Review: UK hip-hop star Jehst at Norwich Arts Centre, a gig true to the genre’s roots

With a string of critically acclaimed albums, Jehst�s gritty, profound lyricism and true-school soun

With a string of critically acclaimed albums, Jehst�s gritty, profound lyricism and true-school sound has earned him a global reputation. Picture: Submitted - Credit: Archant

Jehst headlines a night of real hip-hop amid a bill of DJs and MCs that includes Confucius MC, Jazz T, Booda French and Manik MC.

I first heard Jehst on Bristolian emcee Buggsy's first album The Great Escape, which came out a shocking six years ago and between then and last night I hadn't manage to catch him live, anywhere.

The man also known as Billy Brimstone had been in the game long before 2011 though, breaking in with the legendary likes of Task Force around 1999/2000 and releasing his first solo album, The Return of the Drifter, to much acclaim in 2002.

Jehst's style of hip-hop is quintessentially British, channelling US boombap through a gritty UK city lens ('Mixing Smirnoff with Dandelion & Burdock').

It's stark, real with an intelligent smirk and a few pop culture references thrown in for good measure. Classic hip-hop all over really, and by 'classic' I mean Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep, early 90s stuff, though hip-hop has always been and will always be working classic music at its heart.

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Three more albums, several EP's and mixtapes followed with Jehst quickly establishing himself as a respected name in the UK hip-hop scene and he's been there ever since really.

I'd heard good things about Jehst performing with a live band but this Norwich gig was true to the genre's roots with DJ's and MC's taking turns and riffing off one another.

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Out to introduce the first artist was Confucius MC which was a nice surprise as he wasn't on the bill and I really dug his 2014 album, The Highest Order, then to a virtually empty Arts Centre out came Manik MC. And props to this kid as within the first half of his first tune he'd accrued quite the crowd for 8.30pm on a Thursday evening.

With producer Jazz T on the decks there's a bouncy number to get folks in the mood then bam, second tune in Manik hits us with an intense acapella spitting honesty, truth and that working class grit which cuts deep given the current social/political climate.

By the end of his short set Manik had the crowd singing back to him which I thought was darn impressive given how spacious and deathly quiet it was when he came out.

Next up was Ipswich MC (don't get to say that too often) Booda French, with a stage presence like MC iPod and glasses like MC Frontalot and some amusing lyrics and jazzy production.

Confucius returned to get us hyped for the main event with some tunes of his own with Jazz T once again providing the beats which this time were that kinda-modern, post-boombap, sci-fi sound guys like Cracker Jon, Strange U and Jam Baxter have been using to great effect in recent years.

Confucius then summons Jehst who bursts out with Starting Over which to achieve greater levels of hype he rewinds and starts over with more energy and ambient lighting — very cool as a lot of the time it was simply two white circle outlines on a black background, aka The Mysterons from Captain Scarlett.

Jehst then dialled it down a touch sitting on the front of the stage amongst the crowd for some jazzy, low-tempo numbers which had the audience nodding in time and with approval.

Australian, from a 2012 compilation album, Project Mooncircle, illustrates Jehst's lyrical smorgasbord, making references to Brigitte Bardot, Golden Axe and Sun Tsu all in the same verse. Rocking a white shirt and (often) backwards red cap he resembled a thinking mans Fred Durst, displaying similar levels of energy and passion without any of the infantile narcissism.

Confucius returned again for some posse cuts, Jazz T did some nice beat juggling and Jehst closed out his set by jumping into the crowd for probably his biggest tune, High Plains Anthem.

Several lads knew all the words and watching them standing two inches away spitting alongside him was a sick way to end a gig. The fist-bumps, hugs and love after felt like real hip-hop and that's about the biggest complement I can give a gig like this.

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