Yesterday (January 27) Nas, DMX, The Lox & Gang Starr confirmed they will be playing three very special UK arena dates together in April 2020. All shows will be hosted and presented by Just Blaze.
The stellar line-up is part of SJM’s Gods Of Rap franchise, which celebrated its launch last year with performances from Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy and De La Soul.
Gods Of Rap II will start at Manchester Arena on Thursday April 23, followed by a return to London – this time at The O2 Arena – on Friday April 24 and a final date at Birmingham Arena on Saturday April 25.
Here SJM Concerts promoter Chris Wareing gives us the inside story of how the huge tour came together…
So, Nas, DMX, The Lox, Gang Starr and Just Blaze – that is surely one of the greatest hip-hop line-ups to ever grace the UK?
Chris Wareing: “Thanks, and yes, I would say so. I am going to be at these shows first and foremost as a fan and secondly as the promoter. London falls on my birthday, too, so that’s an added bonus! I look at some of these type-of tours that I work on, and the first questions are: Would I go to that? Would my mates go to that? Who’s going to go to that? Then, I get into the actual nuts and bolts of it and see whether it’s viable. I think in this case, it’s one of those unmissable moments. Whether you’re deep into rap or a casual observer, it’s safe to say, this isn’t a tour to be missed.”
You told us that assembling the inaugural 2019 Gods Of Rap line-up made Brexit look easy… How hard was it to pull off this year?
“Every tour presents its own issues in its own way but – touch wood – we were pretty problem free throughout, in all honesty. The build of the tour was very thorough, and everyone had a lot of clarity from the outset, which was important for me, but of course incredibly time consuming. Ultimately, it was amazing to see some of these legendary figures in rap music back on stage together. On the first night at Wembley, I was standing there watching Chuck D embrace RZA, whilst Preemo took pics of it – it was like being in a school playground. I had to take a moment and think, ‘Wow, the tour I have put together has made these three legends meet for the first time in a long time and they’re all about to play to a sold-out Wembley Arena.’ As a rap fan, it’s incredible to see; as the promoter, it’s very humbling to be part of. After the success of GOR I, I had to sit and think how I could turn it up a notch, which I think I have done. We have, once again, some incredible art and video assets for announcement thanks to Dom Foster and Mark Abbott at SJM. It’s very important to work with people who understand what you’re trying to achieve. When I leave eight minute voice notes at midnight trying to explain how I want something to look or feel and it turns up the next morning exactly how I wanted it, that’s how you know you have the right people on the team.”
What can we expect from Nas' headlining set?
“I’ve seen Nas play many times over the years and promoted a fair few of them myself. We did The O2 back in 2013 on the Life Is Good Tour with 2Chainz as support, which was a real moment. I saw him last summer at The Barclays Center in Brooklyn on a co-headline with Mary J Blige which was incredible, too. I listen to Nas every day and say to my kids, ‘The World Is Yours’, so it’s safe to say he’s up there for me as one of, if not the greatest of all time. I think we can expect a fantastic production, all the hits from an unbelievable back catalogue and lyrics spat with a unique delivery and intimate precision. He’s quite underplayed in the UK too considering his reputation here, so when he does play everyone comes out for it.”
It’s been a long, long time since DMX played the UK – do you sense there’s a huge desire for people over here to see him again?
“I have a very close circle of ‘ears’ who are friends I trust with new music, details on tours I am working on, and I sense check things with them and take their impartial advice on board. When I mentioned this tour, the excitement about DMX was unprecedented. People barking down the phone, playing Party Up down the phone and YouTubing the legendary concert at Woodstock 99 and screen grabbing crowd shots to send to me. I also saw him play recently in Brooklyn and the energy when he came on the stage was immense. Everyone was up from their seats, people in queues for the bar came running back into the arena – it was crazy. He performed a sermon at the end of his set which only DMX could do. DMX playing these shows is going to be very special indeed. It took a lot to make this happen, and I know when he walks on that stage and the opening notes Ruff Ryders' Anthem play, the venues will get turned upside down. His last time here was 2004 and he’s had an interesting few years since then. I can’t wait to see the show. There’s no-one else like DMX.”
With The Lox and DMX in the building we can expect the unexpected, who knows what will happen...
Chris Wareing, SJM
And how long has it been since The Lox played in the UK together?
“I believe The Lox were in the UK in 2015. I wasn’t there, sadly, but I will be catching the show at Radio City Music Hall in NY on Friday, which I am looking forward to immensely. Jadakiss, Styles and Sheek are arguably some of the most consistent lyricists of the late ‘90s era and have been able to carry the torch from other greats in to the ‘00s and onwards. The Lox back catalogue is phenomenal, and they really capture that gritty East Coat rap sound which fits on this bill well. So well, in fact, I gave the tour a name this time; Gods Of Rap II: NY State Of Mind. Also, I think with The Lox and DMX in the building we can expect the unexpected. Who knows what will happen…”
DJ Premier told Music Week late last year about his plans to tour Gang Starr using video footage of Guru – what do you think we can expect?
“They are going to attack this show with a full live band. I don’t want to spoil the surprise of what Preemo has planned, but it’s is going to be incredible. A never before seen show with full homage paid to the legendary Guru, and Gang Starr, as they have never been seen before. Expect raw, uncut and unseen Guru material. Should we expect some guest MCs too? Probably…”
What did you learn from Gods Of Rap 1 about the demand for old(ish) school rap being played live on the UK’s biggest stages?
“I wouldn’t do anything different. From start to finish it was incredible and I feel lucky that I have the resources to give artists a chance to play the arenas that some never did, and that they should be playing. And creating a real moment in doing so. Strangely, the Gods Of Rap brand felt trusted from the off from. Although, I think when the line-up got announced people thought it would never happen. But, the next day Preemo was on 6 Music doing a guest mix. RZA and the fellas were on talking about it, too, a day later. Chuck D was out doing press, as was De La Soul. When all that is happening simultaneously, people start to believe. I give major respect to Tab Owen from SJM for putting all of that together. That couldn’t have been easy! I developed a Gods Of Rap merchandise range with my mate Bobby at Global Merch. Doors had been open for 30 mins in London on the first night and there were hundreds of people walking around in GOR t-shirts and caps. I literally couldn’t believe how people had bought into the brand at such an early stage. I felt them wearing the merch was almost a sign of appreciation and marking a moment and I sincerely hope those fans come out and continue to support the brand and what it’s about on GOR II.
The incremental benefit of playing Gods Of Rap is huge, so there is a bit of a waiting list of incredible artists wanting to play. They're not just looking at the fee, they’re also looking at what happens off stage...
Chris Wareing, SJM
Ultimately, with me toeing the line of fan and promoter simultaneously, I feel the obligation to make sure whatever I do with the brand is justifiable and correct in all aspects, from incredible production to great merchandise and everything in between. On GOR I, I said I was going to deliver four legendary artists on the same bill, and I did and I feel the fans respected that. As did the artists. They were treated with the respect and the dignity they deserve, the production was fantastic, and I feel people got real value for money with what they spent on tickets. I want to build on that trust people have placed into the brand into GOR II and III and upwards and continue to deliver shows unlike any other in the UK. I’ve seen a few GOR replica tours trying to happen of late, but they’re done by people who don’t have the knowledge and passion for the music, so they don’t pack the same punch. Someone text me a tour that had been recently announced and called it ‘Gods Of Crap’. I forgot to copyright that one…”
So, Gods Of Rap III... have you booked anyone for it yet? Do you see this being an annual event for a long time to come?
“The incremental benefit to artists playing GOR is huge, so there is a bit of a waiting list of incredible artists wanting to play. Artists are not just looking at the fee, they’re also looking at what happens off stage as a direct benefit of being on GOR. Inside the industry, there was a huge amount of press and interest surrounding the tour, it felt like there was a real excitement, but almost like people were waiting for it to fuck up because it was almost impossible to pull off. Fans started to stream and buy music from the artists that were playing from announcement all the way through to the shows and after. There was a lot of interest from wider industry in the artists whether that be fashion or other media. A Clarks Wu-Tang Wallabee shoe was released soon after the tour. We, of course, built the tour out from three UK shows to 11 shows around Europe with the large arenas in Amsterdam and Paris selling out, and Berlin which was an outdoor show kept opening up tickets and expanding the site because the demand was there. Artists cleaned up on their own merchandise sales. Boxes and boxes were having to be replenished at each show as the demand was unprecedented. This laid a solid foundation for me to build on. I firmly believe the thirst isn’t for nostalgia, the thirst is for homage. I honestly don’t think people want to turn back the clock and think where they were and what they were doing at a certain time of their life when a song was released. They want to go to a show with other like-minded people and enjoy the music they love… And probably without having to get their Timbs muddy in a field. In terms of GOR development, I want to continue to lay some solid foundations, continue to build the element of trust in the brand and then build upwards from there. There is scope to off shoot a couple of tours if the talent presents itself. Gods Of RnB, Queens/Kings of… as long as it’s extremely credible and doesn’t dilute the look of an artist, it’s worth exploring. GOR III is coming, GOR IV is underway and I’ve had interest in some special future plans.”
Subscribers can read DJ Premier’s 2019 Music Week interview about the return of Gangstarr here.