Royal Festival Hall, London
In her interview for Crack Magazine’s June cover story, M.I.A. said an incentive while curating this year’s Meltdown festival was to invite young artists who’d otherwise probably not get to play at London’s taxpayer-subsidised Southbank Centre. With tonight’s line-up, she comes through on the promise.
As an MC, M.I.A.’s rapping style has never fit snugly within one genre category, and stereotype-defying hip-hop is prominent across her Meltdown programme. This gig was preceded by a double-bill of Swedish sad boy Yung Lean and Afro-Latina rapper Princess Nokia, while the afterparty will see Mykki Blanco spit ferocious freestyles and encourage the crowd to fight HIV stigma and protect queer people as well as black and trans children during the rise of global fascism.
Taking to the Royal Festival Hall’s huge stage, Tommy Genesis refuses to be intimidated by the 2,900 capacity, seated venue. The Vancouver art-rapper demands that the lights are cut, and she spends her entire set prowling the aisles and mounting the rows of the seats, constantly illuminated by a spotlight formed of multiple iPhone camera flashlights.
Having broke through in 2016 with her mega-hit Ooouuu, Brooklyn’s Young M.A is new to the international touring circuit. She’s charmingly humble about her first trip to London, describing it as a “dream come true”, although her localised banter has mixed results – she repeatedly asks the crowd who likes making “those motherfucking Euros”, but later redeems herself by asking where to get good fish and chips. “I call myself a king and a queen and I mean that shit,” Young M.A declares, and her unapologetic lyricism provides the thrills of traditional street rap braggadocio. The highlights tend to come when Young M.A’s DJ drops the beat so she can rap accappella, inspiring cheers from the crowd when her rhymes exude sexual bravado: “All of my guys want her/ I’m like ‘nah man/ That’s my bitch, don’t try shit.’” If part of M.I.A.’s mission was to reinvigorate Meltdown’s adventurous spirit, then her work here is done.