REVIEW: UK Hip Hop Collective The Mouse Outfit Impress at London’s Islington Assembly Hall

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Stumbling upon new hip hop acts is what we live for at Highlight Nation. While a fair bit of that is done in front of a computer screen, we make it our mission to get out and about and connect with people directly.

On Friday 12th May, an opportunity presented itself which I couldn’t turn down: a chance to see a UK hip hop collective I’d previously never heard of before, but come to love in a matter of minutes.

Originally from Manchester,  The Mouse Outfit epitomise that early “boom bap” sound which made rap such a pleasure to listen to in the ’90s. By boom bap, I mean jazz-soaked, snare heavy beats and conscious lyrics, of the like which A.T.C.Q. and The Digable Planets were famous for. T.M.O., as I came to discover, combine that with live instrumentation to create an authentic, on-the-spot feel to their music.

The Islington Assembly Hall provided the setting for what was to prove a high-energy gig. One hot dog, a couple of beers and a G&T later, it was time for action.

Included on the night were the hugely melodic songs songs, Blaze It Up and Escape Musicboth of which can be found on T.M.O.’s debut album. If you haven’t already given it listen, do so ASAP. No Wonder, from their second album, Step Steadier, also made an appearance.

Dr. Syntax, one of the band’s frontmen, is a staple in the UK hip hop scene, and couldn’t have looked more comfortable on stage: leaning back slightly, as he was, in a loose fitting white T-shirt. Rap fans may recognise his name from the work he’s done with Foreign Beggars and Stig of the Dump.

Next to him was Sparkz – another T.M.O. emcee – and one with a razor sharp tongue. His Manchester accent makes for unique listening, and his energetic, multi-syllabic rhyming leaves many other rappers for dead. Little to my knowledge, however, one of T.M.O.’s key members, Truthos Mufasa, was missing on the night, presumably off doing his own thing. Not that I took much notice.

Indeed, one of the main things which makes T.M.O. so great is the degree to which they’ve changed and developed over the years. What started with a keyboardist/producer (Chini) and bassist (Defty) in 2008, has since blossomed into a nine piece live band, incorporating a saxophonist, guitarist and various other such musicians.

The story of how the band formed can be traced back to a weekly jam night in Manchester called, In The Loop. For Chini and Defty, already partners at this point, the event served as fertile ground for attracting local talent. In time, a drummer called Deese would join the band, along with beatmaker, Ian Garland. Remarkably, as well respected as they’ve become, the band remain independent, with Chini and Defty retaining creative control over everything from tours to merchandise.

Now, I won’t pretend to be a T.M.O. expert, but, going off their first album and live performing, I’d say their music sits somewhere between Pete Rock and the Cella Dwellas: jazzy, yet, at the same time, hard-hitting and mystical sounding.

By the time Who Gwan Test came on, the crowd were well and truly hyped. Contrary to some of the downtempo tracks on Escape Music, this one is, without question, a party banger. Just the horns alone make you want to get up and dance.

What I liked most about the gig was how expletive-free it was. Not to sound like a bible-basher or anything, but it’s practically impossible to watch a live hip hop show without hearing at least half a dozen swear words. Sparkz and Syntax, however, were able to charm the crowd tastefully, refraining from the usual hype lines like “fuck yeah” and “do that shit”.

Keeping things current, T.M.O. concluded the night with a cautionary plea for all attendees to cast their vote in the upcoming General Election on June 8th.  If hip hop’s shown any sign of being less socially or politically aware in recent years, then that certainly wasn’t visible on Friday.

Overall, a great performance from the newest addition to my music collection.

Follow T.M.O. on Twitter now.


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