Chali 2na has been a mainstay of the alternative hip-hop scene for some 25 years. His work with Jurassic 5 speaks for itself, for many and the “verbal Herman Munster” has cultivated a much deserved, loyal following around the world. This is no accident: he has earned his place among the best-kept secrets in hip-hop with decades of hard work, indelible skill and his infectious “friendly neighbourhood baritone” vibe.
Following a successful solo run, the hip-hop veteran has recently teamed up with Krafy Kuts: a self-made turntable virtuoso hailing from Brighton. They first worked together on the second Jurassic 5 LP Quality Control at the start of the millennium, before collaborating alongside Drum and Bass legend Dynamite MC to produce It Ain’t My Fault, the second single from the forthcoming album All 4 Corners.
In Glasgow’s O2 ABC, the atmosphere is a little subdued as local funksters Shaka Loves You play a crisp opening set; the surprisingly intimate crowd of 100 or so settling into the smaller of venue’s two auditoriums. Punters litter the raised seating area at the back of the room, while others get in a warm-up boogie front and centre.
But the dance floor becomes packed out with an intimate buzz of excitement as the main set drew closer. Instantly, the room’s 100 hip-hop heads created an atmosphere to rival a crowd of thousands; much like Jurassic 5’s usual pull at festivals like Glastonbury and Bestival.
From the off, it’s clear that in the era of the mumble rap, the old school finds a stronghold in the towering form of 2na. Working the classic Disc Jockey/MC format, the enigmatic pair take to the stage, Kuts humbly taking to his pulpit and 2na, bursting with energy, immediately igniting the crowd. Their chemistry brings to mind images of block parties, sound systems and a time before the dissolution of hip-hop’s four elements.
Krafty Kuts’ decades of experience and copious award wins are clear in his flawless technique and effortless set construction. The performance is a master class in traditional turntablism, with seamless breaks and an array of scratches and cuts that are only achieved with the hands of a true professional.
Meanwhile, 2na has proven himself as a more than capable solo MC without the support of his J5 bandmates, with whom the smooth combination of multiple voices on the same wavelength is a major asset. His energy and vocal skill maintain a feverish excitement from start to finish, offering a nimble performance of wall to wall vocal acrobatics that required stamina and finesse in equal measure.
The consistency he exhibits is a dream for many MCs; something that a number of established performers have themselves not achieved. This is made more impressive by the fact that there was little reliance on recorded verses from other MCs. Aside from the MC Dynamite feature on their recent single, 2na prefers to simply spit his own bars on selected Jurassic 5 numbers and other tracks, allowing the turntable capabilities of Kuts to create relief and variety in a set that otherwise might have fallen victim to monotony.
The selection of songs helps keep the performance fresh. It’s a surprise to see Comin Thru – the flagship single from 2009’s Fish Outta Water – played early in the set to a clamorous reception. We were reminded of the sheer number of classics that the two men have had a hand in producing over their careers.
Aside from the illustrious back catalogue created over decades of hard work, including “What’s Golden” and, one of the chief highlights, a bouncing rendition of “Jayou”, the two offer remixes of a wide range of historical beats ranging from Tupac to Bob Marley. The closing stretch even features a Drum and Bass joint, which is something that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from Chali 2na; yet another testimony to his versatility.
Following the show, the duo hang around to take photos and talk to every fan that remained. After they clear, we head backstage for a laid back chat with the 2na fish himself.
“Go ahead, pick my brain!” he says, sinking into dog-eared sofa in the venue’s dingy back room. He crafts a blunt and we just talk about hip-hop.
We ask him his opinion on young artists like Danny Brown, who he praised for his innovation, but seems somewhat unconvinced by his Avant-Garde sound. He speaks with reverence of the independent endeavour of Chance the Rapper and the creative work of Peanut Butter Wolf of Stones Throw. In the early years of J5, he says, they too were taken advantage of in a way that’s an infamous reality of the today’s record industry.
The conversation moved on to 2na’s own history: how he managed to stay close to the vibe of old school hip-hop with a large group, turntablism and bars that focus on the joy of language as well as experience. This is, to a certain degree, against the grain of the development of the genre that we’ve seen the early 90s when a shift towards hedonism and violent expression came through.
The sage advice that became the major focus of our chat with 2na was that emphasis on authenticity. He has enjoyed the success he has because he has always worked, alongside many collaborators and across many genres, from a frame of reference that is authentic to him, stemming from nothing but a genuine love for language and music.