I arrive at intimate Jazz and Blues club Nell’s in West Kensington. The doors have just opened and the venue is slowly filling up, anticipation in the air. The stage is set up and ready to go whilst people are buying their first drink, waiting for their mates to join them.
As I look back at the bar, I spot producer and DJ Rebel Kleff standing by himself, until a fan goes over to chat to him. Rebel Kleff has been the right-hand man to UK rapper Loyle Carner, having produced the majority of Loyle’s work. He’s also worked with the person we’re all here to see; MANIK MC, having him feature on his first debut production single ‘Pencil Pushing’ in 2018. Kleff’s productions sound old-school, incorporating elements of East Coast Hip Hop whilst remaining refreshingly current, sitting in a lane of their own. I previously saw Rebel Kleff at Mr Jukes and Barney Artist’s tour last November, at Scala (Kings Cross), with friend and fellow artist Kofi Stone. That gig was also the first time I saw MANIK MC perform as he was the support and I was so impressed with his performance that I knew I had to get tickets for THIS show.
With the bar pretty full, the lower level next to the stage is still empty as no one wants to be the first to go down until Asher, the supporting act, comes out from backstage and asks everyone to join him. But the crowd starts to gather in excitement as Asher kicks off the evening.
If you don’t know Asher Kosher, he’s a leading figure in the UK Hip Hop scene, founder of The Silhouettes Project with Eerf Evil in 2019. Their goal was to shine a light on the new generation of underground Hip Hop, Jazz, and Soul music in the UK. Community is at the centre of the project as they felt a joint frustration that the current music scene in the UK only had structures in place to support talent of a certain genre whilst overlooking a buzzing, alternative Hip Hop culture.
It was through The Silhouettes Project that I discovered MANIK MC, hearing him on a track called ‘July’ with Elisa Imperilee and Midnight Phunk. Elisa’s dreamy vocals against MANIK’s poetic bars take us on a lyrical journey and the song has been on heavy rotation for me since its release in 2020.
Maya Diaz (who is also part of The Silhouettes Project) joins Asher on stage behind the decks. Asher tells everyone to step closer towards him and has people singing back his lyrics in no time, creating an amazing atmosphere. He’s quick and slick on the mic, showcasing his pure talent and nails his energetic and exciting 30-minute slot.
I managed to get a spot right at the front and as I look back the entire venue is now full. I see a few famous faces standing behind me including Rebel Kleff (again) and DJ Chux (Mr Jukes and Barney Artist’s tour DJ) ready and waiting for tonight’s performance. It’s encouraging to see so many artists from the UK Hip Hop scene showing support at each other’s gigs and helping strengthen the scene.
Producer and DJ Kunfucius steps on stage first and gets the crowd hyped as we wait for MANIK to join him. MANIK then takes to the stage wearing a black t-shirt by Root 73, an artist development platform that MANIK is involved in, co-founded by Asher Kosher. As a DJ, I couldn’t take my eyes off Kunfucius’s scratching skills and how effortless and easy he makes everything look (although I know it’s far from it). You can tell MANIK and Kunfucius have built up so much trust together from being old friends to touring with Mr Jukes and Barney Artist. Kunfucius spontaneously wheels back a track to get the crowd going even more and MANIK looks at him and laughs, loving it.
MANIK’s humble chat between songs makes him so likeable and you can tell he’s worked so hard to be here standing in front of us all at Nell’s. Before he performs my favourite track, ‘Shadows’ ft Loyle Carner, from his 2017 EP Midnight Express, he tells us that this song is a personal one because it’s about being a carer for his mum and the stresses and strains this put upon him, especially when he was a teenager.
He also teases us with a brand-new unreleased song featuring Brighton-based rapper and producer Harvey Gunn, which is instantly catchy, and I know is going to be a firm favourite once it’s out. The collaboration seems like a perfect fit, and I’m eagerly waiting to hear it again soon.
Another highlight for me is MANIK’s spoken word piece which turns the whole crowd completely silent whilst MANIK performs it, addressing important social and political issues. After this MANIK brings the energy back up whilst continuing to hold everyone’s full attention with his flawless rhymes and star quality. What I love most about his performance is that you can see his stripped back talent – there’s no auto-tune or distracting stage design, just him, Kunfucius and us. He performs one of his most well-known tracks with Maverick Sabre ‘Alchemy’ which again, everyone loves, day one fans singing back every single lyric.
Artist Natty Wylah is standing next to me watching MANIK perform until MANIK gets him up on stage to join him for their track ‘Blue Afternoons’. MANIK recalls rapping with Natty when they were younger, and you can tell the two have a deep friendship that goes way back which is lovely to see.
As the set draws to a close MANIK invites Asher back on stage with Natty and C.REM (part of Root 73). The energy they collectively create is incredible, you can tell how much love these guys have for each other and what they do. It’s the perfect ending to a powerful performance and pure joy is radiating from MANIK as we all cheer. As he leaves the stage we chant ‘one more song’ and he returns to perform his latest freestyle. The whole venue is clapping and you can tell he’s overwhelmed with the support from the crowd, with his smile stretching from ear to ear, whilst he says ‘this is the best night of my life’.
There’s no denying UK Hip Hop, in it’s more traditional form, has been difficult to find over the past few years, but with the likes of Kofi Stone, Loyle Carner, Barney Artist, Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn, R.A.E, Nadia Rose, Little Simz and now MANIK MC bringing it back with their raw talent, I feel confident it’s making a strong return.
After the gig MANIK posted on Instagram ‘This is just the start so thank you for being a part of it’ and I can’t help but think MANIK MC is going to be one of those artists you try and convince your friends you knew of before he got big. After watching that performance and the talent MANIK holds, I can’t wait to see what’s round the corner for him and for UK Hip Hop. Whilst it was the best night of MANIK’s life, it was one of the best live performances I’ve seen and hopefully the first of many from him.
Words & photography: Maria Hanlon
Listen to Maria Meets on the 2nd and 4th Friday of the month 3-5pm on voicesradio.co.uk
Watch Manik MC ‘Know For Certain Freestyle’ HERE.