Since its conception, hip-hop has always been dominated by the U.S; born on the streets of New York, thugged-up in L.A. and chopped and screwed down South America, has provided the world with an ever changing cast of hip-hop superstars and new-school pioneers. Yet, as the genre has evolved, more and more artists from the rest of the world are getting recognition for their work, especially in the UK and Ireland.
The UK and hip-hop have always had a somewhat one-sided relationship, and for too long the only Brits willing to tackle the genre have been Bristol-based stoners with a penchant for misogyny and violent puns (shout out to Dirty Dyke), but at last a series of credible rappers have begun to catch some hype. Garnering the most attention of late are Hawk House, a London-based collective who specialise in the kind of introspective conscious Hip-Hop associated with artists such as Mos Def and A Tribe Called Quest. Their latest EP A Handshake to the Brain takes an anthological approach to track listings, with tracks introduced as chapters. Throughout the EP Hawk House deal with ‘The Nervous System’, ‘The Thought Process’ and various other topics, weaving a conscious mix of spirituality and science with snippets of everyday London life reminiscent of Joey Bada$$’s more recent work with its talk of “third eyes” and dodging cops.
Hawk House are not only talented rappers, they’re a breath of fresh air in a genre still riddled with misogyny and homophobia. Her Anatomy is equal parts poetry as hip-hop, an empowering ode to an implied victim of sexual assault, celebrating ‘her’ femininity as strength; “her lipstick becomes war-paint… her skirt is made of chainmail and those titanium sunglasses protect her face well.”
On the more experimental side of the UK hip-hop spectrum we find Sub Luna City. Billed as London’s answer to RATKING and counting none other than King Krule among their members, they fuse East Coast influences with the skittish percussion of UK Bass creating a hazy but unique take on hip-hop. Their mixtape City Rivim MK 1 is the perfect soundtrack for letting the world drift by on a warm evening in the city, chopped up vocal samples and distorted melodies flit in and out of Edgar’s (King Krule’s Sub Luna alias) J.Dilla-esque beats.
However, Sub Luna City are more than just another Archy Marshall side project; he co-produces his beats with fellow member Black Mack and the chemistry between the group’s two MCs Rago Foot and Jadasea is apparent even over Soundcloud. Weed and Warfare is the standout track on the mixtape, the soul sampling, piano-led beat floats by, providing a backbone for Rago and Jadasea’s bouncing, groove infused vocals that take up the melody of the track.
It’s almost impossible to describe how infectious the production on City Rivims… is, or how well it complements the vocal talent of Rago and Jadasea. While only one tape into their career Sub Luna City are one of the most exciting acts in Hip-Hop as whole, never mind the UK and by all accounts there’s plenty more to come.
In a sign of just how far the genre has come in recent years, one of the most hyped new artists in hip-hop hails not from New York or L.A., not even from London but from Dublin. We speak of course of Rejjie Snow, whose combination of lyrical talent and Irish inflection has taken the blogosphere by storm. He first appeared on the scene early 2013 with single Lost in Empathy, which tells the tale of persecution against the Albino population of many African states; not your average breakout hit. Shortly after came Rejovich, his debut EP, released on Elton John’s Rocket Music Entertainment. Tracks such as Meddling Loopsand Snow cemented his credentials as Hip-Hop’s new great hope. In terms of influences, Snow’s rap style is reminiscent of U.S artists such as Schoolboy Q and Pusha-T; it’s gangster rap but not as you know it. The boy’s got drive too, latest single Nights Over Georgia dropped back in June and his debut album Dear Annieexpected before the end of the year if certain blogs are to be believed.
Back between British borders, the Don’t Flop rap-battle league has some serious gems hidden amongst their ranks. Take, for example, league co-founder Cruger, an even less likely MC than Rejjie Snow, whose mix of self-aware, lazy and sometimes incredibly violent rap and general awkwardness has earned him serious credibility on both sides of the Atlantic, despite the fact he hasn’t put out anything fresh in at least a year. Cruger comes from the same school of rap as Mike Skinner of The Streets, that of the everyday. I Need is an existential breakdown of a track, with Cruger picking apart the flaws in his life in the most uplifting way possible. He also maintains one of the most overlooked factors of Hip-Hop in the UK, a sense of humour. His rap battles are crass and hilarious and when battling alongside Don’t Flop’s other co-founder, Eurgh, they are basically unstoppable. Be sure to check out Cruger Vs Charron for some incredible put downs and his freestyle on LTMA’s YouTube channel with Pedro.
Of course, no discussion of rap in the UK would be complete without paying tribute to our beloved Grime. Often lacking the mainstream press attention of hip-hop, Grime is evidence of the rap talent already present in the UK. From Wiley’s Where’s My Brother? to Lethal Bizzle’s monstrous Pow! British MCs have been spitting fire for over a decade and forging an underground scene so strong the Metropolitan Police are still trying to shut it down. Hip-hop in the UK would be nowhere had the likes of JME and Dizzee Rascal (Pre-Tongue ‘n’ Cheek) not already carved out a place for British accents in the rap game and given a voice to those so often denied one in the charts.