Boy Better Know’s O2 takeover was a triumph for grime

Boy Better Know proved that grime isn't going anywhere with their monumental take over of London O2 Arena.

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In October 2005, the Metropolitan police introduced form 696. Ostensibly a risk assessment, the form has been used by police for over a decade to shut down shows and club nights that promoted grime, bashment and other forms of black British music they deemed too much of a risk. For years grime MCs have lived with the knowledge that at the whim of the police their shows could get cancelled without explanation and with only a few days’ notice. On August 27th, 2017 grime’s most high-profile collective, Boy Better Know, headlined the O2 arena.

No matter what happened on the night, the fact that Jammer, JME, Skepta and co. were even able to book a venue with the size and profile of the O2 is a testament to how far grime has come. Luckily, the night was, for the most part, a huge success.

Of course, before the night comes the day and BBK had arranged plenty for fans to do around the O2’s various venues during the daylight hours. From skateboarding to a video game lounge to smaller gigs at Indigo, all soundtracked by the best of grime, UK rap and beyond, of course, Boy Better Know were clearly embracing the broad new audience that grime has found in the mainstream.

Over in the main arena, things got off to a somewhat shaky start when seemingly mid-way through his set Westwood was wheeled (yes, literally wheeled by two roadies, while DJing) to the side of the stage to make way for the first live act on the room’s bill, Mabel. For her part Mabel stood up well despite some issues with the sound, running through a short but sweet set of her biggest hits to date plus a brand-new track for the heads in the crowd.

Chip offered the first taste of old school grime on the night, getting the energy levels up in the crowd and bringing on fellow veteran Ghetts for a blistering rendition of ‘Gets Like That.’

MHD’s French afro-trap was something of a jump from Chip but managed to win over an originally indifferent audience with pure energy and a call and response chorus about the Champion’s League (shouts of ‘Fuck PSG’ notwithstanding, it is football season after all). His set was a reminder of the barriers that still face many British MCs abroad, there’s no denying the talent or energy, but something didn’t quite translate.

For reasons unknown A$AP Rocky couldn’t make it to the O2 on Sunday night, so it was up to J Hus to see us through to the headliners. Luckily Hus was born to do this, and despite the fact that that Sunday was his first official show in London (no, seriously) he has the crowd leaning and bopping in the palm of his hand for what turns out to be an unfairly short set.

The minute Maximum walked on stage to the opening bars of ‘That’s Not Me’ on Sunday night, the crowd went mad. Boy Better Know turned up one a time, Sketa first, then JME, next Frisco, then Jammer, then Shorty, each taking their moment in the spotlight, revelling in the sight of the almost 20,000 people amassed in front of them. After an introductory track each, the other guests started to come out, Wiley showed up and shelled it on ‘Speakerbox’ and ‘Can’t Go Wrong’, Lethal Bizzle, master of hype that he is, sent the O2 spinning with ‘I Win’ and just when we thought it was all over JME wheeled out Giggs for ‘Man Don’t Care.’

Giggs’ appearance sends the O2 in a frenzy for two reasons. 1. Thanks to the previously mentioned form 969, Giggs performing in London is something of a rarity, and as such, any chance to see the Landlord in the flesh is cause enough for excitement and, 2. It answered the big question of the night; was Drake going to show up? And the answer was yes. ‘Man Don’t Care’ done, Giggs asks to do one more and Maximum loaded up ‘KMT.’ Drake didn’t even need to set foot on stage before the entire floor became a mosh pit. Yet, this is London, and it’s BBK’s shows not Drake’s so after the track, and a short hello, Champagne Papi is outta there, leaving the night’s real stars to close it with what else but ‘Too Many Man.’

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Photography Marcel Le Bachelet