There has never been a better time to dive into the British rap scene than now with exciting acts such as Stormzy, Dave and M.I.A coming out of the U.K.
Jamaican immigrants brought deejaying to England during the 1960s and 1970s, giving young musicians a new style of music to work with and expand upon. Following roughly the same timeline as rap in the U.S., the genre grew in popularity during the late 80s going into the 90s. Although popular in Britain, the music failed to make its way across the pond, until recently.
British hip-hop has experienced a recent boom in popularity in the states. There are a lot of reasons for this occurrence, with many new fans coming from reaction videos posted on YouTube. Online personalities such as Anthony Fantano and No Life Shaq have made lucrative careers out of listening to music and reviewing it verbally.
In addition to providing a new world of sounds to listeners, British rap also offers a glimpse into a world that many people haven’t experienced. Songs from British rappers often focus on the prevalence of terror attacks, knifings, acid attacks and issues with the British government.
With accessibility increasing throughout the past two decades, it is a wonder that British hip-hop has just now started to boom in the United States.
M.I.A. became one of the first British rappers to reach a major U.S. audience with her 2007 hit “Paper Planes,” which, in the U.S. alone, went gold, sold over four million copies and reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100. However, “Paper Planes” had a distinctly pop attribute to it, making it prime for success in the states. Acts that are undeniably London have now also found a U.S. audience. This is especially true in the case of London-born grime rapper, Stormzy.
Grime is a genre that has been looking for a poster boy for a long time. The genre came about in the early 2000s and incorporates attributes from dancehall, reggae, trap and rap. Grime can be easily recognized by its high beats-per-minute, syncopated breakbeats and aggressive electric sound. Although popular in the clubs of London and other English cities, grime hadn’t found a home elsewhere in the world. Enter, Stormzy.
The 26-year-old rapper has been active since the turn of the decade but didn’t release a studio album until 2017. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely.
“Gang Signs and Prayers” packages up grime and puts it in an easy-to-consume package that translates well with U.S. audiences. Although the album is not entirely grime, — gospel-inspired songs such as “Blinded By Your Grace Pt. 1” are dispersed throughout — it offers a healthy dose of superb grime songs.
“Mr. Skeng,”“Cold” and “Big For Your Boots” are all certified bangers and are a perfect representation of the genre. “Shut Up” is a no-nonsense freestyle that shows that U.K. rappers can rap with the best of the best in the U.S.
Stepping away from grime, the U.K. offers a vast array of other sub-genres of rap that are unique to the island. Road rap, U.K. trap and U.K. drill all fill certain niches in the rap scene. U.K. drill is heavily influenced by Chicago drill, which mainly focuses on crime and violence.
London-born rapper Dave also lended a hand in British rap’s jump to the U.S. The artist made waves when he released “Wanna Know,” which was later remixed by global superstar, Drake, in 2016. The song was released on Drake’s “OVO Sound Radio” and became Dave’s first charting single. The song helped expose the wordplay and unique sound that British rappers bring to songs to a much greater audience than before.
As the U.K. continues to find its superstars in the rap realm, U.S. listeners should feel compelled to explore the genre and find their preferences. While the U.S. provides a tremendous amount of new music, it is hugely beneficial to explore music from other countries. Besides providing new outlooks on the world and new sounds to your ears, you may just find your new favorite song along the way.