Wretch 32, Yasmin, Jodie Connor, Del

Chris Eustace 11/02/2011

Midway through Sound of 2011 nominee Wretch 32's set, the rapper gives out a salute to “Team UK”, praising the other artists on the bill tonight and toasting the chance they have to continue the success of this country's urban music scene, which now seems to have taken up permanent residence in the Top 10 after years of being the poor relation to America's big boys. This HMV Next Big Thing show paired two rising, if very different, rappers with two R'n'B singers with hits already in the bag, at a rammed Jazz Cafe.

First on, Ipswich rapper Dels is worthy of far bigger things. A pleasingly surreal flow, identifiably English without being parochial, he's like a Roots Manuva with some of the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. He's just as accessible as the other acts playing tonight, but offering something a bit more leftfield, blending indie-electro into his varied hip-hop tunes. “Shapeshifting” , touched by the hand of Hot Chip's Joe Goddard. and revelling in childhood imagination made adult, ends a fine set. His drummer also appears to be the happiest drummer of all time, a study in delighted concentration. It's a good thing Dels can rhyme with the best of them, or he may have been upstaged. A good bet for some festival tent performances this summer, go and see him before cider diminishes your ability to appreciate the wordplay.

Jodie Connor has a shaky start, coming onstage in a (faux?) fur coat and leather trousers that appear slightly incongruous in such surroundings, like seeing J.Lo in Lidl. Her nasal voice is initially drowned out by the drums, while Tinchy Stryder's guest rap rather awkwardly appears merely on tape, before a solo version of her number one with Roll Deep, “Good Times” is marred by some tragic session musician soloing. However a track that she proudly announces was made with Roc Nation sees things start to improve, and Connor hits her stride on the last few songs, and a confident version of recent single “Now Or Never” rounds things off.

Technical gremlins shorten Yasmin's set to just three songs, but she makes the most of it. “Told You So”, and “Finish Line”, made with “Pass Out” beat-maker Labirinth, are both superior to current single “On My Own”, and her impressively delivered bassy, R'n'B flavoured pop is the kind of thing Cheryl Cole's been trying and failing to do since going solo.

Wretch 32 is the latest grime rapper to make it to the top 5, and as he opens his set with the upbeat refrain of “forget about violence/I'd rather be cool” from “Be Cool”, it not only seems like he's putting a fun marker down for his set, but with a sold out venue in front of him, he appears a man delighted to have the choice. Your dad/older brother may not appreciate the “Fool's Gold”-sampling next single “Unorthodox”, though the Stone Roses will probably enjoy the royalties. Shorn of its Example guest spot this evening, it's an enjoyable, ska-tinged bop nonetheless, if a very obvious tilt at another big hit.

A couple of lighter tracks recall the laid-back US hip-hop of the mid 90's, a duet with Alex Mills falling just the right side of slushy, before we're back in LDN as the swagger and drama returns for “Taking The Long Way Home”, a tale of a night out gone wrong. Wretch's weathered look gives him the air of a sighing narrator, shaking his head as he sees the same disaster unfold again and again, and as he introduces the track he laments that the least believable thing that happens in the song is that a black cab actually stops to pick someone up.

A freestyle over “99 Problems” shows a fierce scattergun style that Wretch will hopefully utilise more on his album, before guest vocalist L bounds down the venue stairs as the Dick Dale surf guitar intro to “Traktor” fizzes out of the speakers, and pandemonium ensues. Admitting to buying the song himself from iTunes, Wretch looks taken back at the reception it receives. It's a stunning version of one of the songs of the year so far, and a fitting ending to the night. Now, as he finds himself in a similar position to Tinie Tempah last year, midway through an album but with a huge hit already, it hopefully won't lead him to water things down too much. If there's a couple more “Traktor”'s in reserve, even Tinie should be worried.