Vinnie Paz & Ill Bill At The Camden Underworld

“I’m off to see Vinnie and Bill mum!”

Sounds like a pretty harmless declaration from some muddy teenager who’s just got home from football practice before rushing out to meet his best friends.

But if you were to add “Paz” after Vinnie and “Ill” before Bill, it’d shine a less than wholesome light onto proceedings.

And you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t involve a local chippy, friends or anything remotely jolly; more likely a collective middle finger to society and its myriad examples of double standards, hypocrisy and excess.

I saw hip hop titans, Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill, perform at The Underworld in Camden last week; a choice of venue that surprised me given its long standing association with all things heavy and metallic. Though once I heard Vinnie and Bill wax lyrical to the audience on their love for heavy metal, it all became clear.

As a hastily arranged sack of seeping testosterone and nerves in my teen years, I frequently visited Underworld’s annual Subverse night. And the musky dankness of this venue never fully departed my sinuses.

As I descended the steps to the Underworld once more, visions of criminally untrendy “grungies” head banging to pretentiously punky paeans of self destruction, replete with grainy Kurt Cobain t-shirts and heads full of strongbow, resurfaced in my mind.

The most attention seeking, “look at me” form of self destruction known to adolescent man.

But tonight’s atmosphere was different; the lingering stench of grunge that had previously tainted this Underworld was obliterated by a sea of hip hop legionnaires and their collective excitement to see two certified ambassadors deliver a timeless manifesto of their culture.

A manifesto that involves high school shootings, conspiracy theories and an irrational hatred of the French; something the crowd seemed to resonate with. Such is Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill’s status in the global hip hop roster, I’m sure this legion would have cheered anything they said.

As I took my place amongst the hundreds of excited fans crammed into the venue, all eyes were locked on the empty stage. With the masses primed for tonight’s entertainment to begin, every sound engineer and unplugged cable was scrutinised with military precision.

After what seemed like a lifetime, the first warm up act took to the stage.

An eager to please triplet known as Triple Darkness, gave an energetic live show in a similar vein to the legend that VP and IB have forged for themselves. But they failed to win over the hardcore fans from Ill Bill’s Non Phixion past and left the stage having barely sated the crowds thirst for raw, unadulterated gritty hip hop.

Grit Grammar were next up; two unlikely lads dressed in Reebok apparel looking like they’d just crawled out of your Camden local. This initial impression was flipped as Grit Grammar fired volley after volley of lyrical bullets into the masses during their first track.

This seemed to penetrate some of the crowd’s musical snobbery but, such is the brutal honesty of Vinnie and Bill fans, this detente didn’t last long and by their final song the people made clear that Grit Grammar had overstayed their welcome.

The third act in tonight’s warm up performance were the prolific Rhyme Asylum; self confessed zealots of Vinnie and Bill and a band I’ve seen many times before. Their set demonstrated this trio’s passion for live shows and undeniable stage presence.

Bursting from one edge of Underworld’s stage to the other, seamlessly anticipating each other’s movements in total synchronicity, Rhyme Asylum performed with an aura of hip hop infused spontaneity.

Having unlocked the hearts of the mob and worked them into a frenzy, Rhyme Asylum left us vulnerable to the onslaught Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill were about to deliver.

Stylishly taking to the stage in perfect time to the drop of an instrumental intro, Vinnie and Bill tore into their first song.

And an enrapt crowd scaled nirvana.

I had to deal with a couple of pre-pubescent German kids behind me, convulsing and clutching at my shoulders as if I was their brethren. Sadly for them, I’m not accustomed with the musical stylings of Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill well enough to reciprocate this show of unity.

Instead I sneered at them in a somewhat insidious manner and they got the message.

But it’s testament to VP and IB’s status that fans from all over Europe flocked to this tiny London venue to see their musical heroes perform in the flesh.

By this point the place was absolutely buzzing, and so were my ears.

Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill played tracks from their well established hip hop portfolio, a few “Jedi Mind Trick” and “Army Of The Pharaoh’s” Bangers, but it was Ill Bill and his legendary super group Non Phixion’s back catalogue that took centre stage.

Having their messiah’s within touching distance proved a little too much for some fanatics to resist, with one unfortunate soldier chased off stage and kicked out for abusing the intimacy afforded by Underworld.

Before long the show was over, and the buzz from the crowd had dissipated in the same rush of energy that the evening had begun with. I stood for a minute next to the empty stage and smelt the sulphur rising from Vinnie Paz and Ill Bill’s smoking microphones.

If only Mother knew which Vinnie and Bill I had seen tonight.

Kareem Ghezawi

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Dates ‘n stuff

May 2011