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It must be weird being Loki right now. He’s a lauded, prize-winning, best-selling author whose book, ‘Poverty Safari’ opens with the line – “People like me don’t write books”. He’s billed as ‘the Scottish rapper’, even though some of the people in his Fringe audience probably thought this was a joke. And, he’s the only person to ever appear both on Question Time and at The Classic Grand in Glasgow, defeating Edinburgh’s Oddacity in Scotland’s most one-sided rap battle.
So, it’s perhaps not surprising that ‘Poverty Safari Live’ felt like a stop on the road rather than a destination. Loki’s achievement, just in getting to this stage, is unprecedented. He’s done more than most in the Scottish hip-hop community, to put Scottish hip-hop on the map, help it reach a wider audience and break down prejudices towards the music and the people who make it. If he did nothing else, ever, he’d still have exceeded, pretty much, everyone’s expectations of what a Scottish hip-hop artist can achieve. But, let’s not kid on, there’s more to come. The big question that ‘Poverty Safari Live’ leaves you with is – what happens next?
The show is an hour-long, spoken-word/hip-hop performance that charts the journey of a young working-class man (who may or may not be based on Loki himself), as he crosses with the ‘ravine’ between people from his background and the middle-classes. It’s arguably as much, ‘Trigger Warning Live’ as it is ‘Poverty Safari Live’ – featuring a number of tracks from Loki’s most recent, full-length album – and the narrative, loosely, follows the arc of the record as much as it does the content of the book.
It’s also interesting to hear him integrate material that’s already familiar from some of his Facebook posts of recent months. There’s, maybe, a whole series of scholarly articles to be written about this use of Facebook as an engine for ongoing consultation by an author on their work-in-progress and it’s, probably, the first time I’ve seen an artist with Loki’s profile subject his work to this kind of feedback – but we’ll leave that for another day.
For the meantime, the album and EP tracks are mostly delivered in new, more or less beat-less arrangements. There seems to be a wee bit of reluctance, on Loki’s part, to give the audience the full boom-bap and this filters through to the spoken-word segments as well, some of which (as this review in The Scotsman notes) spend a little too much time, for my liking, trying to appease Fringe audience sensibilities. I’d have liked to see a Loki that gave fewer fucks and spent less time trying to win the audience over – but that’s just me.
This is, I think, one of the biggest challenges facing Loki, as this stage of his life and career comes to its next turning-point. Plenty of people have opinions about what he’s doing but none of these opinions are really worth a damn – because no-one else has ever been where Loki is now and, unless you’re in his shoes, which none of us are – no-one else has a clue how to deal with this situation and what to do next.
There are no maps for the territories he finds himself in. His peers, loosely speaking, are people like Jack Monroe and Akala – socio-cultural, multi-channel/multi-platform commentators, who’ve grown cottage-industries into populist content and have expanded local, community-based audiences into national platforms. Their success has been predicated on the extent to which the UK’s progressive/liberal establishment has been prepared to accept and promote them – and must feel like an uneasy relationship at times. What’s given, after all, can also be taken away.
As well as his regular newspaper columns in The Scotsman and The Guardian, Loki’s book is also due for re-publication by Picador, a division of Pan Macmillan – with, no doubt, a significantly bigger marketing budget and many more sales. All of which brings with it the inevitable circling of online harpies shrieking, ‘Sell-out, sell-out’. I hope Loki gives these cries the due attention and consideration they deserve, which is to say none.
So far as I’m concerned, accusing someone of ’selling out’ pre-supposes that there is an alternative – an approach that doesn’t involve ‘selling out’. There is no such alternative here, because no-one’s done what Loki’s doing before. No-one’s had to negotiate the ethical and moral labyrinth that he’s currently trying to navigate. Everyone’s opinion on whether Loki is selling out is just that, their opinion -based on speculation on what his options actually are. Nobody knows better. Nobody knows fuck-all.
Which is why, to me, ’Poverty Safari Live’ felt, like a stop on the road. A dispatch from one young man’s continuing journey towards a better understanding of how someone like him (or, ‘a character loosely-based on someone like him’) might create content, create art, and create a better understanding between classes and communities based on his own increasingly unique and divergent experience
If the show was more tentative that I’d have liked, at times, I think that’s understandable. One thing that’s always been clear about Loki is that he thinks things through. Not everyone might agree with his conclusions, but no-one can argue that they don’t come from a serious consideration and reflection on the matter at hand.
The tricky thing, now, is that Loki’s having to do his thinking and responding in public, in real-time and in a spot-light that’s only going to get brighter and brighter. It’s not easy being a trail-blazer or the first head about the parapet and, frankly, I’m not sure I’d want to be in Loki’s shoes, all of the time. But I trust him to know figure out where he’s going and I’ll be fascinated to see what he does next.
Loki’s one-man show, ’Poverty Safari Live”, is on, daily, until Sunday 26 August, at 5.00pm, at The Stand’s New Town Theatre (Venue 7). Tickets are £12.00/£10.00 (concession) and are available here. You can buy Loki’s albums, including his latest six-track EP, ‘Send For That’, from his Bandcamp page. His Orwell Prize-winning book, ’Poverty Safari’, is available from Luath Press. and most popular booksellers.