London’s Greenwich Peninsula was invigorated with a different type of energy as thousands of fans – mostly teenagers – descended on the O2 and it’s sprawling complex on a warm summer’s day for the hotly anticipated BBK Takeover.
A testament to how far British urban music has come over the years, Boy Better Know pulled in a lineup boasting some of the best names in grime, rap, garage, R&B and afropop. Since the emergence of grime in the Noughties, the genre has grown into one of the UK’s proudest exports, with interest boosted in recent times by the success of BBK co-founder and Mercury Prize winner, Skepta.
Fans will tell you that grime is more than music: it’s a culture, and this is evident in the offering of activities. As you approach the Quadarant (the area located outside the main building) you’re hit with the mouth-watering concoction of aromas emanating from the street food stalls, one of which is a good old jerk chicken stand. Just across the way is Nike’s custom SB skate park where budding riders flex their skills or take up free lessons with some of Nike SB’s top talent. There’s also the Nike 5-a-side football pitch where Boy Better Know challenged YouTubers, the Sidemen FC to a glorious game of footie.
The not-so-sporty types weren’t left out either. Nearby, Radar Radio keep the lively crowd pumped with their outdoor stage featuring the freshest names on the scene including Big Zuu, 67, P Montana, Mornings Unfiltered and Snoochie Shy alongside legends like Logan Sama and Flow Dan. Back inside, you can be one of the first to play Call of Duty: WWII in the Gaming Lounge (thanks to CLASH & Activision teaming up for a very special contest) or you can relive your childhood – which wasn’t so long ago for most of the revellers – at the funky Tropical Roller Disco where iconic garage DJ, Todd Edwards is spinning the tunes.
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Heading deeper into the O2, crowds swarm around the Indigo (the smaller sister venue that holds 2,750) as revelers break off into queues snaking around the building to get inside and soak up the performances at The Den. Not dissimilar in format to the regular exclusive music night founded by BBK’s Frisco and hosted by Rinse FM’s SK Vibemaker, the only difference is the sheer number of people in the room. It’s heaving. East London emcee and fan favourite, Ghetts jumps on stage with Rude Kid to deliver an impressive, vibrant set (with tracks like ‘You Dun Know Already’, ‘Don’t Phone Me’ and ‘Artillery’) in his usual high-octane style. Also making an appearance were CASisDEAD, Ms Banks, Suspect and Donae’o who got the crowd moving with his anthem ‘Lock Doh’.
As the evening approaches, it’s time to head to sold-out finale show at the 20,000-capacity arena. Tim Westwood helps keep the fans gassed in between acts with the latest hip hop bangers. Deviating briefly from the grimey music policy, ‘Finders Keepers’ singer Mabel is charming, poised and mesmerizing but considering the rest of the acts of the bill it seems a little out of place. Back to grime and Chip knows what the fans want. Moving across the full expanse of the stage, Chip delivers tunes including ‘Snap Snap’ and the Ghetts-assisted ‘Gets Like That’ from ‘League Of My Own II’.
Chip and Ghetts’ boisterous nature is hard to follow, but upcoming Parisian rapper MHD, who’s distinctive French afro trap series has gained him millions of hits on YouTube, gave a great performance despite the glaring language barrier.
J Hus was the last support act of night following A$AP Rocky and Nars’ last-minute withdrawal from the show. Impressing fans with his en vogue fusion of afro-grime, his voice billowed over the sea of bodies in the standing section as he dropped anthems like ‘Fisherman’, ‘Clartin’, ‘Did You See’ and ‘Plottin’. At the end of the set his hype man thanks the crowd and reveals that this is J Hus’ first official London show (apart from jumping on stage at the CLASH Spring Party at KAMIO performing 'Did You See?' for the first time ever in London) a fact that seems surprising until you realise he’s been blighted by the same troubles that Giggs and 67 have encountered with putting on live shows due to police interference.
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When Boy Better Know finally emerge, the audience is euphoric. This is the collective’s first headline show at the O2. Skepta and JME lead the pack. The track selection provides the right mix of songs to get the moshers moshing and the sing-a-long crew joining in. Jammer hits us with a classic anthem ‘Murkle Man’ minus his signature stage dive (if you frequent Eskimo Dance, then you know). The infamously elusive Wiley runs on to give a spirited rendition of ‘Speaker Box’ and ‘Can’t Go Wrong’. The quick pace, buzzing atmosphere and artistic on-stage visuals add to the heightened energy.
Skepta appears almost God-like in the midst of the action, what a fashion icon he’s become: decked out in a white tee, baggy trousers and bespectacled in tinted round rim glasses. He fires off ‘Man’, ‘That’s Not Me’ and ‘Shutdown’ some of the best cuts off ‘Konnichiwa’, hitting a sweet spot with ‘Hypocrisy’ and ‘I Win’ as Lethal Bizzle joins him on stage. Given the strength of the performances so far it’s hard to see how the night could get any better. Thinking about it, JME probably uses this to his advantage as Giggs comes out for ‘Man Don’t Care’ as the crowd peak to a new level of ecstasy. JME disappears leaving Giggs under the spotlight and as the intro for ‘KMT’ crescendos, fans know exactly what time it is – Giggs brings out Drake – the excitement in the arena is palpable: gun-fingers are flying, the screams are piercing and fans are begging for a reload.
BBK Takeover marks a turning point, a triumph for grime. Rooted in anti-establishment of the music industry and societal norms, and shunned by music venues, the irony lies in it’s growing acceptance by the mainstream. However you slice it, what was essentially a grime festival shut down London city for a day.
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Words: Nonny Orakwue
All photos taken backstage at O2 Arena by Almass Badat as part of The Den's event.
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