We ventured across the Atlantic Ocean for this month’s installment of The Current State Of.
The United Kingdom’s rap scene has been a large enigma to many American rap fans, hearing only about it through sensationalized Vice documentaries and through memes highlighting the more cringeworthy content, but in recent months this paradigm has begun to shift. There is an urban musical renaissance of shocking proportion happening in rap venues, rave halls, and drum and bass clubs all across Britain, and it seems that Americans may miss out on this because of a lack of knowledge on the scene, and a general disdain for these artists because of their sometimes odd-fashion sense and goofy slang terms.
However, in the past year, the general public has begun to warm up more and more to the UK rap scene and it is slowly becoming less taboo and more accessible to American listeners. No Jumper began to interview London rappers earlier this year, Stormzy’s “Vossi Bop” is an undeniable mainstream hit, Skepta has become a standard guest appearance on major label rap releases, and Northampton rapper Slowthai arguably has the rap album of the year with his politically charged LP Nothing Great About Britain which captivated American audiences who were itching for an album that is simultaneously counter-culture and artistically relevant.
The sound of the UK’s drill scene does in many ways mirror the early drill scene in Chicago and at the same time bears a great deal of sonic resemblance to Atlanta’s trap sound, but the scattered and skittering percussion is every bit as much drum and bass inspired as it is stemming from hip-hop. Their accents enable them to naturally speak more quickly which, in turn, allows their artists to hit flows and deliveries that would be straining to an American rapper.
The reception to UK rap reminds me a great deal of how many critics responded to Young Thug after he first began to surface in the mainstream with complaints such as “we can’t understand him,” or “is he even speaking English?” These are frequent gripes that fans have with this scene, but soon the masses will begin to appreciate the artistic relevance of rap music emanating from London. Between the postcode wars, rashes of knife crime, and tense political climate there are a great many stories waiting to be told that unfold daily on the streets of London that have no outlet to be heard.
The criminal underworld of London is meticulously detailed through grime and drill, and the stories that are told are quickly becoming much more vile and captivatingly strange than the tales that almost every American rapper tells. From acid attacks to machete melee sprees, London’s streets are volatile and the artists making music here are not only surviving it but documenting the horror and strife they see daily via firsthand accounts. Not only is London facing violence, but also a tremendous deal of political tension that in many ways has put grime in the police cross-hairs. Just this summer we heard about beloved rap artist Unknown-T getting arrested for murder after a string of singles that had him seemingly poised to be on top of the scene soon. The police also have been shutting down rap shows all over the island purely due to “public-safety concerns”, and if you are interested more in the UK upon hearing the artists below then I would definitely recommend researching this hotly contested issue.
In addition to the more rough rap scene that is thriving in London, mainly because of YouTube platforms like GRM Daily, LinkUp TV, and Mixtape Madness, there are many other angles to the UK’s urban music scene beyond the road rap that would seem to be the stereotypical sound. There is an alternative side of things that is heavily influenced by Afrobeats that produces dancey melodies that are the perfect soundtrack for the London youth to turn up to. And with this very sanguine sound, there is an obvious flipside and this is the drowsy, alt-rap style spearheaded by Lord Apex who can be most closely compared to Earl Sweatshirt and MIKE in our American rap market. London is a bustling music city and whether you like it or not it seems that the 2020s will be quite saturated with UK artists who begin to cross over boundaries previously inaccessible due to geography. However, this scene and style may never translate to the American rap market, but it would be foolish for anyone who prides themself on their music taste to overlook the incredible urban music renaissance taking place in London.
Here are some of my favorite artists from London that many Londoners may already know, but are almost certainly new names and faces to a casual American rap enthusiast:
House of Pharaohs
Over the past year or so, House of Pharaohs has pretty much become my favorite rap group, and I think that if any of these artists I mention can tap into the American consumer base it is these guys. Each of these artists has their own musical identity and distinct style. Amidst their sonic variety and diversity lies a special chemistry that is obvious from the music alone, and they play off of each other magically. Beyond music, it is obvious that these guys have an incredible bond from their social media and music video antics alone. Their catalog is young but already laden with many wonderful tracks ranging from harder, grimier cuts to some more emotional material. They are able to achieve this much versatility because none of the Pharaohs ever over-extend themselves out of their range and seem to trust each other greatly to hold-up their individual ends. I strongly suggest familiarizing yourself with House of Pharaohs before it is too late. These guys are already beloved in the UK, and I think it is only a matter of time before this spreads to America.
Watch their “London’s Finest” visual here:
Reeko Squeeze was one of my first favorite U.K. drill acts because of his easily accessible voice in addition to his grimy lyrical prowess. If you are missing the heyday of Chicago’s drill scene then Reeko will almost surely captivate your attention. His visual linked below for his vicious diss track “Mr. Rope” is genuinely the most invasive and disrespectful diss records I have ever heard. He bar by bar eviscerates the rapper who was foolish enough to send for him in the first place, and as Reeko aptly puts it, he should’ve known better. Reeko is a prominent fixture in the U.K. drill underground and is the type of loveable pariah that emerges only out of scenes with the most rabid cult-followings. He was long associated with the Section Boyz, before his departure to pursue his solo career. It is evident that he is making music for the right reasons and truly loves his craft, rather than rapping to increase his reputation in his area, or chase after a quick buck. My favorite Squeeze song is the “M-Way” remix titled “Us” that was put together by the incredibly talented London producer JD. Reid. Reeko’s blend of grimy lyrics, dark subject matter, and unmatched rapping ability is what quickly endeared him to me, and what will surely connect him with trap fanatics on this side of the Atlantic.
Watch Reeko Squeeze’s visual for “Mr. Rope” here:
Tariq Disu’s music is pretty sonically distant from the drill scene, and he exists in the jazzier, “alt-rap” world alongside UK artists like Lord Apex and Finn Foxell who helped pioneer this drowsy style. I always enjoy Tariq’s music and he has a great balance of lyrical ability in the wordplay sense, but also conveys his emotions at a high level, and this matches well with the boom-bap instrumentals he typically hops on. At times Tariq even sings on his tracks and his vocals are never forced or overdone and are a calm change-up. He makes the perfect music to roll-up to and is pretty much a sure thing to put you in your feelings at least once during an extended listening period. Tariq is releasing a project in the near future that I am very, very excited for and I would highly recommend familiarizing yourself with Disu soon.
Stream Tariq Disu’s track “Bubafly” here:
Angelnumber 8 is perhaps the most unknown artist on this list, but he will be glued to your radar after only one listen to his track “260,” which I have linked below. It genuinely is one of the most fantastic tunes that I have ever heard in my life and in the months since I first came across it I have listened to it almost every day. Lyrically the song is a masterpiece and his deep, slightly autotuned vocals are close to perfect. It is this blend makes the song almost frustratingly catchy. Angelnumber 8 has not released much other music, but “Love Weapon” and his most recent single “Leave” are also very much worth checking out. There is some mysterious quality about him that has me both curious and already fanatical, and his mysterious charisma is undoubtedly one of his most attractive qualities as an artist, and his music in a strange way reflects this. The future is incredibly bright for Angelnumber 8 and I personally cannot wait to watch him continue to develop as an artist.
Watch “260” here:
While Bakar is from London, it would be foolish, and pretty irresponsible, to catagorize him as a rapper, and although sonically he could not be further from the drill and grime scenes, his music echoes many of the same sentiments, and most fans of these other niche genres are pretty likely to be Bakar fans as well. He makes a particular brand of sanguine punk music that is intimately relatable and quite pleasing to the ears. His 2018 project Badkid was met with a great deal of acclaim and was a solid debut for Bakar. While he acknowledges that there are many great songs on the project, he also criticizes it, saying it resembles a scrapbook more than an album and he often emphasizes his desire to produce solid bodies of work rather than assortments of packaged singles. Just this week Bakar unveiled his new EP Will You Be My Yellow, that was able to exist more coherently from front to back, while introducing some new melodic and more melancholic subtleties to his sound that previously had not been utilized. If you are not familiar with Bakar, but have played Fifa 19, then chances are you have heard his current biggest hit “Big Dreams” that was the main theme song for that year’s game, and this inclusion into the soundtrack gave Bakar’s career a massive jolt early on. Many have compared him to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and while this works on several fronts, I think that there is so much more depth to Bakar than that somewhat surface level comparison. He is the type of artist that makes music to captivate an entire generation, and it is abundantly clear that other badkids all over Europe, and the world for that matter, are beginning to hop onto the Bakar bandwagon. The sky is the limit for Bakar.
Watch Bakar’s video for his song “Hell N Back” here:
Flohio has been a favorite of ELEVATOR’s since we first heard “Hell Bent” earlier this summer and since that initial listen we were sold on her incredible natural rapping ability. She has unlimited flows in her bag and this ability to rapidly cycle through deliveries makes her at home on any instrumental style or BPM. Although this is the case, she is not only gifted in form but also function. Lyrically she is very skilled and regularly drops in interesting double-entendres and unique references that keep the listener on their toes, waiting to see what she has to say next. I am extremely eager to hear a full-project from Flohio soon and only continue learning about this massively talented MC.
Watch Flohio’s “WAY2” visual here:
Stream my self-curated playlist ‘UK Rap for Americans’ that should serve as a good roadmap through the British rap scene, mixing a healthy amount of more mainstream tunes, as well as many artists who are much more unknown, giving this playlist a little something for everyone. Stream it here: