The MOBO Awards are over for another year – and the ceremony's return to Leeds may well have lived up to founder/CEO Kanya King’s prediction that it would be the “strongest” show yet.
The 22nd edition was certainly up there with the best of them, as the awards show at the First Direct Arena benefited from the rise of grime and UK hip-hop, with a line-up of big names and stars in the making. Performers Stefflon Don, Not3s and Yungen all lived up to expectations, which more than made up for the no-shows who didn’t make the journey north. With MOBO music in such rude health, there were plenty of standout moments to pick apart at the ceremony...
MOBO goes mainstream
Kanya King famously remortgaged her house to launch the MOBO Awards in 1996, but this year’s ceremony showed that was a smart move on her part. True, Craig David won big in 2000 – archive footage showed the young David in his ‘Buy British’ shirt – and guest award presenter Tulisa was a reminder that N-Dubz were once pretty massive. But after several false dawns, so-called urban music is now a major commercial force with Stormzy, Skepta and J Hus selling strongly in the past year. The MOBO Awards 2017 was a celebration of consistent success. Announcing Hus’ win for Best Song with Did You See, Naughty Boy summed it up: “I’m not going to call it urban – this is mainstream, it’s pop.”
He seems to have attended every awards ceremony in the past year but the grime star is clearly enjoying his moment. There was no buzzworthy performance like the Hyundai Mercury Prize (though he did drop in on Krept & Konan’s tune) and he ditched his usual awards show suit for a comfy sweater, but Michael Owuo still ruled at the MOBO Awards. From his arrival on the red carpet in a Rolls Royce, which prompted screaming from fans camped out in the freezing Leeds weather, to a series of succinct and well-judged speeches the South London star was a class act. Winning for Best Grime, he accepted the award from genre trailblazer Lethal Bizzle. Stormzy admitted that “grime purists would look at the Best Grime Award and think a lot of things” – a reference to his highly commercial debut, Gang Signs & Prayer. “I’m going to carry on flying the flag,” he insisted. When he won the Best Album award, he added that he “put my soul” into the record – and he credited the role of collaborator Fraser T Smith. Crucially, Stormzy also showed up, while other winners J Hus, Dave and Mist were otherwise engaged
UK labels have become increasingly adept at spotting the future stars of grime, R&B and hip-hop. This year’s MOBO Awards was testament to A&R talent as much as the ability of new artists including Stefflon Don, Not3s and Yungen, who proved they are the real deal. Performing 16 Shots, Polydor’s Stefflon Don and her troupe of dancers made a big impact in the room as well as on the Channel 5 broadcast a couple of hours later (winning Best Female will also give her a boost). “I literally just came from the toilet,” she announced as she picked up the gong. “It’s been a good year for me, it’s been massive and you guys know I’m all about women’s empowerment.” Meanwhile, Yungen (RCA/Sony) was an amiable yet formidable talent, while Not3s (Relentless/Sony) was unfeasibly confident performing as part of this line-up given that he’s still a teenager.
Shaq it up
MOBO hosts Maya Jama and Marvin Humes may have been the personification of ‘solid’ and an appearance by Richard Blackwood felt like a blast from the past, but for comedy value Michael Dapaah was an inspired addition to the line-up of guest award presenters. As well as being very good value for the media on the red carpet, his filmed skit in which he mistakenly turned up for the MOBO Awards (wearing his dad’s best jeans) at Wembley Arena went down a storm at the ceremony. “The MOBOs is at Leeds – what’s that?” he spluttered. When he appeared in the flesh, the audience was chanting his tune Man’s Not Hot (Island), from his comedy rapper alter-ego Big Shaq, as it emerged an MP slipped lyrics into her speech on this week's Budget statement. The single reached a new peak of No.6 last week and the reaction at the MOBOs suggests Dapaah could be huge in 2018. But will the comedian stick to making music or become a TV star? Time will tell…
Strength in depth
If the MOBO Awards was reliant on grime, they might have something to fear from the cyclical nature of the music industry. But that’s not the case: this year recognised everyone from Gregory Porter to Craig David and Davido (Best African Act). Ray Blk showed her R&B prowess as she sang My Hood on a stage set featuring a red post box (she delivers, was the obvious message). With on-stage pyrotechnics, UK rap duo Krept & Konan were back and better than ever. Even ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent was represented by the virtuoso piano man Tokio Myers. Hollywood star and DJ Idris Elba summed up the all-encompassing success of the MOBOs when he received his special award with a hug from Kanya King. Recalling the state of domestic urban talent when he started out 25 years ago, he said: “There was no British music that was killing the game the way it’s killing it now. We used to watch all the big award shows in America and go, ‘Wow, I hope we get a show like that’. But now we’ve got one.”