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Photography: Chris Rathe

MC Nelson

By The River Video Premiere @ FACT 8/1/18

What does the River Mersey mean to you? To Nelson Idama, better known as the elusive South Liverpool rapper MC NELSON, it means a catalogue of things. It’s childhood memories, it’s a spiritual and cultural embodiment of the city, it’s the gateway from other worlds, a catalyst that propelled Liverpool to a global port, ascending its status from a quiet, sleepy Lancastrian town, and a constant physical reminder of both the prosperous and sordid past of the city. The river Mersey has many stories to tell, and storytelling is something that Nelson feels is a duty of his writing. “I feel as though the job of an MC is to provide new perspectives and tell untold stories,” he explains as we discuss his music the day after his successful By The River music video premiere at FACT.

On the night of the premiere, a short documentary precedes the video, detailing his influences that developed the song and the accompanying video. From his upbringing on Aigburth’s Riverbank Road, to the uncomfortable acknowledgement and guilt of the city surrounding its troubling past. Most notably, the often-forgotten slave trade that brought great affluence to the city, albeit at the devastating expense of the millions of African slaves in the 18th Century. Choosing the documentary as a medium in which to expand his storytelling allows Nelson to explore beyond the constricts of a three-minute song. “You don’t want to turn it into a history essay, which is why I decided to explore other ways to convey my message, like through the documentary.”

A large part of the documentary focusses on the dark and harrowing tale of Charles Wootton, a 24-year-old ship’s fireman from Bermuda, who fell victim to race tensions in 1919. The young seafarer was reportedly chased from his home on Upper Pitt Street to the Queens Dock where he was beaten with a rock and drowned in the Mersey. It’s important and often untold subjects like these that Nelson wants to focus on with his musical projects. “All in all, I feel like my job is to tell the story of Liverpool – the good, the bad and the ugly.”

"I feel as though the job of an MC is to provide new perspectives and tell untold stories” MC Nelson

The video itself is a sharply shot portrayal of Nelson’s literal and symbolic relationship with rivers, water and Liverpool. Shot by the local collective Leech, the video depicts Nelson through various shifting scenes that scroll through different moods: it begins warmly, a headshot suspended in vibrant waters of vivid oranges and indigo petals, then switches to him meandering in a raft in murky dismal waters, before finally morphing to him frantically seething in the cold, ominous, livid grey of the sea. These three distinct environments perhaps reflect his mixed emotions and feelings towards Liverpool and the river Mersey.

The video also mirrors the contrasting themes in the accompanying song; Nelson effortlessly spits over a cosy, jazz-laden beat, with a languid flow rippling through the verses. Midway through, the track spins away from the calm; the beat spirals into a disorientating, hysterical jazz centrifuge as Nelson repeats “time is a river”, while accompanied by the visuals of a manic sea lashing at Nelson’s barge, before quickly returning to the warmth and calm of the verse. Nelson’s lyrics in the track evoke both a gritty realness, and a colourful metaphysical imagery that relates both to nature and being.

As the video ends, Nelson gets up to perform a sharp set, packed with unreleased and never-before heard tracks. He exudes a bashful, yet confident calm in front of the audience, dispersing the gaps between his songs with a coy wit. The list of tracks performed tonight further showcase his considered style and contemplative lyricism. Nelson a much-welcomed and long-awaited catalyst that the developing Liverpool hip hop scene needs.

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