Gasp & Mog live/album review with Shadow People, Lusty, Steg G & The Freestyle Master @ Audio, Glasgow
   For many years I pondered on a question; why is it almost every country in the entire world has its notable hip-hop artists and Scotland seems totally devoid of any good hip-hop talent? Any Scottish hip-hop I did hear just sucked – the Scottish accent just doesn’t seem to translate well to rap I decided, and gave up on the whole idea. That was many years ago. How wrong I was, I just hadn’t dug deep enough below the littered topsoil…
   So you can imagine how delighted I was when fellow Hellfire journalist Andrew Sharp introduced me to Gasp last summer, specifically a song called ‘Girl Called Glasgow’. If you haven’t heard that song follow the Youtube link below immediately and prepare to be blown away! Because finally, Scotland has a voice in  hip-hop, and it comes in the form of this thin, pale, young man from Glasgow! And once you’ve scratched the surface, there’s a phantasmagoria of an underground scene, lurking just below, in the shadows…
   The song ‘Girl Called Glasgow’ weaves a tale of the love for a girl, the girl being a metaphor for the city of Glasgow, which Gasp waxes lyrical about achingly, gracefully and poetically, and the chorus is a beautiful female vocalist in an old-school ballad-style melody, which may or may not be sampled. The song is a depiction of Glasgow, for good and bad, warts n’all. With such truly poetic lines as ‘She’s insecure with a touch of fame, and she weeps a tear of memory salty with pain’, and ‘She wears the sun whenever she gets a chance, which isn’t a lot the way this weather stands, and when the rain coats her skin you might stare, I’m right there, tastes strange, soak it in, you’d be the same, slow-dance with fame, you know the name, she’s a dame but broke within’, the song also coruscates with lines that only someone with an esoteric knowledge of Glasgow’s colloquialisms and youth-culture would understand, such as references to Buckfast, butterscotch, NEDs, local slang, weekends in clinks etc.
The song has been hovering at the top of my iTunes’ most-played for the past year, and given the amount of music I absorb daily that alone is quite an accolade. It is something for Scots to be very proud of. Gasp has been around for quite some time, though you would be forgiven for thinking otherwise, as he is only just now breaking through into the public eye, but he has been around for a decade, freestylin’ at rap battles and winning more bouts than Joe Calzaghe! He even founded his own live-rap-battle project a few years ago, named Badmouth Battles.
   The album ‘Girl Called Glasgow’ comes from,  in fact, a mixtape, (of the same name) and the third one at that! But the title track has definitely become Gasp’s signature tune. Gasp’s other projects include rap groups, Southside Deluxe Roster, Toy Control and Being Emcees. Richly prolific, to say the least, alongside a strong crew, including Depths and Scatabrainz. We’ve certainly got a lot more to come as Gasp persistently tours festivals and has opened for such heavyweight hip-hop legends as Immortal Technique and Action Bronson! He is a meteor heading for Earth that is still but a slight twinkle in the lens of Gaia, but en route, and heading for us at comet-like speeds.
   I was surprised yet again – because Gasp making the Scottish voice fit into hip-hop for me, turned out not to be a one-off unique example, as I originally thought. My obsession with him led me inevitably to Mog; Mog is the flipside of Gasp, in that Gasp is quixotic, albeit in a grimy, unctuous streets-of-Glasgow sort of way and Mog is, while being no less poetic, he is for want of a better term, the more “gangsta-rap” side of the Glasgow scene. When I first checked out the video for ‘Went South’ on Youtube (and I suggest you do that also today) I was literally blown away! Here is a far more aggressive, hard-hittin’, hard-bitin’ side of the coin. Mog casts a mean figure in the video, with his scowl, and his shaved head and menacing glare and profanity. He has some serious skills as a rapper too, his flow is perfect, his rhyme scheme is flawless and his beats are powerful.
The song jerks you awake as soon as you hear it and the melody is more contagious than leprosy! The Glaswegian accent is even more prevalent in Mog’s rap, you can tell this just from the first lines ‘Fuck a penthouse but ah’ went South, whaur’ the rent mounts til’ ye’ huvtae’ up and get out, fuckin’ get down, love mah’ ned town cos’ everybody’s hellbound, we went South’ with heavy accent on the ‘South’ and the Glaswegian is prominent in many other lines too, ‘Take a mental photie o’ the blood stained grund’ below me’. The song is a masterfully flowing rhyme of various concoctions, narcotics, gang-culture and Scottish references, not many rappers pack this many syllables into one song, it’s true genius, just click on the Youtube link below if you don’t believe me! The song is littered with wonderful lines, a personal favourite of mine is ‘Baw-deep in the belly o‘ the beast’ and ‘DNA and sparked fags, gangster tags and over-populated plastic bags, mah’ people go fae’ rags to rags, shags to shags, and end up dyin’ fae’ the smack they jag, hearin’ the bell that tolls, we keep the devil in holes and never see ‘im comin’ after our souls’. It’s gritty, real, brutally-honest, direct and uncompromising. And Mog is becoming a bit of a semi-seasoned veteran on the scene himself, since his debut album The Grey Area LP in 2009 he has not stopped still for one second, spawning several more releases, he seems to be constantly in the lab putting pen to paper! And being born and raised in the notoriously hard streets of Govan it is easy to understand why Mog’s astute lyricism is so true-to-life.
   Now a lot of people seem to be surprised that I would know anything about hip-hop at all…bitch, please. I’m not just a punk rocker, I’m a certified muso, I have a vast and prodigious knowledge of all musical genres (with the exception of classical and a handful of obscure electronic sub-genres). And as for hip-hop, it’s one of my great loves. When I was fifteen, a little-known rapper named Slim Shady released the Slim Shady LP, even though at the time I narrow-mindedly listened to not much more than metal, Nirvana and a few classic rock bands, I made an exception for this album. Eminem’s first two and a half albums are brilliant! Nowadays he’s a joke, a mere half-rate popstar, a puppet on stage, but nothing can ever take away from him the greatness of his first two albums and some of his third one. Eminem, of course, led me into Dr.Dre and all that kind of scene. Today, my top favourite hip-hop/rap artists are Immortal Technique, Scroobius Pip, Abdominal, Lyrics Born, the Transplants, Sage Francis, Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, Q-Tip and Action Bronson…but I’m only just discovering this whole underground Scottish hip-hop scene that has been mushrooming in the turf beneath my feet all this time, and I suspect my ears have some delights heading their way as I start to pick the magic mushrooms out of this extensive back catalogue.
   After listening to Gasp’s albums ‘Girl Called Glasgow and ‘Trying to Find the Exit’ and Mog’s ‘The Grey Area’ and ’The Black & White’ (all his album titles have a colour theme) I can now proudly place them in my top twenty rappers, if you’d told me a few years ago that one day two Scottish rappers would grace that list I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but here we are, and indeed here we are, as after sinking a few Henry Westons and Wild Turkeys in the Pot Still (a fantastic pub if you’re a whiskey-lover) I ‘Went South’ to Audio on Midland Street to catch a hip-hop night hosted by STG Productions, featuring the hefty line-up of Lusty, Steg G, Freestyle Master, Shadow People and the main ingredients in the gourmet goulash our article, Gasp and Mog. At eight bucks a ticket I don’t even bother to get a press pass, preferring to support my local music scene by paying for a ticket, and at £8 it’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s sale of the fuckin’ century – I would pay that amount and more just to see Gasp or Mog alone! So it’s shaping up to be a good night…
…The venue is in an Arches-style building in the same area as the infamous club. It’s small, cavernous, dingy and low-key, just the way I like it and with a small turn-out, like maybe thirty/forty people, that’s even better, I love small gigs, they’re more personal. The crowd are generally Neds, hip-hops fans and a smattering of attractive females, plus a lot of personal friends of the artists I suspect. The average hair-length in the building doesn‘t even pass the ears.
Immediately upon entry I notice the unmistakeable form of Mog, stage-side, talking to Lusty, so I quickly procure a cider, ‘powder my nose’ in the toilet to get the patter flowing and introduce myself to a man who’s music I’ve been listening to religiously every day for about a year now. In person, Mog is not quite as intimidating as he comes off in his music video, he’s actually a very nice, approachable and humble guy and when I hint at this he says ‘I‘m just a big pussy cat really‘ in his thick Glaswegian brogue. I introduce myself, tell him how I’m so excited with what he and Gasp are doing for Scottish hip-hop and exchange contact details. I ask him if he’s going to play my favourite track ‘Went South’ but unfortunately he is not, stating he will be previewing new material only tonight, okay, even better then, a Hellfire exclusive! We shake hands I procure another drink and head outside for a smoke.
   Gasp is outside, I’ve met him twice before. He appeared in the crowd at Kelburn Festival when I was doing the journalism there, but I didn’t run into him until the final night of the three days, after abstaining from drugs the whole weekend to maintain a professional degree of coverage I made up for it by taking a weekend’s worth in one dose, so by the time I met Gasp that time I was seeing stripes and paisley patterns and finding it difficult to concentrate, and he seemed to be in the same boat, so whatever exchanges we had at that time I have very little compos mentis memory of, and in fact was hiding under a car no more than half an hour later, freaking out.
The second time I met him was at the Immortal Technique concert at the ABC last June, where Gasp had been a support act, and just like when I met him in the crowd at Kelburn I had taken another near-fatal combination of psychotropics, the exchange was much the same, a hazy recollection of swirls and sparkles. But this time I’m still close enough to sober to not be blacking out, so I seize the opportunity, the same however, can not be said for Gasp, he was completely wasted! Haha. But he was still standing, and speaking with clarity so I told him much the same as I had told Mog and looked forward to seeing him play again. He seems a very bright-minded and likeable guy, much like Mog – the two could easily be stereotyped as a couple of NEDs, but that would be very wrong, you just have to listen to their beautifully elegiac lyrics, or talk to them, to know that, and in fact I was very surprised and delighted to find Mog clad in a Nirvana hoodie, one of the old school retro ones, I think I even had the same one back in my teens. The conversation with Gasp is scuttled by the first act coming on stage, so we all rush back inside.
   The opening rapper is Freestyle Master, and straight away it is apparent he has excellent flowtation skills, his opening track ‘Inner City Pleasure’ is a cracker, good lyrical construction and rhyming structure, the mixmaster behind him , Steg G I believe, is shit-hot as well, and he must be really fucking hot in that body-warmer as he spins the decks like a wizard! Bountiful, bouncing, bangin’ beats, bubbling with bass and brimming with bonafide brilliance backed by badass scratching!
Freestyle’s next song has a nice spoken word intro that kicks into a catchy beat and scholarly lyrics. ‘New Reality’ is a song offering his take on Scotland’s independence ‘All we need to dae’ is stand as one’ he says, and he obviously knows his history, you could almost call him this country’s answer to Immortal Technique, though he has a way to go to achieve that particular level of success. ‘I’m not anti-English, I’m anti-evil’ he calls out to the crowd, whatever that means? My partner in crime for the night, fellow KA Radio DJ, Robert Goldie, is off dancing in the crowd, so it must be good, as he generally isn’t that impressed with contemporary hip-hop, being more of a fan of the old-school class of the eighties and early-nineties. Girls are dancing too, and everyone is having a good time. Freestyle Master obviously feels very strongly about the independence referendum as he is very loquacious on the subject. Musically, he has had the crowd jumping, so Freestyle, take a bow, you have done your job, with aplomb.
   Gasp’s on next, but to be honest, I had a premonition after meeting him outside in his inebriated state that he was gonna’ bomb. The DJ doesn’t really give him much time to get his shit together as he launches into the opening hook of ’Girl Called Glasgow’ the second Gasp’s foot is on the stage-left. Gasp stutters a little, seems to get a grasp and then spends the next ten minutes, being faltering and impressive in equal measures – as he loses track a few times but makes up for it a lot with plenty of freestyling, which after seeing him freestyle about Irn-Bru at Kelburn on a picnic bench to a handful of people, I can assure you he is somewhat of a master, hence his exceptional record in the field of the battle rap arena. So all I’m going to say is Gasp bombed, as predicted, but with good reason, as he was fucked up on god knows what and indeed informs the crowd several times that he is smashed. I go round the crowd and get a ‘Gasp’ chant going to try and pull him out of his reverie but to no avail.
I can’t hold this against Gasp, as a journalist I’ve fucked many a gig by being too wasted on whatever the medicine of the day is to cover the job in any professional sense, and that‘s when we fall back on the gonzo ideal – that’s just the way it is, you win some you lose some, Gasp strikes me as a fellow hedonist, and us hedonists like to party, and sometimes we party a little to hard and it infringes upon our professions, but so what, we deliver nine times out of ten, and they are good odds, it’s all about having fun, otherwise what? Plus, I can attest that Gasp, on a good day, is a master craftsmen on the stage and of his rap, at the Immortal Technique show Gasp fucking rocked the joint, and I will still be going out to see him live at every given opportunity. Good effort on this particular night Gasp, we’ll put it down as gonzo-rap, well, that’s always my excuse anyway, isn’t it New Hellfire Club?
   And on that note, as usual with gonzo journalism, I have many, many notes in my pad, maybe eighteen or nineteen ink-scrawled pages, but as the night wears on, and for every three pages filled, another cider is drank, my notes turn from short-hand into shit-hand, illegible, scribbled, dribble, so I’ll glean what I can from these drunken hieroglyphics and scattered memories, but this review has gone on too long anyway;
   Lusty is quite a bit older than the others, but he seems to garner a lot of respect, and I can see why, he’s brilliant! At one point he raps over a sample of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ so as one of the only discernible rockers in the place, I see this as a perfect opportunity to start a mosh pit, but this doesn’t go down well with the hip-hoppers, well, at first they’re into it, but then when I start bouncing them about they take it as a violent offence rather than a bit of playful moshing, that is supposed to be reciprocated in good humour, I try to explain the concept of moshing to them but they’re not grasping it so I slink back to the booze-soaked bar before they ‘pop a cap in my ass’! Haha.
   Mog, Kayce One and Lusty are all brilliant in their performances. Mog is confident and impeccable on the stage and his new material sounded ‘pure dead gud’ as they would say in Glasgow. Lusty was a tempered professional and commanded the mic with skill and dexterity. And Kayce One, who is in Shadow People, was also remarkable – I interview one of his fans in the crowd and I am informed he has won many freestyle rap battles which has led to him playing a whole variety of festivals including Wickerman and Eden – she sums him up in one word…‘legend’.
   There were many notables at this gig, Freestyle Master and Steg G alone have a very storied back history, but as you can see, I’ve gone on long enough, so let’s save the rest for another time…
   And the rest, as they say, is…uh…a blur. I’m heart-warmingly proud to say we now have a firm place as a country in the world of hip-hop, and even more proud to say that the whole scene has evidently been evolving for the better part of twenty years, right under our noses! And now it’s time to breakout! As it turns out, that girl called Glasgow is a city just teeming with talent, undiscovered, unsigned, relatively unknown, but on the rise, coming up from the underground, so watch this space and I hope to track Mog and Gasp down, and anybody else they want to bring, to meet up for a drink and a wee informal interview sometime in the future, so keep your eyes on Hellfire, and always get out and support your local hip-hop scene, in these days of downloading and piracy the musicians need to rely on ticket sales or die in the water, no matter how good they are or once were, so get out to a gig for fuck’s sake ya‘ lazy bam! At least once a month, what better to do on a Saturday night, sit doon the park and swig some Bucky? Moantae’.
     Swatchyiz’ in the pit!
 Originally Published on NHC Music 15th March 2014