extremely cool outfits and hair colours, not forgetting the guy with the most amazing Mohawk ever!  There was a great vibe in the room and so much good energy.  So, to anyone with preconceived ideas of rappers, let me tell you that your wrong and watch too many US movies!  These were the nicest bunch of people I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a space with in a long time!

The evening opened with the very talented LOKI.  Loki is a Scottish Rapper, Recording Artist and Orwell prize winner for his book “Poverty Safari” which won this prestigious award in 2018.  Loki gave a great performance reminding everyone of the talent he is with lyrics such as “My battles are legendary, but so is everything else I do.”  His style is direct and hard hitting and his perfomance covered many social aspects which were very relevant in society today, like how our city is “Brutal in its Beauty”  and the influence that the “Guys on the Telly are Cool” have over our youth, which was my interpretation of this track.  He hit some speeds with his rapping skills, if this guy was a vinyl, he’d have a Scooter worthy BPM.  In between Loki’s set we were treated to a performance by a guy called Ash, his track had a very mellow vibe with a good beat, it was also a really good performance.  When Loki came back on, he continued to impress with more great tracks, highlighting service closure and showing us all what a LYRICAL WARRIOR HE REALLY IS.  He allowed us to hear his new track which was in itself about a daily battle that is somewhat ignored in our society, as he belted out how sobering sobriety really is I instantly thought of all the family members I had that have been gripped by this addiction and could totally relate to this track.  This is one I hope does really well for him and the message he is sending out, as it is a very important one. 

If I had anything to suggest at this point, it would be that the crowd showed a bit more respect when these guys are performing…Maybe it’s just me, but I’m a big believer that when someone is up on stage performing for you, then we should give them the respect to listen and appreciate all the time and talent they have poured into that few moments that they stand before us.  Too much of a rabble and some very loud women who actually drowned out the performers for me on a few occasions, I was extremely relieved when they moved…

After Loki’s set a number of musicians entered the stage and took their places behind their classical instrument’s.  Once set up they performed a piece which was written by Dr Gordon McPherson, a Scottish Composer who has composed pieces for the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, The Orchestra of Iraq and is also the Head of Composition for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.  The piece was called “The Baby Bears Bed” which was premiered in Vienna.  This was an unusual piece of music which opened up with a very long strung out guitar fret run, which I can only think was to create a feeling of suspense.  I must confess I did initially think the guy was just tuning his guitar and for that I apologies profusely. The musical piece was reminiscent of David BowiesSue” album, one gentleman in the crowd (Andy) likened it to the Miles Davis album called “Bitches Brew“.  It had an off-beat tempo and was a conglomeration of jazz and classical tones with a sprinkling of rock added for good measure.  This wasn’t to everyone’s taste, however, there is no denying that the musicians performing it were highly talented and again it was my pleasure to be present in the room to watch them perform.  

 The time had come! Our Hip H-Opera journey had begun…

Steg G the master behind this project took to the stage as the crowd showed him their appreciation.  Steg is a Hip Hop Music Producer, Radio Presenter and Recording Artist with his very own Powercut Production Label which has produced US Artists such as Royce da 5’9, Craig G, Gridlock, Fam, Eastern Philosophy and our very own homegrown talents such as Stanley Odd, Wee D, A Band Called Quinn, The Freestyle Master and of course LokiSteg was a pioneer of the Scottish Hip Hop Culture in the 90’s and going by this evening it looks as thought he’s still making waves of history.  

Following behind Steg was Paul Macalindin, a classical conductor of 30 years who has performed all over the world, even in the Carnegie Hall in New York.  On his return home to Glasgow in 2016, Paul established the Glasgow Barons (an orchestra built for the spaces and people of Govan) which is not the first time he’s taken on such a project, he also helped establish the National Youth Orchestra in Iraq which he developed until the invasion of Daesh in 2004.  To find out more about him pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journals best selling strategy bible, BLUE OCEAN SHIFT and read the case study on this very talented gentleman.  

After the brief introductions the performers and musicians began to showcase 

The Air In Between” a great title which suited the concept of the album (A title born from a conversation and confusion about a totally unrelated topic).  

The first performance was a great indication of what was to come…

SOLAREYE, a Rapper, Poet and Hip-Hop Academic who has toured worldwide with his critically acclaimed alternative Hip Hop band STANLEY ODD and also as a solo artist. (His album ALL THESE PEOPLE ARE ME was once described by author Ian Rankin as “A Stunning Album…The great contemporary Scottish novel in rap form”) took to the stage and “Chapter One, had begun…”THE AIR INBETWEEN”.  The crowd cheered as the piano keys filled the room like a beautiful spring morning, followed by the intricate tones of the cello and violin, I was pleasantly moved by the sounds that filled my ears, feeling as well as hearing as the rappers lyrics bounced through the mic. As Solareye spilled out his soul the cello cut through his vocal like a sharpened blade as the other performers sat on the stage with heads bowed in line with the theme that this album was trying to create.  It was a great taster of what was to come. 

The second track ”LIFE ON TICK” was once again a very chilled beat and started beautifully with a mix of piano and violin marrying together perfectly.  The rappers on the mic were CCTV a rapping duo who have been under Steg’s mentorship and are currently signed to his label POWERCUT PRODUCTIONS. These two young men have been rapping together for the past three years and are extremely in tune with each others energies and are very skilled and connected in their performance, at one point the lyrical connection between these two was absolutely on point with the beat and it was almost like a drum voice harmony as they met each other match for match.  Utter perfection right in the middle of this song.  

Next up was a man who needs no introduction within the HIP HOP WorldTHE FREESTYLE MASTER.  For those of you who don’t know who he is, he is a very talented Glasgow Rapper know for his ability to ad lib, he’s one of THE best!  His wordplay talents earned him the title of “CHAMPION” in the UK BATTLE RAPS.  Having toured with legends such as 50 CENT, BUSTA RYHMES, BLACK EYED PEAS, THE STREETS and many more…He has also released a plethora of seminal tunes including “BARRALAND” through the pioneering record label POWERCUT PRODUCTIONS with he runs alongside his long-time musical partner STEG G.  Taking to the stage to perform “LOST LOVE” he proved why his reputation proceeded him.  This was a very chilled but powerful track, his vocals were smooth and there were moments of sheer genius where the beat and lyrics were in perfect sync, an identical musical match! It was impressive and made to look effortless as he casually worked the floor.  

The next track was performed by (in my eyes) The underrated Queen of Scottish Hip HopEMPRESS” this girl is so good!  With her love of music, poetry and writing she has developed her own unique skill.  Empress has been rapping since she was 15 years old and her talents have taken her all over the country, performing at festivals with her hard-hitting lyrics to which we can all relate, she has 2 EP’s and a SAMA nomination under her belt which are well deserved.  I wish this girl nothing but luck and success in her career as she is far superior to most of the commercial female rappers we hear these days.  Empress took her rightful spot on the stage to perform “ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER WAY” which is a fantastic song about her DAILY HUSSLE. She took me on a journey to my past, back to when I was on the train going to a job I hate, wearing my PENCIL SKIRT. With it’s cool beat and very European cafe musical adaptation I could momentarily fantasize that my 80’s commute was a train in Paris and not Glasgow Central.  I really, really enjoyed this track and loved the tone of her voice on this, it was a perfect match to the music…The talent she exuded as she held that stage was commendable and she deserves more credit than she receives. Makes me think that if she was a guy would she have already received this recognition in what is a very male orientated industry?

The last track of Chapter One, was performed by SOLAREYE called “SCATTERED SEEDS AND DEEP ROOTS”, this track was very relevant to the divide we have in this country with racism due to the propaganda surrounding immigration. It had a Jazz vibe flowing through it and you’d never think that rap would work with this sound, but it absolutely did and that was due to the talents of the rapper who somehow managed to pull the whole thing together perfectly like a vocal miracle web!  He managed to keep the beat together when the string purposely diverted off beat and to anyone who has a tuned ear, this is not easy to pull off as you naturally follow and use the music as a guide. This one was a pleasure to listen too! 

This stage was filled with a plethora of talent that needs to be heard on mainstream radio…And speaking of talent, we can’t forget the man behind this masterpiece.  MR STEG G.  

His performance during the show was a vital ingredient which glued the whole thing together. Steg was, as usual, behind the decks doing his thing and keeping the beats and pads running throughout every track.  He was completely emerged in the musical flow and loving every minute of the set, this was visible to all who watched and were treated to his infamous head movements, that I like to call the “ Steg Shod” (another title I am publicly claiming the rights on).  This new dance move is born from the way he manages to shake and nod his head at the same time, only a manoeuvre that he can do the way he does it…

As chapter one ended the performers left the stage for a short break as the crowd cheered in delight at the first taste of this album.  It was a well-deserved response for this performance that left us all looking forward to Chapter Two.  

After the short break, the smokers entered the building the chatter was extremely loud, and I was people watching and enjoying the antics of all the different characters in the room.  Again I will mention what an amazing vibe these people had, not one cross word, not one outburst, nothing but a positive, chilled crowd that stood all around me….If I was ever to pick my audience, I’d pick these amazing people, for me this is the best crowd I’ve had to pleasure to share a venue with.  

Chapter Two was about to begin as the musicians and artists took to the stage, I was really looking forward to what was to come…

Chapter two began with the CCTV boys, as the music began it had a very sombre tone, which continued until the boys came blasting through to perform “NAE GOING BACK”, their vocals were full force with a BPM that would give Loki a run for his money. There were moments of pure genius in the track and the boys blew it out the park on this one, very tight and very in sync.  

The Freestyle Master then treated us to a very 90’s American Rap Battle type song, the kind of background track that you would hear in a film, a scene where two rappers who have avoided emotions finally realise their feelings for each other…Like an Azealia Banks film.  As The Freestyle Master sang about pain and hunger with a background of raindrops gently falling, he drew us all in and took us on this journey with him.  As the beautiful music tailed off towards the end of the song, “LONELY CITY” the crowd cheered very loudly. 

SUNKEN DREAMS” Was a song that highlighted the failures in our system, such brutal honesty floated past the mic in such a gentle manner thanks to the uniqueness that is Empress who delivers honesty like Mohammad Ali…”She floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee”  

The abrupt instrumental ending to this song was so good and fitted in perfectly.   

Solareye delighted us all with “GHOST NOTES“.  The piano led track blended in amazingly with his rendition of the use of The Air Inbetween, he and the piano became one.  The crowd loved this track and I even found myself moving along to this as the violin graced my ears and the beat graced my feet. SOLAREYE YOU HAD MY FULL ATTENTION; I absolutely loved this song…

SEPARATELY THE SAME” was a really catchy track performed by CCTV.  There were moments in the song that the boys sounded as though they were singing, but they weren’t! I can’t explain how good this was, they harmonised in rap but sounded like singers? It was a cool moment for me, one that truly had a wow factor.  

The last performance by Empress was “ME TIME“, this track had a great beat and a type of flute tone that really worked well on this song.  She incorporated the “Air Inbetween” lyrics which was again a clever thread that links each song throughout the album along with the catchy line AT THE END OF THE DAY, which is the hook for me in this song…

The final song was performed by The Freestyle Master, simply titled “HOME“.  I really liked this one and the guitar and beat combo had a Dido feel to it.  His lyrics were introduced by the strings and both married well, he too included the lyrical thread of THE AIR INBETWEEN to his song.  Before finishing up he created a buzz with crowd participation.  Calling out “GLAS” to which the crowd responded “GO” then “STEG” with the crowd calling out “G” with the crowd bursting into applause with chants of “STEG G“, “STEG G“, “STEG G” with another round of applause and whistles galore.  The crowd LOVED THE ALBUM!! 

This whole project was an unexpected wee nugget for me, not being what you can class as a Hip Hop fan or someone who claims to know anything about this musical genre, I had just witnessed a collaboration of unadulterated talent, a conglomeration of two totally different musical and social genres coming together and entwining like wild ivy on a country cottage.  

These performers are our SOCIAL WARRIORS telling us how it really is in life.  These are the voices of the people and we have a responsibility to get as many people as possible to listen to this album.  THIS ALBUM WAS INCREDIBLE and I urge anyone reading this to just type in “The Air Inbetween, Steg G” and select a listening option that suits you from the results list. It’s not often you can listen to a live performance that actually sounds identical to the album, but these guys pulled that off spectacularly, a rare ability in a world dominated by auto tune.  

IT WAS A TRUE HONOUR TO HAVE WITNESSED THIS HISTORICAL HIP HOPERA ALBUM MAKE Its DEBUT…

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