Sunday, 8 April 2012

#ESPspotlight REVIEWS...'Mike Hough LIVE' / 'KROnicles Of IntelLEK' (mixtape)

How are my lovely readers this weekend?

It's been your typical busy one over at ESP HQ for many a reason, but it's also been extra fun. As much as I'm loving the #FindOutFriday segments (and a massive Thank You to those of you who get in touch every week to tell me that you do too - keep doing that!); it's been a bit of awhile since I brought you one of the other things that I love to do most...who fancies a review? Or better still, fancy two?

Sunday 1st April saw the official single release party for 'Get Gone', the new one from my favourite British R&B Romeo, Mike Hough. Honoured was I to receive a personal invite and it was nobrainer that my beloved Charli-Anne would be my +1.

Syncing watches, Deer Oh Deer accessories and make up bags for the appropriate degree of shade on the Sundial, in we tottered on our highest heels to a 4D version of 'Who's Who in Today's UK Music Industry'. Lemar, Alexa Goddard, Keisha Buchanan and one Jamal Edwards were only a few of the famous faces we ran into as the beautiful tones of Sarah Mac opened the show. You may recognise the super-talented South Londoner from the pre-Brit Awards MasterCard commercial, where Queen Heartbeat Jessie J surprised one of her biggest fans by jumping into their hummer for a sing-a-long.

Let me explain early on, that if ever you go to a Mike Hough gig, you can be sure of three things:

1. You WILL be BLOWN AWAY by a breed of vocals that literally make you want to don a choir gown and grab a tambourine. Mike IS Music. His support line up is always a tribute to 'sangin' gymnastic excellence; so you know his pack will always take you to Church and make you catch that 'Speaking In Tongues' Spirit.

2. BBC 1Xtra Radio DJ Ronnie Herel will be on Host duties, damaging those decks in the grimiest of fashions.

3. Each hot set will not only get you moving, but be laced with more Bey and Ri-Ri hits than the fronts on both scalps; honouring the headliner's undying devotion to Mrs Carter. It's a given!

Ronnie's sets bring his Monday night radio show into a live forum, with selections that leave no doubt as to why he's one of the Station's resident favourites. His vocal-heavy R&B blend is peppered with just enough Hip-Hop to keep that live show momentum between acts, but also remind you there's a dancefloor nearby and you have NO business not being on it.

Next up was Robbie Jay, who caused me to doubletake with his 'Mike Hough pre-teen' look, sound and general demeanour. In addition to being quite sweet in his nervous banter; Jay proved that he was another talent to keep an eye out for in the next few years, delivering massive vocals that belied his young look and slight frame.

Robbie closed and Ronnie returned for another set of fire, before introducing the Man of the Moment.

The live band set up has grown and tightened up since the last show I caught in September; testament to the ever-growing polish of the 'Mike Hough Experience'. As the intro cued the Dagenham-born Prince of (Vocal) Pipes, his loyal 'Houghlian' fan club were of course, out in full effect, screaming and stomping (our) painful heeled-feet into the ground (we walk on fields of cotton wool, right Charli-Anne?!) demanding the appearance of who we came to see.

Just as the hysteria reached critical mass (and our pinkies lost feeling), out came Mike with a look of humble bemusement. If there's one thing about this hugely talented artist that never ceases to amuse and impress me, it's that to this day, he remains genuinely surprised at the reception from his fans.

Welcoming his audience and thanking them for turning out in support, he quickly launched into his first fan favourite - 'Nothing To Lose'. Instantly, you could hear the technical progression in the short year that I have known him; evident in the riffs that gave me chills. As always Mike's biggest supporter, Mum Diane - better known as 'Mumma Houghlian' - led the 'Houghlian Choir' from the front row; singing every lyric back at the stage with more energy and heart than the youngest fans at the 14+ showcase. Watching her pride in her talented Son is almost half the appeal of the show, as their closeness is one of the loveliest things you'll witness!

I should stipulate at this point that because of how amazingly his already stellar skills have come along, every time Mike sang, he gave my spine chills.  I am giving serious thought to requesting he no longer speak to me, but deliver all future communications in song form. Dependent upon his willingness to comply - he has only himself and the rawness of 'Better' - the first of four new tracks performed on the night - to blame. Alanis Morrisette's 'Ironic' followed in tribute to his Mum and had everyone rocking out with him like it was an original track. 

Next up was 'Rewind'. With vocals that literally took us out of current space and time, my only focused thought throughout was the memory of his opening statement of being "sh*t scared to perform this track"; followed by my one-word response: WHY?!

Another classic from the vault came in the shape of 'Young Forever', followed by 'Cold'. Performed only once prior it was clear from the response, that the audience supported Hough's hopes of the track becoming a future single. 'Firebomb', the James Fauntleroy track penned for Rihanna came next. Floored by the rendition of one of his own favourite tracks, I call it nothing short of Kismet, that I heard Ri-Ri's version for the first time the following day. Measuring stick firmly in place, I'm going on the record as saying personally, I believe Mike Does It Better.

'Hero', the track that earned that No.6 peak in the UK R&B and Soul charts last March, was next. The older tracks offered the easiest opportunities for comparison and on this one it was unmistakable - were Hough to release this track again at this level of skill, with his new-found confidence in his seemingly never-ending range, I for one would be dumbfounded if it did not top the mainstream charts.

Far too quickly we arrived at the reason for the showcase, signalling the end of the night. With 'Get Gone', Mike and his Management team, Outside Talent took the unusual step of releasing the single as a free download - further testament that with these guys, fans come first.

An epic close to a monster set, Mike Hough proved he is light years ahead of the competition. If he keeps on at his current pace, expect to see many more nominations following 2011's MOBOs Best Newcomer nod - it won't be long before he seals a well-deserved win.

Download your free copy of 'Get Gone' now and

follow Mike Hough on Twitter.

Mike's wasn't the only huge release that should be joining your collection this week...

If you follow me on Twitter (hint hint...) then you'll know that there was another pretty big launch from one of the ESP Family.

'KROnicles of IntelLEK' is available now from LekLane
'KROnicles of IntelLEK' is the 'tag-team' mixtape from two of finest Underground (and my personal favourite) talents in 'Left-London'. Staying true to the ethos of representing, supporting and promoting their side of town to the fullest; Lekhem and 'R2S' Founder Krome released their highly-anticipated 16-track West London tribute, featuring all-local talent.

At no point would I ever profess to be a hip-hop expert. Unless they're rocking them as an accessory, I wouldn't know a backpacker rapper from a handbag one. I've got some gully Rap tastes; but essentially I'm an R&B girl at heart; born and bred into a world of Motown and their competitors, decades after they were big business. All I know is what I like and the Soulful Hip-Hop prevalent on this project is it. To be clear; when I say 'Soulful', I mean far more than the generic sound. These boys have poured Heart and it's Partner into everything from beat selection to lyrics, on a spectrum of topics that for the most part, we can all relate to.

'Ride 2 This' is an unsuspecting, laid back intro into a Goliath of a mixtapeKrome draw you in with smooth vocals that lose you in Old-Skool Hip Hop, right before Lekhem's take over has you imagining rides in convertibles you don't own in the Summertime.

'Where The Real At' features fellow 'R2S' member Seta Trend, for a collaboration with a hook that overtakes you from the first chorus. Again Krome leads from Verse 1 after another soft intro that belies the hardness that's coming. It's here that if you're unfamiliar, you soon realise just how serious his skills really are and why this guy is a force to be reckoned with. Seta follows, sounding like the verbal equivalent of crushed velvet, with content that smacks of 12 rounds in 16 bars. Lekhem tags-in to finish with a verse that if you're familiar with his work, stays true to his knack for visual wordplay. Olympus need to cut him a cheque.

'The Rain' is the first of two on this mixtape that to Yours Truly, are legendary. Firstly, I dare you not to surrender to the hook. Sounding like a Delfonic's sample you expect from the early-Fugees catalogue, you cannot ignore it. Arguably one of my favourite sample uses from any artist, ever; this is one of those tracks that imprint on your memory from the first Play. Recorded last Autumn; I'm privileged to recall the day that Lekhem wrote his verse, originally intended as a piece of poetry. It inspired him to return to the art and create the 'Poetic Justice' section on his blogsite LekLane, shortly afterward. It also marked a turning point in Krome's style, delivery and lyrical content for reasons you will learn of by Track 16. DO NOT SLEEP on the words he relays. The Rain may hide his tears, but Krome's performance on this track leaves your skin cold. 'The Rain' is a disease and I'm infected - don't save me.

'Cut Thru Da Clouds': If there's one thing Lekhem does well, it's lay hypnotic chorus vocals that set a track's pace and momentum. The decision is yours as to whether that results from the natural melody of his 'Jamerican' (Jamaican + American) accent or something else but; add the eerie electronic keys beneath and the result is an ethereal high - minus the boosts Krome speaks of with 'Stop and Think' eloquence in his painful street tale. 

'Make U Feel It' is another one that transcends that 'UK' tag so popular in today's Music scene. When Krome tells you "It's been proven I'm the most real", you do not dispute him because he's that convincing. Living up to the words of the sample, they truly 'Make U Feel It from the Inside'.

'Trial & Error' is the first track where Krome drives the chorus, changing the pace built so far, with the smoothness of changing lanes. More than anything, you feel the despondence of two young men trying harder than most to achieve dreams both have the talent to make into reality. The tribulations along the way may not be fair or just, but the verdict of this Jury, DEMANDS they keep up the fight and returns a sentence for both to Life chained to Pens, Pads and Microphones.

'More Than Special' is a new favourite with another killer hook. With Old Skool Hip-Hop comes an automatic ambience of a warm Summertime in your teenage years. When these two talk about their devotion to their first love, I dare a female alive not to feel the same misplaced jealousy of an inanimate object...

'My Wish' calls on a couple more heavyweights from the 'R2S' camp to truly knock you out on this tale of dreams and aspirations. This time the 'hypno-hook' is led by of Korshun; Krome tags in first and comes out swingin all those in his path. The only lady in the camp, Fuzzie Barz spits words of fire with an 'IntelLEKtual' twist; proving her spot as a Chosen One. Lekhem finishes with that gritty, realistic visual wordplay that makes every lyric a movie.

'Mr DJ''s moments like this that I love having my own blog for unchecked, biased moments. Yes. More IS possible, read on:

ShoXstar - I'm pausing this whole thing to salute you Sir! The beat and production on this track made it one of my favourite songs of 2011 and 4 months into 2012, it has yet to be replaced. Lekhem kicks this one off with the force of a battering ram. From line 1, all the elements combine to make you believe it really IS his "way of life". And then Krome tags in for Verse 2...For the second time today, I'm going on record; this time to testify that Busta and Twista combined cannot TOUCH this ARTIST when he really lets go. Krome's level of skill is mindblowing.

'Summatime Vibe' Quite frankly just makes me hungry. It's that 'Friends and Family at the BBQ' track, that makes you want to pass on the Peri-Peri for a plate of homemade. Produced by our own BakaBoi, at this point, I just want the production of a full plate please? And don't skimp on my portions!

'The Import' is the first of two solo tracks from each on the mixtape and who else would this one be from but the Authentic Jamerican Import? Have to say I love the beat; reminiscent of 'The Coming' from 'The Raise EP', it has that same richness. Lekhem runs the gamut from slick and sexy to aggressive and ferocious. By it's close, his wordplay leaves the after taste of a heavy shot of something barrel-rich and golden. Extremities warm, chest need a minute to let 'The Import' breathe before you hit refill. I mean play...either way, you'll want to take this to the head more than once!

'Go Away' had me baffled. How do you merge such a feel good beat with the struggles and frustrations from the depth of your Soul? I think I need one or both to explain it. Once again, the vivid imagery is en pointe. "So be good or be real good at hiding it" Lekhem says toward the end of his verse. Make no mistake, neither one is hiding anything here.

'Remember This' has a beat that screams Illmatic from the intro. Krome's lyrical anger in calm speech on his Solo track make for a steely combination, befitting his unbreakable name. The rawness makes it an undeniable pick for the hardest of hip-hop heads. To this untrained ear, it is the grittiest on the entire body of work. If early-mid 90's Brooklyn is your thing, then Krome takes you back there.

'Heart of Stone' kicks off with TrixCity's battlecry on an Evo Advent Child beat. A clever opening pick, Trix puts you in a WuTang frame of mind from the start. His verse prompted visuals of Raekwon for reasons I can't even explain. This track more than any, has the feel of an actual tag-team in one of those 36 Chambers, as Krome's words put your own life in instant perspective with no softness or comfort. The force momentum behind Lekhem's imagery has the feel of a magician's trick. His lyrical 'slight of hand' has you focused in one direction so intently, you do not see the punch coming in the next line.

'Purple', to me, is a verbal battle between three of 'R2S's most visual scholars. Krome, Lekhem and Culprit Cash make it near impossible to pick a favourite verse on this one. If you think you have the topic pegged by the title, you're quite mistaken. You come away with the impression that the Brothers In Rhymes challenged each other to their best, off-Mic - challenges each one accepted. Zed makes this into a nice quartet. Slower than  the 'R2S' pace, he stays true to his catchy ending, sounding like no-one but himself.

'Don't Know Pain' is the one I've been dreading writing about since the top because I don't believe it's possible for me to do it justice. I've used the term 'raw', mainly in phonetic reference up until now; but with this one my first listen moved me to tears. The depth of pain Krome alludes to following his Mother's sudden death last August, we average people cannot fathom. Lekhem fills in some of the circumstantial blanks; recounting events from an Outsider's perspective and adding another layer you really would need a 'Heart of Stone' not to feel. But for me, the skills of both is not what stands out most - though both excelled to new heights. The dominant feelings remaining at the track's close are firstly overwhelming sadness, closely followed by an intense desire to reach out to Krome and let him know that the support circle is wider than he realises and is, as Lekhem says - "more than music".

'KROnicles of IntelLEK' has all the ingredients of an Underground Hip-Hop Classic.

If you do nothing else today that you PLEASE download this AMAZING joint collaboration and experience all of the above from your own perspective.

Once you've listened; ensure you get in touch with Krome and Lekhem and let them know if their body of work made you Marvel (I'm sorry, it was the only comic book reference the whole time - I had to get one in there, c'mon)!

Keep up to date with all things Lekhem: LekLane.

Follow all things 'R2S Music' and download the 13-strong, West London Collective's Group mixtape 'The Rebelution Part 1'

If you got this far, Thanks For Reading (and Well Done)! #FindOutFriday returns next week!

Have a great Bank Holiday!
ES ;)