Bas is a New York-raised rapper and disciple of the Dreamville hip-hop troupe, and his fellow teammate J.I.D recently said that collectively, they are striving to go toe-to-toe with Top Dawg Entertainment, the front-running label in the genre this decade. The statement makes sense, especially considering how well the match-ups align: Dreamville head J Cole is of course pitted against Kendrick Lamar, Ari Lennox pairs with SZA as their respective groups’ R&B first lady, but if Bas were to ride alongside anyone, it would ScHoolboy Q. Both occupy the same demi-lyrical vibe-rapper space that requires a bold presence on the mic, and while Q has certainly achieved this, Bas has yet to reach that level of tenacity in my opinion. But as Q holds off on his first album since 2016, Bas has released a steady stream of soulful, velvety boom-bap, most recently being his afrobeat-brushed album Milky Way, for which he has come to Gorilla in Manchester to support.

In the snug burrow of the venue, Dreamville reserve Lute opens proceedings with beats that are rudimentary but still sets the right tone. Sticking rigidly to hip-hop’s fundamentals, he is spitting about his past life rather than the trendy present, like a hardened street poet who has seen it all. This genuine character befits his style, not feeling like an adopted persona, but exuding a streetwise confidence as straightforward as the beats backing him. Lute’s stage presence holds him back, though. Perhaps his laid-back demeanor is to a fault, refraining from using body movement to invigorate his performance.

While the DJ spins the recent hits to maintain the crowd’s exuberance, Audio Push set up to kick the gig up a gear. A duo consisting of Oktane and Price, they blew up on MySpace a decade ago with ‘Teach Me How to Jerk’, now a relic from the Soulja-Boy-mastered era of pop-rap known for its banal set dances. But their recent output shows the transformation they have undergone since their gimmick days. Bouncing off each other with unbreakable acceleration, the two fire out an amount of fluid intensity reminiscent of Migos, trading sharp flows back and forth as naturally as if they were one single being, sweeping the stage like a boom-bap hydra. However, I don’t feel as if I know Oktane and Price as much as I should over the 30 minutes they are given. Sure, they show personality and energy, but nothing deep and substantive to really hold on to. Maybe this is why Audio Push take over from Lute in the show – their strengths compliment each other, filling in the gaps of their weaknesses.

The main event stomps onto the platform; Bas is fueled with the momentum generated by the crowd and his openers, and assisted by DJ Nitrane and live keyboardist and crooner, JSTN. Bas has a very smooth, laid-back flow, but it is simply too bread-and-butter for its own good. Nothing about his sound or his style tantalises me; though I commend his maturity, it is aggravatingly mild music. Sultry keyboard interludes decorate the first half of the show, reminding me of my great wish to see D’Angelo live, and in the second half, the DJ takes over to signal a change to more bombastic beats and Afrobeat breaks.

This upped vigour set the scene for an incredible surprise, as the best guest performance falls to a member of the crowd, who is invited up top to take the place of J. Cole on the track ‘Tribe’, which he obliterates, sending all spectators into a flurry. The final two songs of the night are standout as well; ‘Vacation’, with its ebullient splash of colour, and the peace-disturbing banger that is the closing track. Despite a positive ending, my sentiment sharpens that if Dreamville were a curry restaurant serving spicy dishes of old-school rap, Bas is the bland korma that underwhelms and rarely excites, and people flock to regardless, probably because they haven’t tried much else.

Bas: Official | Facebook | Twitter