Quadruple threat Plan B (also known as Ben Drew), is a rapper, singer-songwriter, actor and film director. Born in 1983, he hails from Forest Gate, London, England.
Drew’s father, Paul Ballance, played in a punk band, the Warm Jets, in the 1970s. When his father walked out on Drew when he was six years old he was taken care of by his mother. His interest in music started at 14 when he started playing Blur and Oasis songs on the guitar with his friends. Later he went on to compose his own R&B songs, but soon became tired of this music. At 18 he switched his focus onto rap and hip-hop music and wrote “Kidz,” which was inspired by the 2000 murder of ten-year-old Damilola Taylor.
Plan B released his debut album, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words, in June 2006. His track “Mama (Who Loves A Crackhead)” from this album was his first song to land on the U.K. Singles chart. His 2010 album, The Defamation of Strickland Banks, tells the story of a fictional character played by Plan B. “Stay Too Long” was the lead single released from this album. His latest work, Ill Manors, a soundtrack album for his film of the same name, features title track “Ill Manors,” which is a protest song about the 2011 London Riots.
He has also acted in the films “Adulthood, “Harry Brown,” “220.127.116.11.” and the television series “The Sweeney.”
Track: “ill Manors”
Tinie Tempah was born in South London in 1988 after his parents moved to London from Ibuse, Delta State, Nigeria. At 12 years old he came up with his stage name after watching So Solid Crew’s “21 Seconds” by using the thesaurus and choosing “temper,” which became “tempah,” as synonym of “angry” and pairing it with “tiny,” which became “tinie.” He started rapping in 2005 when he joined the Aftershock Hooligans and released hundreds of songs with them. That same year he released his first mixtape, Chapter 1: Verse 22 which was free. In 2006 he received a lot of recognition from the British music TV channel, Channel AKA, for his songs “Tears” and “Wifey.” His official debut single “Pass Out,” was released in 2010 from his first album, Disc-Overy. This track debuted at number one on the U.K. Singles chart. He dropped his second studio album, Demonstration, in 2013, which spawned two top ten singles, “Trampoline” and “Children of the Sun.” In 2011 he won two Brit Awards for Best British Breakthrough Act and Best British Single.
Track: “Trampoline” feat. 2 Chainz
Dizzee Rascal, born in 1985, grew up in Bow, London, England with his Ghanaian mother Priscilla after his father died when he was young. As a young kid he had a reputation of being violent and getting kicked out of school, but his mother worked diligently to keep him in the education system. He first was given his nickname “Rascal” by one of his teachers. After hopping around from school to school, he finally ended up at the YATI (young Actors Theatre Islington). It was here that he started making music on the school’s computer after being encouraged to by one of his teachers. After this he became a DJ and would spin on a local pirate radio station.
It was in 2002 when he joined the Roll Deep crew that he was first noticed by XL record label and was signed with the group and also snagged his own solo deal.
In the beginning of his career Rascal worked with one of his mentors, Wiley, who is recognized as one of the first grime artists. Rascal’s style is also considered grime, despite his level of mainstream success. He’s been singled out for making music that uses innovative technology and expresses politically engaging thoughts of British minority groups.
Rascal released his debut album, Boy in da Corner, in 2003 and produced popular singles “I Luv U” and “Fix Up, Look Sharp.” This same year he received the Mercury Prize for best album.
He released his second album, Showtime in 2004, which spawned singles “Stand Up Tall” and “Dream.” His third studio album, Maths + English was released in 2007 and includes tracks “Pussyole (Old Skool),” “Sirens,” “Flex.” His fourth album Tongue n’ Cheek released in 2009 scored Rascal three number one singles, “Bonkers,” “Holiday” and "Dirtee Disco.” His latest album, The Fifth, dropped in 2013 and includes several collaboration tracks, such as “We Don’t Play Around” feat. Jessie J, “Something Really Bad” feat. Will.i.am and “Goin’ Crazy” feat. Robbie Williams.
Track: “Fix Up, Look Sharp”
Lethal Bizzle was born in 1984 in the Walthamstow, London, England to African parents from Ghana. Before heading out on his own, Bizzle was a part of the More Fire Crew, one of the first grime crews in the game, from 2000 to 2005. His solo career first began when he released his debut single “Pow (Forward)” in 2004. This track was actually banned from airplay on a few mainstream radio stations because of its gun-related content, but still managed to top the U.K. Dance Chart in 2005 and won a MOBO award for “Best Single.” Bizzle released his debut album, Against All Oddz, in 2005. The rapper and group N-Dubz had a feud over the latter’s second album name, “Against All Odds,” which Bizzle felt was much too similar to the name of his album. His second album, Back to Bizznizz, was released in 2007 and featured a few guest spots, such as English rock band Babyshambles on his track “Boy” and singer-songwriter Kate Nash on his track “Look What You Done.” Bizzle’s latest album, Go Hard was released in 2009, which features tracks, such as the title track and “Going Out Tonight.”
Track: “Pow (Forward)”
Tinchy Stryder was born in Ghana in 1986 and moved to Bow, London, England, maintaining a residence there from 1995 to 2008. His moniker derives from the Strider video game and his nickname “Tinchy.” He started creating music back in 1997 and his songs first appeared on pirate radio with the likes of other grime rappers, such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley. Stryder is also a part of Ruff Sqwad, which is one of the longest running grime collectives, active since the early 2000s. In 2002 he was part of the grime group Roll Deep, which was comprised of him, Wiley and Dizzee Rascal as well. His debut album, Star in the Hood, was released in 2007 and spawned singles “Breakaway,” “Something About Your Smile” featuring Cylena Cymone and “Mainstream Money.” Stryder’s sophomore album, Catch 22, was released in 2009 and had three number one U.K. hits, including “Never Leave You” featuring Amelle Berrabah and “Number 1” featuring N-Dubz. His third album, Third Strike, dropped in 2010 and was his foray into electronic dance music. This album produced three successful singles, which were “In My System,” “Second Chance” and “Let It Rain.” Currently Stryder is working on his fourth album titled 360º. He released the first single “Misunderstood” from this album on April 14.
Professor Green was born in Hackney in 1983 and raised by his grandmother. His father committed suicide in 2008 and he has discussed this experience in some of his songs, such as “Goodnight” and “Forever Falling.” Green fell into rapping by accident when he was at a friend’s party and when put on the spot he delivered lyrics like a natural. When he entered his first freestyle competition, LyricPad, he won, even though he had no real experience. Green’s alias is derived from the word cannabis, since he is known for selling it until he was signed to the record label The Beats. He released his debut album, Alive Till I’m Dead, in 2010. This album produced four singles, including “I Need You Tonight” featuring Ed Drewett, “Just Be Good To Green” featuring Lily Allen, “Monster” and “Jungle” featuring Maverick Sabre. Green’s sophomore album, At Your Convenience, dropped in 2011 and spawned several singles, although only one, “Read All About It,” featuring Emeli Sande reached number one on the U.K. Singles chart. At the moment Green is working on his third offering, Growing Up In Public, which is slated for May 12.
Wiley, who hails from Bow, London, England, and was born in 1979, is often referred to as the Godfather of Grime. When he was a teenager he was featured on pirate radio stations. In 2000 he first joined a garage crew, The Ladies Hit Squad, with college friends and then later conjoined with their rival crew Pay As U Go. They stumbled upon some success with the track, “Champagne Dance,” which landed in the top 20. After this group disbanded he hooked up with Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder to form the Roll Deep collective. On his own Wiley Kat Recordings label Wiley produced some instrumental singles, some of which are “Eskimo,” (one of the first grime tracks) “Avalanche” and “Snowman.” It was in 2004 that Wiley released his debut album, Treddin’ on Thin Ice. This album produced two singles including “Wot Do U Call It?” and “Pies.” He’s released several albums almost every following year since then, most recent ones include Evolve or Be Extinct (2012) and The Ascent (2013).
Track: “Evolve or Be Extinct”
Roots Manuva was born in 1972 in Stockwell, London, England. His parents came from a small village in Jamaica. Much of his early life was spent in poverty. This experience has directly influenced his music and is referenced in songs, such as "Sinny Sin Sins" and “Colossal Insight.” He was first featured on Blak Twang’s “Queen’s Head” single in 1994 and shortly released a single of his own titled “Next Type of Motion” the next year. In 1999 he released his debut album, Brand New Second Hand and it spawned two singles, including “Juggle Tings Proper” and “Motion 5000.” He released seven more albums following this album, capping off with 4everevolution (2011). Manuva’s music is known for its traces of hip-hop, dub, reggae and funk.
Track: “Witness (I Hope)”
British-Sri Lankan artist M.I.A., who has already made her musical presence known in the U.S. and thus may be the most well-known artist on this list, was born in 1975. She grew up in Hounslow, Greater London, U.K. and is a woman who wears many different hats. Along with being a rapper she’s also a singer, songwriter, record producer, visual artist, activist, photographer, fashion designer and model. Her moniker is a play on her own name Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam and also the abbreviation standing for “Missing in Action.” M.I.A.’s venture into music first started in 2002 when she became popular after releasing singles “Sunshowers” and “Galang,” which charted in the U.K. and Canada. M.I.A.’s music is a mixture of electronic, dance, alternative, hip-hop and world music. Her debut album, Arular dropped in 2005 and produced four singles, including the two previous and “Hombre” and “Bucky Done Gun.” In 2007 she released in second album, Kala, which featured singles, “Bird Flu,” “Boyz,” “Jimmy” and “Paper Planes.” This album made it to number one on the U.S. Electronic Albums chart, number eight on the U.S. Rap Albums chart and landed at 18 on the Billboard 200. M.I.A.’s third album, Maya, was released in 2010 and garnered a few well known singles such as “Born Free” and “XXXO.” Her latest offering, Matangi, came out last November, topped the U.S. Dance/Electronic Albums chart and spawned the popular tracks “Bad Girls” and “Y.A.L.A.”
Example, otherwise known as Elliot John Gleave, was born in 1982 in Hammersmith, London, England. Besides being a rapper he’s also a singer-songwriter and a record producer. In several interviews Example has said he was inspired to start rapping after his introduction to Snoop Dogg and Wu-Tang Clan. He also says since he wasn’t good at many sports he fell into it in attempt to help him fit in with other people. He briefly was garage MCing while at university. During this time he met Joseph Gardner, who he later made a concept album with, which included Example’s first release for white-label vinyl, “A Pointless Song.” He was signed to The Beats record label in 2006 and released a response to Lily Allen’s “Smile” called “Vile.” His first official single “What We Made,” was released that same year, which was also featured on his 2007 debut album of the same name. Other singles from this album included “You Can’t Rap,” “I Don’t Want To,” “So Many Roads” and “Me & Mandy.” With the release of his second album, Won’t Go Quietly (2010), he made his first chart appearance with the album’s lead single “Watch the Sun Come Up.” Singles that followed this one were the title track, “Kickstarts,” “Last Ones Standing” and “Two Lives.” In 2011 he released his third album, Playing in the Shadows, which spawned the four singles, “Changed the Way You Kiss Me,” “Stay Awake,” “Natural Disaster” and “Midnight Run.” The Evolution of Man was his fourth album, which dropped in 2012 and had three successful singles, including “Say Nothing,” “Close Enemies” and “Perfect Replacement.” At the moment Example is working on his fifth album Live Life Living, which is slated for June 30.
Track: "Changed The Way You Kiss Me"
HotNewHipHop takes a look at some of the rappers doing it big for the U.K. grime scene.
When most people think of rap and hip-hop, they often only reference American artists. They’re given most of the credit when it comes to claiming the genre as their own and being responsible for its evolution, in some ways, rightly so, after all, New York was hip-hop's birthing place.
However, English rappers have their own claim to fame in the rap/hip-hop scene. They are even responsible for developing their own subgenre called grime, created in Bow, London in the early 2000s. It is recognized as a mixture that consists primarily of U.K. garage, drum and bass, hip-hop and dancehall, although other styles of music, such as soca, jungle, electro, R&B, rap and dub may be incorporated as well. Some of the founders of this genre include Wiley (who is dubbed the Godfather of Grime), Dizzee Rascal.
Not all the rappers on this list are considered grime artists, although it’s safe to assume they have been influenced by the genre. The U.K. has also birthed a few hardcore political rappers, like Plan B and Lowkey. Plan B’s protest song “ill Manors” speaks on the English riots from 2011. His song is meant to conjure up questions of why these riots happened in the first place and to generate discussion surrounding the state of young people and their involvement in crime. He also directed a film of the same name that features eight characters’ scenarios as they struggle with violence while trying to survive on the streets of London.
Lowkey is also a huge political activist, of English and Iraqi descent, who has used music as an outlet to expose his views of Pro-Palestinian beliefs and opposition of Zionism. On occasion he has also criticized Barack Obama for augmenting George Bush’s foreign policy.
Not all of the rappers on this list strive to release work that’s so controversial, even though it is seemingly a common trend in rap/hip-hop music. A good majority of them release popular jams, attracting a vast audience, which then categorizes them as mainstream, especially if their popularity allows them to cross over into the states. A few English artists that have spiked interest in the U.S. include M.I.A. and Tinie Tempah, but maybe after reading this list you will find there's more U.K. artists worth giving a listen.