Rap music first appeared on UK shores in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Rap music in America appealed to the youth in the UK and it began to take on the moniker of providing identity to a younger generation. British Hip Hop took off in the 1980s with acts such as London Posse, the Cookie Crew and Monie Love.
The term “borrowed culture” was particularly prevalent in the 1980s, with many UK rappers imitating their American counterparts. UK rappers even adopted US rappers accents, which damaged the reputation of UK Hip Hop for many years.
The founding of the record label Big Dada was a vital turning point for UK Hip Hop. Will Ashton founded Big Dada in 1997, and it is still running today and hosts artists such as Roots Manuva.
Rappers such as Rootz Manuva, Rodney P, Chester P and Jehst have their places cemented in UK Hip Hop history. All three are responsible alongside others for shaping a whole scene.
As the years have passed, UK Hip Hop has evolved into sub-genres such as Grime and Garage. UK Rappers/MCs have evolved style-wise over the years, and in the eyes of many, have surpassed their American counterparts in terms of originality and substance.
UK rappers and MCs are often looked down upon by their American counterparts. However, times have changed over the last 20 years. Rappers such as Rodney P and Roots Manuva have helped lay the foundation of UK Hip Hop. We will now look at five of the best UK rappers and MCs that have picked up the torch since and continue to blaze a trail in UK rap.
Dizzee became a vital part of the East London grime collective Roll Deep. He is described by many as a pioneer of Grime music. His debut album Boy In Da Corner, released in 2003, earned him a Mercury Music Prize and critical acclaim, with the album still described by many as the best grime album of all time.
Dizzee would release follow up albums Showtime, Maths and English and Tongue n Cheek, all obtaining critical and commercial success, with each album achieving platinum status.
Dizzee has achieved more than anyone could have imagined possible for him. His eclectic flow stands him apart from his peers. He has this unique ability to rap over several different styles ranging from grime all the way to pop.
Skinnyman is a cult hero in UK hip hop. He is renowned for his unique, vivid storytelling. His only album, Council Estate of Mind, was an autobiographical album with a unique mix of Jamaican Patois and cockney slang sandwiched on either side of Skinnyman’s Gargantuan character and undeniable presence.
Going back to one particular night in 1999, many would argue that was the night Skinnyman would appear on many radars in the hip hop world when he infamously dissed Eminem at an Eminem gig when he rapped: “I’m old school, and I’ve been around since M&Ms were called Treats, and they’re sweets, and boys like you will get eat on these streets.”
Regarding this incident, Skinnyman said: “I was looking into his eyes while I rapped, so I knew he wasn’t going to respond. He had everything to lose and nothing to gain.”
Skinnyman has teased fans for years about a new album. Even if we never see another album from the London based rapper, Council Estate of Mind will go down in history as one of the best UK hip hop albums of all time.
Ms Dynamite is one of the best rappers/MCs in UK music history. Over the years, she has tackled a range of beats from the garage classic, BOOO! to the top 10 smash hits Dy-Na-Mi-Tee, and It Takes More.
It can prove challenging for female rappers to make a mark in such a male-dominated industry. That challenge never seemed to phase Ms Dynamite. In 2002 she won the prestigious Mercury Music Prize for her critically acclaimed album A Little Deeper.
The album was produced in the main by Saalam Remi, Punch and legendary reggae duo Tony and Dave Kelly. A Little Deeper tackles social conscience, politics and heartbreak. Ms Dynamite successfully bends genres on this album to the point where there is something for everyone.
Wiley is thought by many, including himself, to be the godfather of grime. Wiley is best known for being a founding member of the genre-bending collective Roll Deep.
He has courted controversy throughout his career, but there is no doubting his importance in UK music history. Wiley has an unusual unfiltered, rhythmic flow that can tackle any beat. Wiley is a unique lyricist, not just with his style. He is seemingly comfortable rapping in his front room on social media, as he is in a packed arena.
He first garnered nationwide attention in 2001 as a member of the Pay As U Go cartel who enjoyed a top 40 hit with Champagne Dance. Wiley has continually helped the grime scene progress. He has enjoyed critical acclaim throughout his career and has enjoyed mass mainstream success with the hit singles Wearing My Rolex, Heatwave and Can You Hear Me (Avayaya).
Skepta is one of the founding members of the grime collective Boy Better Know. In the early 2000s, Skepta began earning a brutal reputation for clashing with his peers, dispatching rivals with his brutally efficient lyrics.
Grime is synonymous with the idea of clashing against competitors. Skepta gained acclaim from his peers when he battled with MC Devilman on the infamous Lord of the Mics series.
To have the confidence to call your debut album Greatest Hits is something only a select few, including Skepta, can do.
Skepta is seen by many as the savior of grime. He has enjoyed a plethora of success, most notably with hit singles Rolex Sweep and Doin It Again. Konnichiwa is his most successful album peaking at number 2 in the UK charts. The album included smash hit singles, That’s Not Me and Shutdown.
Skepta will forever be known as one of the most influential MCs in UK music. He has enjoyed an unprecedented amount of critical and commercial success. He has released five studio albums over the last decade. His influence on grime culture and UK music, in general, will undoubtedly continue for many years to come.
UK music has witnessed many talented rappers and MCs over the years. UK rap began with imitating American rap, but over the years, UK rappers and MCs have come into their own, and many have enjoyed critical and commercial success, with some enjoying both. During this article, we have paid homage to some of the originators of UK Rap. In addition to the originators, we have mentioned five of the best UK rappers and MCs. Please let us know in the comments if you agree with our five of the best and who you would include in your list.
If music is as vital to you as it is to us, read our recent article detailing the top eleven reasons why music is so important.
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