Written by Adam Leivers (@SniperInTheMist)
Critical Beatdown (Special Edition) | DOWNLOAD
On what was arguably the hottest day of the year in Yorkshire, a group that released what was considered the hottest album in hip-hop 25 years ago emerged on stage in the small Leeds venue to celebrate the enduring spirit of their magnum opus.
It has become ‘en vogue’ for artists of the golden era to tour the world and gain a second wind as an artist through the re-introduction of their respective classic albums, and depending on what type of hip-hop fan you were, the Ultramagnetics have an album in their arsenal that arguably can be considered THE golden album of that so-loved era in the late 80s.
‘Critical Beatdown’ is oft-cited as a milestone in production techniques and a precursor to the modern use of sampling and breaks. The groundbreaking aspect of the LP that hits you hard in the face from the off is the immediacy of the loops and drum patterns, with the chopping up of horns and space age sounds constantly exciting throughout.
With its reputation in mind, it would be easy to expect a certain clientele for this tour, however the crowd was surprisingly well mixed in age. A lot of gigs of this nature are often filled with middle-aged folk hanging on to their once extreme b-boy lifestyle before the kids and the mortgage forced them to put the shellsuit back in the cupboard, but the UMCs have gained so much acclaim with this album over time that it has managed to gain a new audience with each passing year.
After an energetic opening the group put on neon flashing shades and sparkly headwraps, indicative of the endearing weirdness that made Kool Keith and the rest of the group so different and exciting in the first place. Speaking of Poppa Large, he was given his own entrance slightly later in the night, primarily because of his ridiculous persona but also because he’s the only member to really achieve and modicum of success post-UMCs. His charisma certainly stood out and was rightly given center stage. Ced Gee and TR Love held their own on the mic, but they were more than happy to allow their group’s wildcard to take precedence.
The performance was high energy from start to finish (impressively so for such a veteran group) and the crowd paid this back in kind despite the room acting as an oven cooking us over a slow blaze. I think I resembled a burnt minted kebab by the end of the set due to my green garbs and pungent aroma. It was a great sight to see these men genuinely enjoying the opportunity to show why they still matter.
One thing did puzzle me as an onlooker however…The gig was initially billed as a 25th anniversary celebration of Critical Beatdown, and although this did make up a large segment of the show, the set comprised of roughly half of that album’s tracklist, with the rest of the night dedicated to a few contemporary cuts, a Dr. Octagon solo courtesy of Kool Keith and some choice songs from their less-revered albums.
All in all it was a success due to the party atmosphere, and even though the performance never quite matched the incredible experience of hearing the LP for the first time, it certainly celebrated the album’s birthday in style and gave fans a much appreciated opportunity to pay respect to one of the most influential groups in hip-hop’s long and colourful history.
Look out for the HHKMag interview with Ultramagnetic MC’s coming soon.