East Amsterdam’s Flevopark, the venue for this year’s Appelsap festival, is idyllic. Pathways wind round its lakes, each emerging into open spaces that are basking in the summer sun when we arrive. In the 17 years since Holland’s most popular hip-hop party started, it’s grown into a huge event, attracting stars from around the world to play alongside some of the country’s formidable home-grown talent.
That ethos is on display from the moment I get inside. Dutch trap kids Anbu have drawn an excited crowd to the main stage, where their rap theatrics are getting the afternoon audience suitably gassed. While my grasp of the language doesn’t stretch to understanding their lyrics, it’s catchy stuff.
Nearby, over at the Red Light Radio soundsystem, Radical Hifi are doing their best to match that energy with some rough-neck dancehall, but it’s early doors, the mildly disinterested teens who’ve congregated by the next-door bars are too busy getting drunk to dance just yet.
As 3pm draws closer I heard to Boiler Room’s stage, where the superbly talented Jamz Supernova is due to perform. As I arrive Evee is just finishing up a set of laidback lo-fi hip hop, and the smell of Amsterdam skunk wafts through the air. The Boiler Room team welcome Jamz for her first time on the channel, and a cheer erupts from the assembled dancers.
She doesn’t waste any time, jumping straight into a lively set, interspersing funky house classics with current rap bangers from the likes of Donaeo, J Hus (more on him later), Brixton crew 150 and grime warlord Riko Dan. There’s an undeniable energy to her selection, and the deck in front of her begins to fill up, with those who are initially stood at the side head-nodding slowly enticed onto the dancefloor.
Over at Red Light Radio, meanwhile, The Heatwave have also succeeded in getting people moving, their combination of weighty Jamaican dubs and cheeky London mic patter proving an entertaining mix.
As evening approaches, it’s back to the main stage for Young MA. Her DJ sets the tone Kendrick’s ‘M.A.A.D City’, before the she runs on for a rowdy rendition of the intro to this year’s EP Herstory. In between tracks arguably clichéd rants about mumble rap and the importance of making money are met with a muted response from the young, European crowd, but she elicits rapturous approval for her no-nonsense, impassioned speech against homophobia and sexism. And her bombastic flows, and rasping Brooklynite intonation, send everyone wild.
I emerge from the mob elated, if a bit worn out, and decide it’s best to rest and refuel before the inevitable hype of J Hus. Munching a Famous Dutch Weed Burger (clever marketing – it’s just seaweed) and chilling out by the water has me feeling fully restored, and excited to see what reaction the east London MC’s brand of melodic, dancehall-infused rap gets overseas.
It’s clouded over and there’s a light rain as I make my way back to the Noisey stage, but the atmosphere is electric. He opens with one of his catchiest tunes (and an absolute favourite of mine) ‘Playing Sports’, the title track of his 2016 EP. It immediately has the crowd chanting his lyrics back to him, and with that, he’s warmed up, launching into a medley of tracks from the Mercury Prize nominated 'Common Sense' – ‘Fisherman’, ‘Friendly’ and then ‘Did You See’, the ecstatic response to which forces the DJ to reload the track almost immediately. By now the assembled audience, a mix of Londoners and locals dancing under a haze of smoke, are eating out the palm of his hand. He leads a singalong to his album’s title track, ‘Common Sense’ and then rounds off his set with one of its most forceful numbers, ‘Clartin’, resulting in a mosh pit that spreads through the crowd, by now energised and completely immune to the falling rain.
J Hus’ infectious enthusiasm is a hard act to follow, but Amy Becker (whose set time has been brought forward) drops a rig-rattling selection of tracks – from the likes of Smokepurrp, Mala, Tay-K and Juicy J – that’s sufficient to hold the crowd’s interest. Hip-hop and electro-funk elder Egyptian Lover, meanwhile, has gathered a large group of revellers over at Red Light Radio, dancing away the drizzle as the festival gears up for its headline sets.
The biggest of these, of course, is New Orleans prodigy Lil Wayne, and it appears the Louisiana rapper has arrived. A bulky Chevrolet jeep makes slow progress towards the backstage area, an entourage of followers in its wake, keen to catch a glimpse of the revered rapper. They peer through tinted windows and lay hands on the truck as if he were royalty. Here, he is.
Lil Wayne is a rapper with a keen sense for stage performance, and a back catalogue of Tha Carter-era hooks that are irresistible in the live arena. ‘6 Foot 7 Foot’, in particular, produces a big reaction from the assembled masses. Given the strength of the London rap scene at the moment though, it feels amiss not to catch at least some of Dave’s slot, while Brixton Hill drillers 67 – who struggle to get bookings in the UK due to police interference – are a must.
When Wayne draws for what is probably his most saccharine hit, ‘Lollipop’, I decide it’s time to be patriotic, and get myself back to the Noisey stage. With most people having opted for the main headliner, the crowd is understandably modest in size, and this adds an extra intimacy to his performance. Dave uses that to his advantage masterfully, stopping regularly to interact with the attendant fans.
My loyalty is rewarded further when he brings J Hus back out for ‘Samantha’, and then asks the audience if they like grime. The response is loud and in the affirmative. Everyone goes mad for ‘Thiago Silver’, and Dave spits both his and AJ Tracey’s verses. The set ends on a lively performance of ‘Tequila’, and he leaves the stage with the crowd in high spirits.
The anticipation for the elusive 67 is palpable at this point, and though we’re kept waiting about 20 minutes, the DJ keeps everyone happy with a mix of some of the biggest grime and rap tracks of the last few years. Dizzee’s latest single, ‘What You Gonna Do’, and Giggs’ ‘Whippin Excursion’ serve as excellent appetisers for the main event.
When 67 finally assemble, the audience is fully amped up. A boisterous rendition of ‘Take It There’ only encourages this fervour more, and by the time ‘Wap’ drops arms are flying and people are being thrown left right and centre. While they’ve got an arsenal of powerful hooks, all of which are familiar to the crowd, there’s one lyric, from their version of Mura Masa’s ‘All Around The World’ that resonates especially tonight. Judging by the crowd’s love for the group, frontman LD knows the score.
“Amsterdam, that’s my second home, they ain’t treating man like no tourist.”
I agree – bring on next year.
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Words: Alex McFadyen