Shout hip-hop hooray
It’s a rap battle at Tate Modern tomorrow for aspiring MCs,
DROP the mic — then pick it up again: Hip Hop Karaoke is back. If there’s one gloriously bling silver lining to find in 2018, it’s the fact that this long-running London institution has made its way to the inestimable surroundings of Tate Modern, in the Terrace Bar.
“I can’t believe they let us in,” says founder and DJ Rob Pursey, who has been running the event since 2005, when it was first a monthly event, and latterly a weekly one at The Social in Little Portland Street (it’s now at The Queen of Hoxton). “It’s a positive environment, whether you know 4,000 rap songs or four lines,” he says.
Everyone’s welcome — HHK has moved its way from Glastonbury to the Wilderness Festival, and even popped up among the Corbyn faithful at this year’s inaugural Labour Live festival (“Hip Hop Karaoke with Unite” invited punters to “come and join Len McCluskey and the crew”). “We’re a broad church,” insists Pursey — even Iain Duncan Smith can rap the first few lines of Eminem’s Lose Yourself.
There’s a huge list of classics and lesserknown numbers to choose from, and all songs are helpfully rated for rhyming difficulty. It’s a sliding scale here: Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers is one star (the instrumental is extended — beware); Naughty By Nature’s Hip-Hop Hooray is a two-star rating (the rapping is hard but the chorus saves you); A Tribe Called Quest’s Scenario is up at three (albeit when done solo...).
Celebrity participants have included Wretch 32, Daniel Bedingfield and Radio 1’s Matt Edmondson, who shot a documentary about the evening. “We’ve grown with hip-hop,” says Pursey. “When we started it was popular, but it’s become even more popular. Teenagers who grew up listening to Dr Dre have now reached karaoke maturity in their 20s.”
The format is simple: tables to sit on, a stage to rap on. And there’s a history of romance here. “We had an amazing moment when someone performed Common’s The Light on stage, and then got down on his knee and proposed,” says Pursey. “Usually we have a rule about not freestyling but we let it go on that occasion.” Stars are born here. At Wilderness this year, in front of a crowd of 2,000 people, a 12-yearold named Rui “shuffled on stage nervously before absolutely slaying a performance of Eminem ‘Just Lose It’.” The crowd called him back on for an encore. This weekend it could be you.
X Factor: amateur rappers at Hip Hop Karaoke, inspired by Dizzee Rascal, below