Expand your horizons with this rundown of some of the UK's most essential talents
In keeping with their storied diplomatic relationship, the US and UK rap scenes have become akin to allied powers of late. Often regarded as its American counterpart’s distant cousin, this continent-spanning bond has seen the two nations’ leading lights converge on wax or at live shows on a semi-regular basis. From Drake’s endless co-mingling with artists such as J Hus, Giggs or Little Simz and his planned revival of gritty drama Top Boy to ASAP Rocky’s intermittent hook-ups with Skepta, the two creative hotbeds have gradually learned that it behoves them to pool their resources for the betterment of the genre as a whole. Although its roots are entrenched in the path laid out by their American forebearers, the UK’s artists have long since transcended mimicry and have carved out distinct sonic niches and aesthetics of their own. Comprised of the hard-nosed sounds of inner-city turmoil that can be heard in grime and drill to more erudite and socially conscious fare, there’s plenty of vitality to be observed in the British Isles. As a means of a gateway, here’s a rundown of some burgeoning UK artists and staples of the genres that deserve your immediate attention. To ensure that you’re getting the optimal experience, each artist comes with a set of comparisons to their closest American contemporaries or influences. Without further ado, let’s dive into the UK hip-hop’s treasure trove and find you a new British MC to chart and cherish.
Loyle Carner: For Fans Of Kendrick Lamar, A Tribe Called Quest, Saba
Loyle Carner - John Phillips/Getty Images
Afflicted with ADHD and dyslexia, Loyle Carner is by no means the archetypal perception of a profoundly talented lyricist but that only serves to make his material even more riveting. Armed with a conversational flow and a candid approach to conjugating his words, to listen to the man born Benjamin Gerard Coyle-Larner is to gain access to his inner sanctum. Raw, emotive and nostalgic, his debut album Yesterday’s Gone presented a portrait of a man that had endured strife and celebration beyond his years. Filled with personal anecdotes and fragments of days long since elapsed, it struck the perfect balance between touching melancholy and the prosperous future that was ahead of him as he claimed on album closer "Son Of Jean": "Ay, we just supported Nas. Whose world is this? Bruv, of course it's ours." Two years on from his Mercury Prize-nominated debut, Loyle has returned with Not Waving, But Drowning. Inspired by the Stevie Smith poem of the same name, it is a rumination on the disparity between our self-perception and that of the outside observer. Gifted with soul-baring tendencies that would rival Kendrick Lamar’s existentialist musings on DAMN., it charts the next phase of his existence as a man that’s reconciling with family life, the tumultuous nature of love and the residual effects of his newfound fame. Steeped in the tradition of jazz-rap, Loyle Carner is a must for anyone that’s searching for that all-too-fleeting commodity known as authenticity.
Kate Tempest: For Fans Of Noname, Common & Lauryn Hill
Kate Tempest - Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
When it comes to British wordsmiths, there are none more astute and technically proficient than Kate Tempest. A poet, playwright and novelist, she is a unique anomaly in that she’s equally commended by historical institutions as she is by the nation’s disenfranchised youth. Renowned for crafting linear narratives and intersecting tales that provide a startling portrait of working class Britain, the 33-year-old artist describes hip-hop as a guiding light that steadied the ship during her teenage years:
"I didn't understand why we were sitting in these classrooms doing stuff that I didn't care about. The whole thing seemed a farce and made me very angry and disruptive. In the end I think they just got sick of me, but around the same time, I found hip-hop and rapping and it changed my life. I was blown away by having a passion and a community."
Robust in every sense of the word, to call her projects such as Everybody Down and Let Them Eat Chaos concept albums would be to do them a disservice. In reality, they are modern day fables and cautionary stories that grant insight to the psyche of others and provide plenty of room for self-reflection on your own shortcomings or misgivings. Inspired by the mythological and the monotony of the everyday in the same breath, her ability to compel and challenge through her spoken-word storytelling knows no bounds. Set to return with The Book Of Traps & Lessons in June, it’s time to get acquainted with Great Britain’s most incisive writer in decades.
Slowthai: For Fans Of Denzel Curry, Beastie Boys
Slowthai - Visionhaus/Getty Images
Imbued with the spirit of the UK’s punk heritage, the fearsome Slowthai is here to provoke and prod at the boundaries of taste. Hailing from Northampton, the MC’s gritty compositions paint a vivid picture of a life of boredom and intoxication in middle England. Complete with a nihilistic and scornful outlook on the state of the world, Slowthai-- real name Tyron Frampton-- brings an uncontainable energy to everything he creates. Primed to release his debut album Nothing Great About Britain on May 17th, his abrasive take on the grime world and his dalliances with other genres will ensure that it makes for an invigorating listen.
Big Zuu: For Fans Of Nas, Schoolboy Q, Busta Rhymes
Big Zuu - Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
A paid-up member of the MTP crew, West London’s Big Zuu’s origins in the rap game were the product of teenage idling more than any concerted effort:
"Literally just bored, smoking a zoot, and then somebody would just type “rap instrumental” into YouTube – it would probably have been classic old school beats like J Dilla; it’s easier to freestyle on because it’s slow, and it’s got pockets of space, compared to grime – freestyling off the top of your head on grime is not easy!"
Despite these apathetic beginnings, the imposing firebrand has carved out quite an impressive discography to date. Capable of depicting his upbringing in the deprived area known as the Mozart estate or delving into socio-political issues with equal efficacy, his 2018 Hold Dat EP reaffirmed his status as a hot prospect. Born of Lebanese and Sierra Leonian heritage, his husky brogue returned in fine fettle on “Say No” and Souls’ “We Will Walk.” One of the most criminally underrated artists in London, it can only be a matter of time until his talents are widely acknowledged.
AJ Tracey - Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
The cousin of Big Zuu, AJ Tracey’s metoric rise has been a joy to behold. Exuding all the innate charisma of a superstar, the rapper and producer from Ladbroke Grove has went from an underground sensation to a man on the cusp of worldwide fame. A stalwart on ones to watch lists since 2015’s Alex Moran tape, there’s a duality to AJ’s output that allows him to rap on propulsive grime beats or smooth rhythms with no notable downturn in quality. Laden with references to soccer players, anime and messages for would-be detractors, he proved more than capable of holding his own against the best during his two collabs with South Florida’s own Denzel Curry. A bonafide headline attraction across the UK, it seems to be only a matter of time and opportunity before the USA follows suit.
Octavian: For Fans Of 21 Savage, Travis Scott, Playboi Carti
Octavian - Marc Piasecki/Getty Images
A French-British MC with an abundance of talent at his disposal and a co-sign from Drake, Octavian’s output has already begun to cause a commotion stateside. Fresh from a team-up with ASAP Mob’s resident gatekeeper ASAP Ferg, the Brit School dropout overcame a tempestuous life of homelessness and uncertainty to assert himself in the hip-hop sphere. Built from an eclectic array of sounds, Octavian’s music is optimized for mass consumption and has all of the requisite attributes to ignite the clubs. Little more than 9 months on from his debut full length Spaceman, he’s wasted no time in mounting a fresh aural assault on audiences with the Skepta and Michael Phantom-aided “Bet.”
LD: For Fans Of Chief Keef, Gucci Mane, Meek Mill
LD The Masked One album cover
Often referred to as The Masked One, 67 veteran LD is more than a daunting visual. A pioneer of the UK’s eternally controversial drill scene, the Brixton Hill artist contains the image, flow and delivery to become its defining breakout artist. Said to shield his face as “it’s how you know man’s still active,” it doubles as effective grassroots marketing that makes him into a unique entity. An active combatant of the laws and sanctions that have been placed on the scene and his community, his crew may have been dwarfed by some of drill’s rising stars but LD remains at the forefront. Kept hungry by his aspirations of being a mogul, the man otherwise identified as Scribz continues to progress towards his goal at all costs.
Young Fathers: For Fans Of Outkast, The Roots
'G' Hastings, Kayus Bankole and Alloysious Massaquoi of Young Fathers - Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Armed with an encyclopaedic view that goes far beyond hip-hop’s conventional parameters, to solely describe Young Fathers as rappers is reductive at best. A label that they’ve taken measures to eschew, it does nothing to invalidate the endless redeeming qualities of the music and why it is so continually fascinating. An immersive, head-spinning fusion of their early rap influences, R&B and gospel, the Edinburgh trio are of the belief that pop music needn’t be vapid or devoid of substance and this is the prevailing motivation behind their ethereal sound. Never one to compromise, their albums DEAD, White Men Are Black Men Too and Cocoa Sugar do their utmost to defy any categorization and results in a final product that flits from poignant and soothing to volatile and confrontational at the drop of a hat. Whether you love or loathe them, there’s no doubt that the multifarious output of Graham “G” Hastings, Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole is unlike anything you’ll encounter before or afterwards. Outliers in an era of soundalikes, you owe it to yourself to plummet into their visceral and uncompromising world.