6th November | Fleece

Sometimes, music reviewing can be a disheartening and mechanical experience, a constrictive force on your ability to truly enjoy a gig or an album. However, there are those shows that are so involving, and welcoming, that you forget you’re there to do a job, despite still having to make notes. Jehst‘s set at The Fleece on Tuesday was one of these shows. 

Walking out of November’s recent weather of misery into an opening slot from Confucius MC on the mic and Jazz T on the decks set this warming tone. Swiftly following him was a DJ set from Pitch 92, who is currently hot property in the world of hip-hop production, having just released a solo EP on High Focus with features from the likes of Sparkz, Verb T and Jehst himself. 

Drawing near to the end of Pitch’s set, three unassuming men brandishing a bass, keys, and drumsticks respectively, walked onto the stage. It was a reminder of why I, and the rest of the crowd, was particularly excited for this show. One of the most legendary names in UK hip-hop was debuting a new set with a full live band, and Bristol was the first stop on the tour. 

Without a word of introduction, or any sign of Jehst, the musicians (including Pitch 92 and Jazz T) started busting out a jam too smooth and too confident to be the concoction of a last-minute scramble; these boys were rehearsed. Then, just as I had twigged that they were playing a rendition of the instrumental for ‘Alcoholic Author’Jehst leapt onto the stage and fired off the opening verse with all the conviction of a man who knows the weight of his own name. 

Any hip-hop-head worth their salt will tell you that live shows are where you find out if an MC can really spit, and a man with Jehst’s standing does not reach it without first proving this fact. This opening salvo was a high-definition display of his multi-syllabic mastery, and it was easy to get caught up admiring the technicality, forgetting the stunning nature of the prose itself. 

Going from old to new, the band slid into ‘Good Robot’ from 2017’s Billy Green Is Dead, and I began to admire how effortlessly the musicians had translated the abstract, scattered instrumental into a coherent live piece whilst still maintaining the off-kilter balancing act of the original. In fact, this dynamic set by the band afforded Jehst musical room to play for the whole show. Tracks like ‘Killer Instinct’ and ‘44th Floor’ were given a new, natural lease of life, like a breath of fresh musical air lifting them into a more present state. It was clear that Jehst was aware of this also, as every vowel and consonant was uttered with a knowing smile and the vigour of someone two years into their career, not two decades. 

A perfect example of this flexibility shaped by the musicians was on the collaborative classic ‘Weed’ when, during the final chorus, the band switched the beat from straight hip-hop into a reggae-infused party number, raising the crowd into a sort of surprised upsurge of energy. These moments are why I’m a big advocate for more live instrumentation in hip-hop; musicians feed MC, MC feeds crowd, crows feeds musicians, and so on. 

This energy reached its peak towards the closing of the set. Jehst had wandered off stage for a breather while Confucius MC was working up the crowd, then the drummer dropped the instantly recognisable intro to seventeen-year-old classic, ‘High Plains Anthem’ and the legendary piano melody soon followed. By the time Jehst reappeared, most people’s long-term memories had kicked in and every single syllable was being shouted right back to him from almost every mouth in the crowd.

In a world of ‘retro-fetishism’ and wistful reminiscing, it is refreshing to see an MC with as much historical clout as Jehst still striving to forge new paths for hip-hop and music in general, whilst also deftly respecting the roots the brought him to this point. Long live Jehst, and long live UK hip-hop. 

See the video to ‘Smoke Screen’ here: