High Focus Showcase ft: Fliptrix, Verb T, Leaf Dog & BVA, Jam Baxter @ Wardrobe, Leeds 06.10.14

The hugely influential High Focus label hosts a stunning evening of big-hitting UK hip-hop

Oct 20th, 2014 at The Wardrobe, Leeds / By Sam Bennett
High Focus Showcase ft: Fliptrix, Verb T, Leaf Dog & BVA, Jam Baxter @ Wardrobe, Leeds 06.10.14 I arrived at The Wardrobe just as Defenders of Style started their set, and the Leeds based crew were truly fitting for the vibe tonight. Their gritty, almost haunting boom bap beats, produced mainly by Jack Danz sounded dusty and clear, and Jack himself was joined by Joe Snow to run through their authentic UK hip hop laced with technical flows. Joe Snow & Jack Danz are only half of the full line-up, but Jack Danz's heavy punchlines and intricate flows, and Joe Snow's unique style definitely set the tone for what is about to follow.

Jam Baxter is the first to step up from the HF roster. Instantaneously his precise, double time flow resounds through the room. His energetic performance is perfect to begin High Focus' long list of performers on the bill; Baxter is consistently active on stage. After a couple of heavy solo cuts he launches into a collection of tracks from the excellent Dead Players album. He eases into the quick delivery on 'Ever' without hesitation, and the double time flow is delivered flawlessly alongside the anthemic horns of 'Winning'. Following a sick performance of 'Yeah', Baxter momentarily drops the mic, stating that “the booze is kicking in”, and he uses the entire stage, directing his bars to the crowd; the set is definitely a heavy opener, and the vibes are strong around the room.

BVA sporadically ventured onto the stage towards the end of Baxter's set, and, joined by Leaf Dog, he was the next on the bill. The hard hitting 'Walk With Me' thumps around the venue, before tearing up the heavy 'Stoned, Broke & Single'. BVA's unique, slightly old school sounding flow is always effective on a track. The soulful samples, and the excellent switch ups in the beats are in abundance tonight, as the duo run through a selection of dope hip hop, including 'Some People Say', 'Hide Those Eyes', 'This Is Love' and many more. A highlight for me was definitely Leaf Dog's 'All Alone'. The beat is one of my all time favourites, and to hear Leaf Dog say that it was the first beat he ever produced definitely shows his beatmaking skill. BVA and Leaf Dog are joined by Jack Jetson for the end of their set, and his performance of 'Wonderberry' shows that RLD are definitely a strong label in their own right!

Next to take to the stage is Verb T. He's long been one of the dopest rappers in the scene, constantly putting out consistent albums that are heavy from start to finish. The real hip-hop heads stay in the building to see him give a professional run through of a selection of jazzy, insightful, relatable and authentic tracks. His lyricism and prowess on the mic is definitely appreciated by the crowd tonight and it's sick to see someone with proven longevity and a truly solid discography still killing it on stage.

Following Verbs is Fliptrix (pictured). He opens with 'Jeheeze' from his newest album, 'Polyhymnia'. Tonight is part of the album launch tour, and the anthemic opener is also the opener on the album. This is followed by 'Here Today, Gone Tomorrow', and the jazzy keys coupled with the High Focus owner's ferocious flow is another example of his hard hitting, intelligent hip hop. Verb T holds down the hypeman role smoothly and professionally, and the new albums only producer, Molotov is behind the decks tonight.

The crunching snares and spacey samples of 'Highway Traveller' back Flippers' decisive stage presence, and his intellectual content and ferocious, raw flow makes him excellent to watch. He shows his versatility on the title track of the new album, demonstrating his grimier flow, and it's as consistent and effective live as it is on record. The relentless 'Vultures' follows, and this track is aimed at the mainstream industry, and it is delivered emphatically, with the message translating well; Fliptrix's rawer tracks instantly amp the crowd up. Verb T delivers a down to earth, witty and relatable performance of 'Where You Find Me', followed by Fliptrix's incredible 'You'll Never Change' from his 'Theory Of Rhyme' album.

The depth of his discography is something to be admired; his ability to rock traditional hip hop bangers, then switch to a double time flow with no hesitation and complete precision becomes increasingly apparent. This progresses into a stormer of a grime session, with Flips and Verb T both holding down heavy verses. 'Wylin Out' is performed and delivered in a characteristically hyped manner, before Fliptrix closes on 'The High Way' and 'Burning Vapour'.

The High Focus spitters aren't finished yet though, Fliptrix and Verb T are joined by Leaf Dog and BVA for a cypher, and they run through a collection of Four Owls tracks, with Jam Baxter, still clutching a Fosters bottle smashes his verse on 'Life In The Balance'. Each MC delivers their verse passionately on 'All My Life', and the sheer talent on the High Focus roster makes it an unquestionable powerhouse, and this is apparent on a resounding performance of 'Not Like Before'.

Every time I've been to a High Focus show it's been lively, consistent and shows that there is truly great hip hop being made in the UK, and tonight's performance is no different.

Photos by Seren Heyward Jones