UK rap’s greatest enigma Casisdead celebrates the long-awaited release of his debut album, Famous Last Words, with a special gig at Koko.
Purple and blue strobe lights dash across expectant faces, the crowd gazing up at a projected image of part of the North Circular. Grey and drizzly, its signs point toward Tottenham, Enfield, and ‘All Hallows’ (a reference to CASisDEAD’s cult 2013 track).
It’s not the most glamorous of scenes, but it’s the perfect backdrop for a live celebration of a pivotal moment in recent UK rap history: the long-awaited release of CASisDEAD’s debut album ‘Famous Last Words’.
The North London rapper is a strange, enigmatic character. Having made a name as MC Castro Saint back in the day, he re-emerged in 2012 after an unexplained five-year absence, and ever since he’s been crafting an intriguing masked persona.
His identity hinges on a truly unique sound – produced in part by Stranger Things composer Kyle Dixon – that centres around retro synths, booming ‘80s drums, and sharp, witty storytelling, typified by his biggest song to date, 2018 hit ‘Pat Earrings’.
Famous Last Words sketches out a futuristic dystopian universe dominated by speeding cars, excessive drug taking, elaborately constructed femme fatales and a mysterious, looming technological disaster. CAS plays the troubled narrator and main character, and at this special Koko gig, he directs much energy toward giving those stories additional depth, live in the flesh.
Donning the pale, stretchy prosthetic mask and black shades that have become his favoured disguise in recent years (the identity of CASisDEAD is still unknown to everyone but his nearest and dearest) he kicks off with the dark, grimy album opener ‘A Spark’, instantly igniting waves of noise amongst the hundreds of fans that have been waiting for this moment ever since 2014, when CAS dropped his last project The Number 23.
“I never expected to be here, this shit is crazy,” CAS tells the crowd early on. Fans can only guess the extent of the challenges the self-proclaimed “drug dealer and drug addict” has overcome to be here, but the looming theme of death in his lyrics, reinforced by bars like “Combed my hair and half of it come off in the fucking brush / Friends know I’m fucked but they don’t know how much” is suggestive. While rapping those lyrics, featured in ‘Marilyn’ (which sees the rapper joined onstage by singer-songwriter Connie Constance), CAS gets visibly emotional, or as visibly emotional as you can behind a prosthetic mask.
Things kick off when CAS and DJ Mystry (a grime scene stalwart who has produced tracks like JME’s ‘Pulse 8’ and BBK’s ‘Athlete’) drop the classics. The energy is heavy in sections of the audience (at one point, CAS and his hype man have to calm things down after an unexplained scrap breaks out) and punters lap up tracks like ‘Play’ and ‘All Hallows’. Things are ratcheted up when UK rap royalty Giggs (a close friend who according to a rare new CAS interview, “you can’t question… he’s gonna do what the fuck he wants”) strides onstage during ‘What’s My Name’.
CASISDEAD stands on the margins of the scene, but his debut album is threatening to break into the UK Top 5. On that matter, he states “You lot have mobilised and elected a corrupt individual,” in one of many crowd interactions that show his skills as a raconteur.
Equally, he’s full of appreciation for those that got him here, frequently declaring “I love you lot” and jumping into the pit to meet fans after closing with ‘Pat Earrings’. The journey here has been long, and some of Famous Last Words’ dark, mysterious lyrics suggest we may not hear from CAS for a while. Regardless of what the future holds, this album’s legacy will be a special one.