Words by & pics by Cameron Goodyer
Arriving at the O2 Academy and seeing the expected throngs of people congesting the street eager to see J Hus was a pleasant, but unsurprising, Thursday night experience.
Over the past few years, J Hus, the young Londoner, has made a strong impact on the grime scene. His particular style of African influenced pop/grime collaboration has driven his success to a near sell-out Common Sense European tour and this occasion is no exception as the evening was sold out well in advance.
It’s common to expect a familiar format of support-act, support-act, headliner at these sorts of events but the old saying ‘expect the unexpected’ still holds true as the typically interminable waiting was cast aside in favour of a DJ set kicking straight in, energising the crowd and offering a ‘taster session’ for the rest of the evening. A selection of hip-hop, grime and R&B set the mood very nicely as the sound system pushed out hits and classics alike and the crowd began moving.
With the DJ still in mid-flow, the first official act of the evening took to the stage; a man going by the name DC. DC, sporting a striped orange t-shirt, offered the crowd a friendly welcome before diving into his act; a machine gun spray of lyrics, faster than anyone I have seen before. The crowd seemed on-board with this and impressed with his skill and I found it frankly memerising to behold. As well as speed, DC has good annunciation and the clarity of what he was saying wasn’t lost, something that would have been noticeable in the slower parts of his balanced set.
DC was set to be followed by an act called NSG and at their allotted time, first one man took to the stage, then another. And another. And another, and so on until the stage seemed packed full of bouncing energetic bodies. Too many to keep an eye on all at once by far. Unfamiliar with NSG’s music (I had only heard of them in a VICE/ID article), I found their strong afro-beat sound very fitting to the evening and it was clear to me they were a good support for J Hus’s set.
The flow of the evening was broken slightly following NSG as the next act, Young T & Bugsey, were unable to attend. Rather than move the timings for the evening, the decision seemed to be made that two men would take the stage and fill the time hyping up the crowd.
Unsure of how long a slot they were set to fill, it certainly felt long and rather than any set songs being played, the DJ seemed to play sections with the two men onstage belting out the odd word here or there. Passable at first, but soon it became clear the momentum of the evening was being lost and I could hear people in the crowd beginning to question when they would stop and the main act of the evening begin. Not something I could blame them for as my own energy, alongside all of the build-up from NSG, slipped away.
Luckily, without further delay or interlude, J Hus took to the stage; exactly what was needed and seemingly that had been noticed by J Hus or his team. His appearance turned the atmosphere back around and the crowd became elated, screaming loudly as smoke flooded the stage and blue and red lights (imitating police lights) flashed.
One of the key features of this staging shift was the DJ’s booth. For the first part of the evening this had seemed like an overly large dark space now the black cloth covering the area was removed to reveal that J Hus had brought two gleaming private number plate adorned Mercedes Benz cars onto the stage, seemingly working, with headlights streaming through the smoke.
Fittingly, J Hus himself walked out to the strains of the tour and album namesake track ‘Common Sense’, diving straight into his set with his biggest hit of the moment. With the sell-out O2 Academy audience drowned in smoke J Hus’s stage presence was impressive and it felt like he had instantly won over the 3000-odd people and made the night his own. Never was this more clear than, when asking for everyone to hold up the torches on their phones, the venue became bathed in the soft light that only a small lithium battery can provide. J Hus himself made for an impressive sight, suited as he was in an array of jewellery firing the already strobing lights in even more erratic and interesting ways.
J Hus moved through his set and began to bring out the bigger hits in his arsenal. As ‘Bouff Daddy’ began, he told the crowd to “mash up the place” and mash it up they did, including J Hus’s own hype-man who had returned to the stage and was seemingly having the time of his life. It was fantastic to look around and see everyone on the outside edges of the room moving and counterpoint to the crush closer to the stage, in those areas many people had space to move freely and were really expressing themselves, dancing with great enthusiasm.
This continued until the instantly recognised introduction to one of J Hus’s earlier hits began; ‘Lean & Bop’. As this reverberated around the room, it became clear that many people knew what to do and they had stopped dancing in their own way, instead following the signature dance to this well-known song, smiling broadly as they did so.
As the evening began to wind down and the end was approaching J Hus announced to mixed reaction that he would be performing a new track that the audience would never have heard before. The mixed reaction of the audience to this was down, I feel, to the fact that while many of them were happy to be part of this new experience, the audience as a whole were keen to be singing along and to have set dances in mind for the tracks, something not offered by a new song.
After this, J Hus hit the audience with two of his biggest tracks to date – ‘Fisherman’, a song that got a much bigger more positive reaction than I had expected, and ‘Did You See’. ‘Did You See’ is the bigger of the two and undoubtedly a track that most people had been waiting for. It was worth the wait. Taking everyone by surprise, mid-song J Hus left the stage and headed into the crowd. Before you could blink, everyone in this main section of the room rushed forward, lyrics on their lips, clamouring for a piece of the main man himself.
And so ended the evening and with the lyrics of ‘Did You See’ resonating in my head I made my way out of the O2 Academy. J Hus’s post crowd-dive question ‘Did you see what I done?’ wouldn’t leave me and the answer is simply; yes. I saw you take a Thursday evening in the O2 Academy in Birmingham and turn it into an event people will talk about until the next one. Until the next one.
For more on J Hus, visit www.jhusmusic.com
For more from Birmingham O2 Academy, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2academybirmingham
For full gig listings from SJM Concerts/Gigs and Tours, visit www.gigsandtours.com