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UD Low Down: A2 @ Camden Assembly

Wesley Bishop, aka A2, is a music maker craft master; his creations are a concoction of confessional rap, R&B and soul beautifully reimagined and shaped into something new. His lyrics are introspectively deep and listeners can see flashes of their own rippled reflections in his songs. A2’s ability to showcase his vulnerability whilst simultaneously tapping into yours gives his music meaning in a throwaway society. 

Hailing from Croydon, which, to be fair, isn’t the first place you envisage when you think of a location responsible for delivering a hotbed of musical talent, but several rap titans such as Krept & Konan, Stormzy and Section Boyz have hailed from the area in the last decade. It’s becoming renowned for incubating word swordsmiths. Kojey Radical said it best when he said ‘must be something in the water.’ If I had to plead the case of Croydon and its ability to churn out music talent in a court of law, my closing statement to the jury would solely focus on rapper and producer A2. 

The convention-breaking south Londoner epitomises the definition of a triple threat, thanks to his visceral bars, crisp vocals, songwriting ability, and production prowess. 

He has become the culture’s best-kept secret, amassing a loyal fan base since first hitting the scene under the A2 epithet in the early 2010s with a string of self-released singles and EPs Once Too ManyVII and No Sleep. The buzz surrounding him soon caught the ears of Tinie Tempah’s Disturbing London label in 2016, who quickly signed him. The following year became his breakout period with several single releases and his Red EP, a prelude to his acclaimed debut, Blue. 

The album was a solid body of work that playfully moulded genres till they became genreless. It was apparent that A2 would be hard to classify and not an artist that could be assigned with umbrella genre terminology. It was evident that he was an artist that would not only be a glass ceiling breaker but that he was going to forge an entirely new level. Listening to his stunning debut was like tuning into the internal monologue being directly broadcast from his brain. Interpersonal relationships are rawly exposed seeping wounds, as demonstrated in ‘Once Bitten’, which lifts the plaster to reveal the barriers of betrayal, long-lost loyalty and forging ahead regardless with that relationship against the odds. A2’s ability to convey the complexities of love and relationships is expertly explored across the album as he flexes effortlessly between singing and confessional rap bars. One of the standout tracks from the album was ‘Southern Comfort’, which featured Atlanta rapper 6lack, showcasing why he deserves a seat at the table amongst his international peers. The debut was nominated as album of the year in 2018 by GRM Daily’s Rated Awards.

During the same period, he dropped Purple upon us. A pithy project consisting of five tracks, all of which were produced and mastered by A2, showcasing unquestionable talent outside the mic as a producer. 

With music fans hooked, he delivered us with a fix for 2019 with the release of All Spill. The project, like its predecessors, creatively focused on a colour mood continuation (blue, purple and red) and was made up of eleven tracks filled with melodic head boppers. With just two feature tracks, including Jesse James Soloman‘s chemistry-fuelled performance on the vibe of a mood of ‘Fill the Void’, where the two artists’ slow slide collide to create an aftermath sound that encompasses laid back and manages to bottle it, and the Dotty featured banger ‘Here We Go’. 

Like most rappers in the UK, A2 cut his teeth in grime before changing his directional course and applying his bars and demonstrating his vocals across R&B. Unlike most, however, his lack of desire when it comes to courting self-promotion, in an era where everything is recorded and shared, the line between artists and audiences has never been more finite. A2 bucks the trend by rarely giving interviews and seldom posting across social media. When posts from his account pop up, they’ve been cryptic, adding to the Scarlett Pimpernell obscurity that surrounds him. 

When it was first announced that he was doing a show, it was inevitable that it would be a sell-out, and a new date was quickly added. 

In the week leading up to the gig, I had A2’s Spotify on repeat and debated with my boyfriend about who found and introduced who to his music first (plot spoiler it was me). I sensed that this show would be the last opportunity to see him perform in an intimate setting. His time to ascend to large music venues and mainstream success is long overdue. When gig day arrived, it brought unwelcomed grey skies and city drizzle, the kind that it’s hard to distinguish if it’s raining or not. I decided that, for once, I would get to a gig early. Arriving in Camden, I was struck by the lack of energy in the ether. The hub of counterculture had changed, not just aesthetically, because of gentrification in the area. During the short walk to the venue, I felt the vibe was distinctly absent, and the once bustling core of all things alternative seemed anything but. As the Camden Assembly came in sight, I felt a surge of excitement you get when you embrace an old friend you haven’t seen for a hot minute. This mate, however, is a seriously connected one and has played host to many famous musical faces throughout its history, from Mick Jagger to Blur. It was considered the spiritual home hangout of the 90s Brit Pop scene. The name may have changed from Bar Fly to Camden Assembly since my last visit during the height of indie sleaze heydays in the mid-2000s, and she’d most definitely had a lot of tweaks, but she was still the same. I had forgotten how small the venue was, with only a 250 capacity. It’s a highly intimate setting. Being early for once, I could pick and secure my optimum spectator position. Whilst waiting for the body count of the room to increase and for the warm-up act to take the stage, my mind wandered to the importance of grassroots music venues like the Assembly and how they must be protected at all costs. No time to ponder anymore as the support act took to the stage.

Southeast London rapper Madz (who previously won the prestigious ‘Ones to Watch’ mantle from the MOBOs in 2017), took to the stage for his performance. He started with a strong rendition of his bouncy 2020 track Saucin’, followed by Slow Jamz and Wine, which got a decent reaction from the crowd. Madz had a touching moment addressing fans with a motivational story of how he had been in the crowd just a few years prior at an A2 gig and how far he’d come now, supporting the very act he had once bought tickets to see. 

It was a little after 9 when a toweringly tall A2 took to the purple-lit stage, and the energy in the room surged with excitement. 

“Ok, Camden. What’s fxcking good, fam?” 

The show opened with his 2013 track Blankxcanvas, an appropriately titled opener that set the tone for the night. The night was indeed a blank canvas. 

“We gonna warm up slowly and surely.” 

The audience was far from needing a warm-up; they came ready. 

When Pluto Interlude was dropped, his vocals were enough to make your heart skip. The audience sang along in soft alliance.

 “Mandem, I wanna hear you”. 

“Let’s sing this place apart”.

This is for the Soundcloud days and those who have been with me from the start. I’m never going to do these songs live again.” 

The room knew we were about to witness something special. The vibe became contagiously lean as chopped and screwed beats cut through the air like a hot knife through butter under the haze of the lights. 

Delivering a tour de force through his back catalogue, A2 bounced and swayed across the stage with a horizontal swagger. By the time he bestowed ‘Over Here’ on us, the room sang and swang to the shawty swing my way chorus. The night had an air of unknowing unpredictability. There was no way of second-guessing which tracks would drop next. At one point, A2 announced to the crowd that he was going Russian roulette, and there was no set list. There were momentary debates with his official DJ Hacko and the audience about whether or not some tunes had already been delivered. The evening felt so intimate at points that it felt as if you were just in the studio jamming with him as part of the crew. 

The room temperature soared, and the night reached a crescendo when Not Mine (Just So You know) and Trade Places dropped. Reloads ricocheted across the room and bass reverberated from the Jordans up. Looking across the room, faces gleefully recited lyrics, word for word, with fingers and drinks raised to the roof. When A2 announced that Renegade would be his last track, an air of sadness fell… The audience cried out for one more tune. Desperate wails were heard, even as a security member walked authoritatively across the stage, reminding him of the show cut-off time. A2 defiantly gave the audience what they wanted. Reinforcing that he is an artist who does what he wants on his own terms. 

A2 saved the best till last as he performed his track Gold from his debut album Blue, which – mics down – was the best close to any show I have ever had the pleasure of attending this year. The sing-along crew came out in force. Lyrics were figuratively brought to life. There was a sense that both A2 and the audience could have stayed in that moment forever. No one wanted to go home. 

A2 gave an intimately connected performance, delivering a goosebump-inducing vocal performance, set against a backdrop of lean hazy soul trap beats and old skool samples. Serving an unforgettable performance that solidified him as being more than deserving of all the accolades and much more. 

Words & photos: Chris Kelly

Chris is a freelance music journalist and feature writer with a focus on emerging and established artists, subcultures, the art world and mental health. Chris has multifaceted expertise as a media and creative specialist working with your favourite brands and helping them to embed themselves within the culture through strategic and entertaining content for brands, businesses and organisations.  

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