UK hip hop culture emerged in the 1980s in much the same way it did when it hit the streets of New York: with breakdancing, graffiti, and turntablism all contributing to a new, black culture. Early UK rap borrowed heavily from its US counterpart in other ways, most notably in its imitation of the dominant American accent – an affectation that artists like London Posse and Rodney P attempted to remedy later down the line. But even though they discussed life in London, depicted London tropes in their music videos, embraced Caribbean and other multicultural influences, and most significantly used their own voices to tell their stories, UK hip hop never really received the same mainstream or critical recognition that US rap did. Despite spawning successful subgenres like trip hop, the history of UK rap was never given the same documentation and canonisation as other genres, and when grime emerged in the early 2000s it was celebrated as an authentically UK sound in a way that UK hip hop never was.
Yet grime and hip hop are very different styles that draw from very different musical traditions. And, just as grime has had a popular resurgence in the UK, so too has hip hop, with a nascent community showcasing a naturally homegrown sound that shows there’s more to the UK scene than grime. From Brighton to south east London and beyond, these artists are coupling their free-spirited, no-fucks-given attitudes with conscious rhymes to document life for young people in contemporary Britain. Elements of boom-bap, jazz, and soul can be heard alongside tight rhymes and narrative storytelling, creating a new sound that encompasses both British culture and hip hop culture – proving that UK rap is an innovative, determined, and galvanising force in its own right.
Take a look at some of the hip hop artists making waves in the UK scene in our (by no means exhaustive) list of emerging talents.
Loyle Carner is one of the UK’s most promising young rappers, with introspective lyrics (addressing deeply personal subjects, like the death of his stepfather) that give his music a raw, emotional edge. Since releasing his A Little Too Late EP in 2014, Carner has played Glastonbury, collaborated with Kate Tempest and fellow South London musician Tom Misch, sold out a UK tour, and launched a cooking project for young people with ADHD. This year he released the jazzy boom-bap single “Ain’t Nothing Changed” and the guitar-driven “No CD”, with a video that sees Carner jamming with his mum.
When East London-based poet, rapper, and visual artist Kojey Radical isn’t rapping, he’s busy as the creative director of PUSHCRAYONS, a mixed media art collective. The multi-talented musician brings an emotional and academic intelligence to his rapping, offering perspectives on love, life, poetry, and philosophy. “I’m not here to be an example of the popular opinion, I’m here to offer the neglected perspective in a way that is undeniable,” he writes in a note for his “Footsteps” video. Earlier this year he released the 23 Winters EP, which sets his poignant, penetrative vocals against a progressive electronic sound.
Hailing from Camberwell in south east London, Ms Banks burst onto the scene in 2014 with her mixtape Once Upon A Grind. The next year the MC featured on Tinie Tempah’s “Been The Man” alongside grime MCs Stormzy and Jme, but despite affiliations with the grime scene, this year’s New Chapter EP saw Banks embrace slower dance beats while delivering the same unrelenting rhymes, and recently she collaborated with Kc Possy on “Jongolo” and delivered a fire freestyle for Link Up TV and Fire In The Booth.
JESSE JAMES SOLOMON
Another member of south east London’s vibrant music scene, Jesse James Solomon brought his reflective sound to life with the Jesse James From SE EP in 2014, following it up with the introspective The Ride Home in 2015 in which he raps about sex, drugs, and late, long nights. As a member of south east crew Sub Luna City, he’s also made music with friends like King Krule, Jadasea and Black Mack, and recently collaborated with Wiki from Ratking and Irish rapper Rejjie Snow.
Ocean Wisdom is different to many other members of the UK hip hop scene in that he’s from Brighton rather than London. Signed to High Focus Records, Wisdom released his first album Chaos ‘93 earlier this year, displaying his witty wordplay and super fast rhyming, while emphasising his roots in Brighton. As Wisdom himself puts it, “I feel my work is helping to broaden the UK hip hop sound as it’s different to anything else out there. At the end of the day, levels are levels, and if you can hit them it doesn’t matter where you’re from – people are starting to appreciate that more and more these days.”
808INK are a hip hop duo made up of rapper Mumblez Black Ink and producer 808Charmer. 2013 mixtape an Artistic piece demonstrated a hazy production aesthetic that they built on for their 2015 album Billy’s Home, a collection of songs that focused on a character, Billy, who is frustrated with the soullessness of his city. One of the most distinctive and impressive aspects of 808INK’s sound is their sampling, especially the use of indie and alternative artists like the Arctic Monkeys, James Blake, and Bon Iver, and on the ethereal “Crooked. Bad” they work a clanking drum beat into Jai Paul’s now-classic “Jasmine”. Rounding out the package are their captivating visuals, curated by Black Anubis (aka Mumblez Black Ink and creative director Pure Anubis).
Flohio released her first music video back in 2011, displaying a sharp lyricism and flow that’s ladled with puns and witty remarks. More recently she collaborated with UK producers God Colony on “Steady” and released Nowhere Near in the summer, a stunning six-track EP that sees her rapping fiercely over hype production. As part of south London’s TruLuvCru she always shouts out her home borough of Southwark, as demonstrated by the untouchable “SE16” (also made with God Colony), with a video directed by MC/producer/visual artist GAIKA.
THE AGE OF L.U.N.A
The Age of L.U.N.A – which stands for ‘Live Under No Authority’ – aren’t your typical rap group. Producer NK-OK makes glitchy, jazzy beats that leave room for singer Daniella Thomas and MCs Butch Arkas and Kyote Noir to play off of against one another. The band have released a huge collection of songs on their SoundCloud, and their most recent drop “Freddie” is a funky, R&B flavoured track that’s reminiscent of old school Fugees.
North Londoner Avelino is no newcomer to rap, having released three mixtapes in the last three years. The final of these mixtapes was a collaboration with Wretch 32 called Young Fire, Old Flame, where Avelino represented UK rap’s new school while Wretch represented the older, sage rap. Avelino tends to favour minimal production, understanding the importance of sparseness for his lyrics – presented with an articulate flow and deep voice – to take centre stage. “Got so tired of talking I don’t even talk to myself,” he raps on “Rich Soul”, the opening track to his latest EP FYO. Avelino isn’t rapping just for the sake of it – he’s got something to say.
LAST NIGHT IN PARIS
Last Night In Paris are an art and music collective with a DIY approach. The crew, all in their 20s, consists of rappers, singers, producers, and visual artists, and they’ve got an impressive range of music videos under their belt. In 2013 they released the album Roses that featured a chopped’n’screwed, late night R&B sound alongside lyrics dealing with girls, sex, alcohol, and drugs, drawing parallels to Canadian artists The Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR. Last year they collaborated with Dazed on the short film “Pure”, and recently they released a series of songs with very different inspirations – the Middle Eastern-influenced “Firedance”, jazz-infused “Missed Calls”, and clubby “Been A Minute” – in preparation of their next EP Pure.