The Rise of UK Hip Hop 1980-2018

The Windrush

British Hip Hop is not only a music genre but a culture that encompasses various styles of Hip Hop music within urban societies in United Kingdom.  Jamaican immigrants in the 1960-70’s bought with them dub/toasting which would go on to develop speed-toasting. A style of rapping that would match the rhythm and fast pace and aggressive sounds of Jamaican-influenced dub as a voice of what was going on in the streets.


Similarly US Hip Hop urban music pioneers such as ‘Grand Master Flash’, a DJ from the Bronx in New York invented the quick mix theory and what is known to us as a DJ today. By the end of the 70’s he had started the trend of what is called rapping or MCing at parties.

Flash went on to form the ‘Grandmaster Flash’ and ‘Furious Five’ who went platinum with the single “The Message” featuring ‘Melle Mel’ and ‘Duke Bootee’. ‘Grandmaster’ introduced DJing to a large listening audience with “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”. It was the first DJ composition recorded by a DJ other hits followed such as “Supperappin”, “Freedom”, “Larry’s Dance Theme” and “You Know What Time It is”.

Debbie Harry (of Blondie), Fab 5 Freddy, Grandmaster Flash and Chris Stein of Blondie (Photo Source:

Blondie’s introduced Flash to new wave and punk, immortalizing him in her hit song “Rapture”.


1980’s and 90’s

Emerging from a scene of graffiti street art, break dancing, DJing, live rapping and MCing at parties and night clubs followers mostly listened to and were influenced by American hip hop block parties. Different from the US scene, UK hip hop crossed racial barriers from the very beginning as ethnic groups in Britain mostly do not live in segregated areas like in the US. This allowed the youth of the UK to share their cultures with one another through music.

hip hop pirate station
UK Youths at a Dance in the 80’s (Photo Source: http://www.thegu)

Cross pollination brought about by migrants from the West Indies bought together a community of people interested in the music. Caribbean influenced sound systems generated a transportable syncopated bass to various venues creating what we now know as club culture.

‘Knowledge’ is documented as Britains first rapper in ‘Black Echoes Magazine’ of January 1980.


The first ever British Hip Hop tune to be released was by Dizzy Heights (Polydor, 1982), recorded as “Christmas Rapping” and not “London Bridge” by ‘Newtrament’ (Jibe Records, 1983). Before this British Hip Hop artists were either rapping live to an audience or making recordings of amateur tapes.

Newtrament “London Bridge is Falling Down” (Parlophoe, 1986) Photo Source:


Earlier pop songs such as ‘Adam and the Ants’ “Ant Rap” (CBS 1981) played with rap and Wham’s, “Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do)” (Inner Vision, 1982) also produced what is recognized as a pop appropriation of US rapping style. A Punk Band named The Clash also experimented with rap on their single  “This is Radio Clash” (1981) and also on their album Sandinista (CBS, 1981).


Breakthrough hit by Malcolm McLaren “Buffalo Gals” (Chrisma, 1982) which features New York hip hop group ‘The Worlds Famous Supreme Team’ who feature sampling and scratching sounds over records. These techniques were established in the United states Hip Hp culture.


The next few years saw the introduction of Electro music and more UK Hip Hop.  Greg Wilson an English DJ and producer from Manchester played a highly influential role in the 80’s electro scene writing and commenting on dance and popular culture.  He built his reputation as a black music specialist as a resident DJ at local nightspots playing jazz-funk, soul and disco funk.

Wilson traveled playing at clubs and also on Manchester Piccadilly Radio on Mike Shafts show ‘T.C.O.B’ (Taking Care of Business) These radio shows are recognized as being key influences of the day. Wilson was invited to show his skills on a show called ‘The Tube’on Channel 4. This was the first time a British DJ had mixed music live on TV.

‘Street Sounds Electrtic’ Album Cover 1982 (Photo

“Street Sounds Electric” (Street Sounds,1984) album was one of the first to feature sampling. A track from the album called ‘Style of the Street’ sampled a recording of ‘Broken Glass’.


Wilsons album recording features an earlier appearance from ‘MC Kermit’. They went on who went on later to put together the Ruthless Rap Assassins; The Rapologists’ “Kids /Rap/Party Rap” (Billy Boy, 1984) and ‘Grandmaster Richie Rich’ “Don’t Be flash” (Spin Offs, 1985). ‘The Rap Assasins’ released two critically acclaimed albums through EMI, “Killer Album” 1990 and “I think” from the album ‘It ain’t illegal yet’ (1991) which expressed the struggle of West Indian immigrants who came into the country in the 50’s and 60’s. Relative to this the scene remained mostly underground with few and far between new releases.


Record labels were becoming increasingly aware of this popular underground music throughout the 80’s and 90’s but despite this the genre still found it difficult to get publicity from main stream radio which made  it difficult for the genre to take flight.  The scene managed to survive by word of mouth and the illegal backing of pirate radio stations set up around the country. DJ’s such as Dave Pearce, Tim Westwood and John Peel helped to bring the music to mainstream radio by broadcasting radio shows as much as possible.


The UK hip hop scene in the 1980’s was not just confined to break-dancing and music, but also included another integral element of American Hip Hop culture; New York City-style graffiti.

London and other urban cities in the UK were especially influenced. Teenagers from Inner London and European cities into Electro Hip-Hop  had taken up the tradition of subway graffiti painting trains and walls of the tube like US legends writers Brim, Bio and Futura. Brim was a close friend of ‘hip hop acts like ‘Afrika Bambaata’ and ‘Universal Nation’ and would feature in one of the most important videos of hip hop culture “Renegades of Funk” by ‘Afrika Bambaataa’. He was later introduced to fellow British graffiti artists like ‘Goldie’ who would go on to compete with the biggest ever graffiti battle with ‘3D’ Rob Del Naja who would go on to form massive attack.



Many British teenagers with New York connections in the Bronx and Queens came back to London on a “mission” to paint the London Underground. Painting train pieces on a few selected underground lines such as the Metropolitan line; effectively ‘bombing’ the system prompting British Transport Police to put together a Graffiti Squad modeled on the that of the New York City MTA.


This generated attention from the areas and media which led to several art galleries having exhibitions on some of the art displayed on canvas. Documentaries on London Hip Hop Culture such as BBC’s ‘Bad Meaning Good’ produced by pirate radio host Kiss FM’s DJ Tim Westwood featuring a section of interviews with writers on their pieces.

PIECE Mode2 Photo Source:


The Chrome Angelz (TCA) is a  London/Paris graffiti Crew that was formed in 1985 and includes: Pride, Mode 2, Scribla, Bando and Zaki Dee.

Street Art by Chrome Angelz (



Many rappers in the early stages imitated US styles and accents which did UK hip-hop an injustice as it took away from communicating effectively with its British audience in the way US Hip Hop spoke to its home constituency. UK rappers such as Rodney P of the ‘London’ Posse made attempts to develop styles that were more obviously rooted towards the linguistics of British practice adopting hybrid versions of slurred rap.

‘Kinetic Effect’ part of rap outfit ‘2 The Top’  joined the scene in the early 1980’s and in 1991 ‘D-Roy’ teamed up with Insane Macbeth recording “Borderin Insanity” in 1993 and 2 years later he also recorded “Man Bites Dog”/The Effect of Fear”. They went on to record “The Rhythm I Give Em” which made the UK Top 10 Hop Chart. Other rap artists came through later including: ‘London Rhyme Syndicate’ who released “Hard to the core” (Rhyme N Reason Records, 1988) , Shogun MC’ “Ready for action” (Bluechip, 1989), ‘Dee Lawal’, “The D dont play” (Playhard Records, 1989) and ‘MC Untouchable’, “Untouchables Theme” (Blapp! Records, 1989).

‘London Rhyme Syndicate’ (Photo Source:

‘Cash Crew’ a notable act to be mentioned, entered the scene is 1985 and included members Rakim, da Authordox aka Trim, Champain aka Gravity and DJ Loose. In their day they were the UK’s version of ‘Public Enemy’ or ‘Gangsta Rap’. The first track they ever released was called ‘Microphone Maniacs’. They were the first UK Hip Hop Act to appear at the Lonon Marquee Club in 1989. In 1990 they signed to Scream label and released what would be a classic “Green Grass” (Scream, 1990). In 1991  they released “Will it make my Brown Eyes Blue” which featured “Ghetto Circumstances” a hit underground track. Rap battles between rival crew ‘Outlaw’ would see them release a dis track aimed at ‘Cash Crew’ called “Son of the Devil” (1991). After being dropped from Scream they formed their own label ‘Street Ministry’. Shortly after this they signed to a french label called Disques Vogue and released what would be their second and final piece ‘From an Afropean Perspective’ (1996).  A political voice for the UK Hip Hop scene they attend meetings at Hyde Park speakers corner on Sunday afternoon helping to spark debate and bring attention to black issues and UK hip hop.


Founding Labels

In 1986 ‘Music of Life’ was formed the first UK record label devoted to UK hip hop and signed Derek B the first UK rapper to attain success in mainstream charts with “Bad Young Brother” (Tuff Audio, Phonogram, 1988) and “Good Groove” reaching number 16 in the UK charts. Derek B also an A&R signed acts such as the ‘Demon Boys’, ‘Hardnoise’, ‘Hijack’ and ‘MC Duke’. They produced a home grown series of mixed talent such as ‘Thrashpack’ and ‘She Rockers’ with worked with US ‘Public Enemies’, ‘Professor Griff’, who produced “Give it a Rest” (1988) featuring ‘Betty Boo’. Alison Clarkson aka ‘Betty Boo’ went on to release “Hey DJ, i cant dance to that music you’re playing” with ‘Beatmasters’ in 1991 which hit number 7 in the charts. In the same year her independently produced album “Boomania” spawned 2 top ten hits.


Record label Mango Records and Kold Sweat swiftly followed. Other emerging British hip-artist from Music Life Label include ‘Asher D’ who showcased his Jamaican origins with his vocal style.

Growing away from its roots in the US, UK hip hop took a new direction of sounds bringing forth acts like, ‘II Tone Committee’, ‘Silver Bullet’, ‘Hard Noise’ who bought a hardcore fast style to the arena. A jazz influence style came from ‘Outlaw’ and ‘Caveman’, whilst ‘MC Mell’O’ collaborated hardcore and jazz sounds.

An original mover of the 80’s and 90’s hip hop movement is MC Mell ‘O’ (pictured above) he helped gain exposure to UK scene touring the world with the likes of ‘Queen Latifah’, ‘KRS-One’, N.W.A, Cyprus Hill and Public Enemy


Reggae and disco would influence ‘Black Radical’, ‘MK 11’, ‘DJ Cut’ and ‘Tuff C’ whilst radio friendly hip hop from ‘Wee Papa Girl’ Rappers, ‘Monie Love’, ‘Cookie Crew’ achieved chart success.,

Additional acts and styles would go on to further develop the UK hip hop genre such as Trip Hop from ‘Goldie’, ‘Massive Attack’, ‘Galliano’, ‘Us3’, Acid Jazz and ‘Urban Species’.


In spite of chart success the UK hip hop scene was very much still underground and small scale so acts such as Slick Rick, Monie Love, MF Doom, Young MC moved to the US for more exposure.

West Londons ‘Positive Beat Records’ came from the grass roots of early British Hip Hop with two releases in 1987 with “Its Getting Rough” by ‘Rocky X’ and ‘DD Dance’ with a mix of other artists on the ‘Know to Be Down’ album including ‘Sir Drew’ of ‘KREW’, ‘MC Flex’, ‘Rapski’, Papa Speng’, MC Iroc and Mel-O-Dee.

“Known to be down” (Positive Beats Records, 1987) a collaborative album of UK hip hop talent (Photo Source:

“The Connection” taken from “Know 2 Be Down” is an early example of mixing Reggae and Hip Hop in a London style embodying both linguistic approaches released in 1988 on 12” Vinyl. The early 1990’s bought more tracks from artists such as Jonie D with “Which Base/Ride on” and ‘MC Reason’ with “Symbolise/HouseQuake” with the track “Which Base” being performed live on ITV in 1991

It was in the 90’s that a sense of distrust developed against successful artists who chose not to adapt to the hardcore style associated with the culture with songs like “No Sell Out” (1991) typifying the scene at the time. Silver Bullets uncompromisingly fast delivery received applause and chart success however ‘Rebel MC’ and ‘Derek B’ were frowned upon because their style of music was taken from pop and was thought to be the reason for their success. Artist that went mainstream were branded as “sell outs”.

In 1989 ‘Hip Hop Connection’ the first major British Hip Hop Magazine was founded. By the early 1990’s the UK hip hop scene started to thrive with a solid foundation of London Rappers which included ‘Black Radical’, ‘Mk II’ and ‘Blade’ who all developed around various scenes recognized nationally.


For example Bristol has long history trailing back to the early 80’s when links were made with friends from New York. In 1984 ‘The Fearless Four’ came through with Graffiti legends ‘Rock Steady Crew’ and ‘Tats Crew’.

Influential! New York Rap and Breakdance ‘Rock Steady Crew’  peaked at number 6 on the UK Charts in 1984

St Pauls, an area in Bristol produced ‘The Wild Bunch’ better known as ‘Massive Attack’ and award legends such as Nelle Hooper went on the produce the group ‘Soul II Soul’. Other notable artists such as ‘DMC’, ‘DJ Quest’ and ‘DJ Mad Cut’ also came out of City which would become the home from which trip hop came from, with artists including ‘Portishead’ and ‘Tricky’.


Braintax was born in Leeds along with Breaking Illusion Low Life Records and Nightmares on Wax.

Greater Manchester spawned ‘Krispy 3’ (later ‘Krispy’), ‘Ruthless Rap Assassins’, ‘Jeep Beat Collective’, ‘Kaliphz’, ‘MC Tunes’ and ‘Jeep Beat Collective’. The growing scene formed its own identity apart from the US with artists using their own style and accents ridiculing artists that still used fake American accents.

Major record label Profile Records home of ‘Run-D.M.C’ signed ‘Caveman’ whilst Kold Sweat established themselves through discoveries of groups such as ‘Dynametrix, ‘SL Troopers’, ‘Katch 22’ and ‘Unanimous Decision’. ‘Katch 22s’ record “Diary of a Blackman” was banned by Radio 1 for using a sound clip record of the National Front.

‘Hijack’ released ‘The Horns of Jericho’ (Rhythm Syndicate Records, 1991) through Ice-T’s newly formed label Rhyme Syndicate. “The Badman is Robbin” was the first single selling more than 30’000 albums and making it into the top 40 hits.

‘Hijack’ (Photo Source:

The clamp down on sampling affected UK hip hop very negatively as the industry authorities began to prosecute those who used samples without permission. Turning a profit became even harder as smaller UK artists were unable to afford the luxury of license samples that larger US acts could.

Milton Keynes group ‘The Criminal Minds’ were a victim of such as their first two debuts in the early 90’s were held back by possible problems with sample clearance and so were only available to a limited number of followers despite being named as some of the greatest pieces of British hip hop made. The early to mid 90’s saw the break through hardcore become popular and so ‘The Criminal Minds’ directed their musical abilities toward making this kind of music in compromise.


The predicted UK hip hop boom never gained commercial success and many record companies began to drop artist as a result of poor sales and lack of publicity. Record label Mango Records closed down and the affection of the UK scene were drawn to jungle music. A fusion of hip hop, reggae and breakbeat hardcore.

Brotherhood was the only group to make an impact between the 1992 and 1995 period. The group were first formed in the 80’s but in 1991 released their debut record called ‘Brotherhood EP’ as a white label. Later in 1992 they went on to release “Ways of the Wise” which was then ’Untitled 93’ and ‘XXII’ in 1993 and the following year ‘Hip Hop N Rap’ in 1994 with record label ‘Bite it!’.  Numbers sold were low but luckily they were able to get air play on the Tim Westwood show as well as Choice FM’s DJ279’s show which helped the scene to grow a solid cult of followers nationwide. Bite It! Label also released tracks from ‘Scientist of Sound’ and ‘Pauly Ryan’.



‘The Brotherhood EP’ (Bite it! Recordings, 1991) (Photo Source:

After the initial attention from large record labels died down and pulled back in the 1980’s, the 90’s saw the scene move and start to diversify into an experimental phase. Mixing genres completely differing to one another creating a hybrid mutated sound like trip hop which directed itself forward into the US Market.

As the first generation of rappers departed from the scene, a new breed of youthful rappers bought up on hip hop and electronica were coming to the forefront. “Remedies” released by ‘The Herbaliser’ (Ninja Tune, 1995), ‘Mark B’ released “Any More Questions?” (Jazz Fudge 1995), ‘Mr Scruff’ released the “Frolic EP Pt 1st (Pleasure Music, 1995) and DJ Skitz released single “Where My Mind At/Blessed Be The Manor” (Ronin Records, 1996) which featured guest rapper ‘Roots Manuva’, a young artist with previous recording experience releasing “Next Type of Motion” in 1995 (Sound of Money, 1995).

The emergence of record labels mixing British hip hop style with contemporary dance music brought acts like Mark Raes ‘Grand Central’ or ‘Jazz Fudge’ from ‘DJ Vadim’. Artists began to avoid sampling breach issues by producing music themselves or looking for more fairer and cost effective ways of arranging licensing deals. Bands like ‘Stereo MC’s’ started sampling their own tunes and playing their own instruments.


It was at this point that UK hip hop transpired into a renaissance evolving from its hardcore template of youth into a melodic landscape of music.

In 1995 ‘The Brotherhood’ managed to get a deal with Virgin Records with Trevor ‘The Underdog’ Jackson still as their producer. In 1996 they released 3 singles ‘Alphabetical Response’ ‘Out Shot’, ‘Punk Funk’ from their album ‘Elementalz’ which gained critical acclaim status and toured with strictly American acts including ‘The Roots’, ‘Cyprus Hill’, and ‘Wu Tang’ but record sales were still insignificant and they went separate ways from Virgin in 1998.

The BrotherHood (Photo source: www:discogcom)


In 1996 Big Dada label was founded by Will Ashon a music journalist specialising in hip publications such as Trace, Musik and Hip Hop Connection. Big Dada was an imprint of Ninja Tune Records which patterned a selection of artists. ‘Bandit’ from Birminghams ‘MSI/Asylum Crew’ bought ‘Juice Aleem’ to the attention of Ashon who was careful who he wanted to represent the label. Ashon was impressed and this resulted in the first release under Big Dada records “Mianthropic”, as alias “Alpha Prhyme” a collaboration with Luke Vibert. Since, Big Dada records has become an iconic record label signing and releasing records for the likes of  artists such ‘Roots Manuva’, ‘Diplo’, ‘Speech Debelle’ and  ‘The Godfather of Grime’, ‘Wiley’.

1998 saw the release of “Hitmen for Hire EP” by ‘Mark B’ and ‘Blade’. The album guest featured the likes of ‘Mr Thing’ of the ‘Scratch Perverts’ and Lewis Parker. The EP led them to success and in 2001 they released the album ‘The Unknown’ which was a top 100 and bigger success within its own genre category.

This album also gave birth to the 2001 single “Ya Don’t See the Signs” a remix produced by Grant Nicholas and frontman of ‘Feeder’. The title track became a top 75 hit and Mark B and Blade supported Feeder. In the same year Hombre label from Bristol released “2012 EP”, a benchmark release within the movement from ‘Aspects’, ‘Phi Life Cypher’, ‘Jeep Beat Collective’ ‘Ty, MSI & Asylum’, ‘Roots Manuva’, ‘Mud Family’, ‘Blak Twang’, ‘Ti2bs’, and ‘Task P’ . Veteran acts such as ‘MC Mell’O’, ‘Rodney P’ and ‘Mike J’ also made comebacks to the scene.



The turn of Century saw the emergence of new artists including ‘Nicky Spesh’, ‘Jehst’, ‘Bion’, ‘Idyllic’, ‘Ricta’, ‘Whitecoat’, ‘Usmaan’ and ‘Foreign Beggars’.



Gaining more attention in the urban music scene at this time however was a new style of electronic music called ‘UK Garage’. This style combined soul, rap, reggae and R&B. Artists and DJ’s such as EZ, Grant Nelson, Craig David, Artful Dodger, M.J. Cole, Heartless Crew, So Solid Crew, The Streets, Shanks & Bigfoot, MC Neat, DJ Luck, MC Creed, DJ Pied Piper and the Masters of Ceremony, Oxide and Neutrino, Lisa Mafia and Ms Dynamite amongst other acts and artists all helped to bring rapping or MCing into mainstream music.  UK garage songs  appeared on the charts in the early 2000’s and included ‘Distant Soundz’ version of “Time After Time” (#20), ‘Jaimesons’ “True” (#4), ‘So Solid Crew’s’, “Haters” (#8) and “Ride Wid Us” (#19), Mr Reds vs DJ Skribbles “Everyone Come on can you feel it” (#13) and “Baby Cakes” by ‘3 of a Kinds’ which hit number one in August 2004. For a good few years the scene progressed rapidly but sadly got pushed back underground a few years later due to bad publicity and violence surrounding events and members of the So Solid Crew.

So Solid Crew (Photo Source:

The Streets 2002 album “Original Pirate Material” was a success, becoming one of the first to gain respectable sales with this new breed of UK British hip hop arts. His lyrical style was criticised and looked down on by other rappers in the industry. Regardless the success caused other UK hip hop acts to gain exposure from the media and Welsh rap group called ‘Goldie Lookin Chain’ accomplished success in the charts with their somewhat ironic version of hip-hop. From this point UK hip hop split into two ideologies and genres. The release of notable records like ‘Council Estate of Mind’ from ‘Skinnyman’ and Klashnekoff’s ‘The Saga of..strengthened the reputation of artists and opened the door for new ones to develop. ‘Braintax’ co-founder of record label Low Life Records became a stable for many starting artists journey into the music industry.


Mega talented Female Rappers like ‘Ms Dynamite’ made it big releasing her debut album ‘A little Deeper’ in 2002 which featured hit songs “It Takes More” and “Dy-na-mi-tee” for which she won a prestigious Mercury Award. The following year she won Best British Female Solo artist and Urban Act of 2003 at the Brit Awards. That same year the album was released in 2003 in America receiving critical acclaim.

The bad publicity involving ‘UK Garage’ music would now be pushed back somewhat underground and Grime would take centre stage as the UK urban youth’s voice.


British hip hop originating from London would then go on to be over taken by Grime which can also be referred to as “British Rap” “UK Hip Hop”, “UK Rap” and informally as “Brit-Hop” a term created by British Vogue and the BBC.

In 2003 the times defined British Hip Hops wide range music approach as “a broad sonic church encompassing anything made in Britain by musicians informed or inspired by hip-hop’s possibilities, whose music is a response to the same stimuli that gave birth to rap in New York in the mid-seventies”.

Grime also called eskibeat or sublow. Brought about artists such as ‘Pay As U Go Cartel’, ‘Wiley’, ‘Roll’, ‘Deep’, ‘Boy Better Know’ ‘Skepta’, ‘JME’, ‘Jammer’, ‘Kano’, ‘Ghetts’, ‘Big Narstie’, ‘Wretch32’, ‘Newham Generals’, ‘D Double E’, ‘Lethal Bizzle’, ‘More Fire Crew’, ‘Tinchy Stryder, Shystie’, ‘Devlin’ and more.

Grime is a sound typified by a syncopated breakbeat that rappers and MC’s spit their gritty lyrics over in a fast tempo. A style influenced by dancehall, reggae, Drum and Base, and UK Garage. Electronic dance music now being a firm foundation of UK Urban popular culture.

Wiley also called the ‘God Father of Grime’, created the original Eskimo beat which is recognized as the first ever grime beat. Originally a Jungle MC, he made his first mark as part of the ‘pay as you go’ crew who topped the charts with “Champagne dance” in 2001. He then went on to create his white label Eskimo which is recognized as the first ever grime beat.



A pioneer of British underground music, it wasn’t long before he became a solo artists and a member of his own crew ‘Roll Deep’. Wiley broadcast his beat over pirate radio stations like Rinse FM which eventually bought his music to mainstream lending to a long term career as an accomplished musician achieving UK chart success with top 10 hits. “Wearing my Rolex” (2  ) “Never be your woman” with ‘Naughty Boy’ & ‘Emele Sande’ (#5 ) and later “Heatwave” would top the charts  reaching number 1 August 2012. In March 2018 Wiley deservedly won an MBE for services to music.

A corner stone track of grime genre is ‘Wileys’, “Treddin on Thin Ice”; it should also be mentioned that ‘Wiley’ bought and mentored many of the successful legends of today such as friend and former Crew member of ‘Roll Deep’ ‘Dizzee Rascal’.

His early career saw the release of Grime bangers such as “I Luv U” which he self produced at age 16. He went  on to sign with XL records winning a Mercury Music Prize in 2003 for his debut single ‘Boy in da Corner’. He had continued success with his albums “Show time” “Maths & English” and “Tongue & Cheek” which went platinum selling 300,000 units in the UK. His UK Number 1 chart hits include”Dance with me”, “Bonkers”, Holiday”, “Dirtee Disco” and “Shout”. It was from that point that grime artists became the main interest of record labels and the traditional Hip Hop scene went very quiet.

In the UK controversy surrounded the genre with regard to the lyrical content of the music. Lethal Bizzle released Pow! (Forward) in 2005 making a number or references towards guns and was banned from getting mainstream airplay with the authorities perpetuating that it glorifies gun culture and violence. ‘Dizzee Rascal’ spoke out saying that his very own existence and the music he created was a problem for at the time British Prime Minister Anthony Blair. Other British artists argue that British hip hop should not be blamed for the stigma attached to American Hip-hop although voices of the industry seem to be expressing the things they go through in their daily life lyrically-similar to voices across the pond.

The popularity of what was termed “gangster rap” bought negative attention from members of parliament such as David Blunkett who expressed concerns that British hip hop is a cause of violence amongst the youth. ‘Roots Manuva’ advised that UK hip hop was “more healthy” than US hip-hop and would take the music in the direction of the art of making music and not taking advantage of wealth and individually getting rich.

This period continued to see growth and more UK hip hop artists such as N-Dubz, Dasafo, Sway, Stormzie and Giggs.


Many in the UK Hip Hop scene perceived the grime scene to be commercial so a new generation of young socially conscious hip-hop musicians came through striving to bring attention to current social issues. Using their lyrics to spread positivity and to also highlight the injustices of gentrification, war and racism following the lead of traditionally conscious rappers ‘Mos Def’, ‘Nas’, and ‘Talib Kweli’. These artists prefer to define themselves as ‘Hip Hop’ rather than ‘Grime’ artists and include rappers such ‘Klashnekoff’, ‘Akala’, ‘Wackman’, ‘Poisonous Poets’, ‘Swag Blanket’ and political activist ‘Lowkey’ who has worked and toured America with big acts such as ‘Public Enemy’, ‘Immortal Technique’, and ‘Chuck D’ from ‘Public Enemy’ but still doesn’t receive much coverage by mainstream media despite having a huge underground following.

Grime evolved into a ‘hip hop’ genre that would dominate the UK single and album charts. The turn of the decade saw acts like ‘N-Dubz’, ‘Chipmunk’, ‘Tinchy Stryder’ and ‘Dizzee Rascal’ receive widespread commercial success in 2009. ‘Tinchy Stryder’ hit the charts with two number one songs “Never Gonna Leave You” becoming the best selling solo artist in that same year. However they received criticism, being accused of abandoning the genre to achieve success. The next year would see continued success and interest from the U.S with a special collaboration from ‘Skepta’ and ‘Diddy’ on a grime remix “Hello good morning” whilst other artists like ‘Professor Green’ and ‘Tinie Tempah’ achieved break through success and critical appreciation.

Inspite of Grimes dominance, Rapper ‘Plan B’ found success in 2010 with his album ‘The Defamation of Strickland Banks’ a hip hop soul fusion which was followed by Ill Manors in 2012 a soundtrack album to his film. Both albums reached number 1 on the UK Charts.


In 2008 a UK Road Rap was surfacing from Peckham Rappers like Giggs who

Tine Tempah’s debut album Disc-Overy went platinum on 1 March 2011 and took the number one spot in the UK album chart. His number one single ‘Pass Out’ also won a Brit award in the same year.

Wretch32’s Major label debut ‘Black and White’ released in 2011 reached number 1 on the Official Album chart of which 3 tracks reached top 10 in the singles charts ‘Don’t Go’, ‘Unorthodox’ and ‘Traktor’. He went on to win ‘Best International Act’ at the 2012 BET Awards bringing UK Hip Hop and Grime to the global stage.

‘Wretch32’ BET Award Winner (Photo Source:

The rise and popularity of African culture and music in Urban Britain bought about Afro beat Rappers like ‘Fuse OG’ who released “Antenna” on 2 June 2013 reaching number 7 on the UK Singles Charts and 85 in Ireland. “Azonto’ his next single peaked at 30 in the UK charts and in the same year he was awarded a MOBO Award for ‘Best African Act’. In the same year of December 2013 song “Million Pound Girl (Badder than Bad)” got to number 5 in the UK singles Chart. “Dangerous Love” a track featuring Dancehall artist Sean Paul would be released 18 May 2014 peaking the UK singles charts at number 3.

‘Fuse ODG’ (Photo Source:

J Hus’s “Dem Boy Paigon” and “Lean & Bop” gained him popularity in 2015 which was followed by “Did you See” on March 2nd 2017. The song hit 9 on UK singles chart and went platinum making it his biggest song. “Common Sense” was released on 12 May 2017 and reached number 6 on the UK Album Chart. This year (2018) he released his EP ‘Big Spang’.

‘J Hus’ (Photo Source:

Scottish Hip Hop trio ‘Young Father’ won a Mercury Prize for their album ‘Dead’ which entered the UK Chart at 35 after winning the award in 2014.

The next sensation would be a Grime Rapper artist ‘Stormzy’ a young rapper from South London who took the scene literally by storm. Ever since the young rapper from South London has continued to break industry records and earn critical acclaim, winning ‘Best Grime Act’ at the MOBO Awards on 22nd October 2014. In 2015 he followed in Wretch32’s lead winning ‘Best International Act’ at the BET awards. His second album “Gang Signs and Prayer” reached No1 on the UK album chart on 3 March 2017 and the young legend has continued to win numerous awards to date recently receiving a ‘Best Album’ at the 2018 Brit Awards. Stormy recognizes Lauren Hill, ‘Wiley’ and ‘Skepta’ as his key influences and inspirations.

‘Stormzy’ took the scene by storm! (Photo Source:

In 2016 RZ MC’s The Hamilton Mixtape topped the Billboard 200 which also featured the track “immigrants (Get the Job Done) The song would also receive a MTV Video Music Award for “Best Fight Against the System in 2017.

Skepta a key figure in contemporary British Pop Culture is best known on the underground scene for his instrumental bangers with Meridian Crew such as “DTI (Pirate Station Anthem) and “Private Caller”. His Legendary win over ‘Devilman’  in  the ‘Lord of the Mics 2’ (2006) contest earned him the reputation for having the sickest bars and is one the most famous MC clashes in Grime History. He would then release “Joseph Junior Adenuga” mixtape under his label BBK (2007), ‘Greatest Hits’. His first single ‘Rolex Sweep’ made it into the UK charts and in 2009 he released the single “Too Many Man” featuring ‘JME’, ‘Wiley’, ‘Shorty’ and ‘Frisco’. The track was taken from his album ‘Microphone Champion’ released in June of the same year (2009). The Nigerian Decent Londoner then went on to release 5 tracks “Bad Boy”, “Rescue Me”, “Cross my Heart” featuring Preeya Kalidas, “So Alive”and “Amnesia”; tracks taken from his third studio album ‘Doing it Again’. Three of those singles charted on top 40 UK Charts with the highest being “Rescue Me” (#14).

‘Skepta’ released his single ‘that’s not me’ in 2014 which reached number 8 in the UK charts. In 2014 he won a MOBO Award for Best Video which cost him £80 to make. House hold Grime stable “Shut down” was released in 2015 which would be a single on his critically acclaimed 4th album ‘Konnichiwa’.

Konnichiwa received widespread acclaim from critics, who praised its role and success in the resurgence of grime music and its cultural identity (Photo Source:


The album would be Grimes highest ever charting album of the day reaching number 2 in the UK charts and features ‘JME’, ‘D Double E’, ‘Wiley, Chip’, ‘Pharrell Williams’, ‘Asap Nast’ and ‘Young Lord’. The album would be recognized and celebrated internationally across respectable mainstream best album lists with critics praising him for reviving grime music cultural identity. Debretts listed ‘Skepta’ as one of the Most Influential people of 2017. The same year he released his album “Vicious” EP which debuted a new style or sound of Grime/hip hop influenced my America’s popular Trap Rap beats with tracks such as ”Hypocrisy”, “Ghost Ride” “No Security”.

Skepta drops surprise ‘Vicious’ EP featuring Lil B, A$AP Rocky and Section Boyz (Photo Source:


‘Skepta’ notably is and has been an instrumental key figure with over a decade worth of contribution to the Urban music scene both commercially and underground. From the early 2000s this multi-dimensional and multi-talented UK Rapper and Grime MC has made waves both nationally and internationally; gaining the attention of and appearing in collaboration with the likes of super star status acts such as, Kanye West and Drake who he signed to his label in 2016; Both Rappers making historical appearances together at Wireless Festival in 2015 and on stage with Lotto Boys. Bringing more positive hype and attention from the US to UK scene.

‘Drake’ on stage with ‘Section Boyz’ (Photo Source:

Ever since his return the grime legend has diversified his traditional grime sound in different areas making music with the likes of American hip hop artists and acts like ‘ASAP Mob’ “It ain’t safe” (2014) “Red Eye” (2015) with Flatbush Zombies and Nigerian Afrobeats Star Boy, Wizkid on ‘Olejuelegba’(2015) which also featured Drake. The rise and popularity of African culture and music in the capital bought forward the likes of ‘J Hus’, ‘Nots3’,  all gaining commercial success

Collaboration has been key in the rise of UK hip hop and music of black origin over the last 2 years. (Photo Source:

Being able to adapt his clear, crisp and original style into a smoother melodic version has been key in creating a fuse which mixes hip hop and grime to create a unique and ground breaking sound with recent hits like ‘Praise the Lord (‘Da Shine’)’ featuring ASAP Rocky going Platinum in the States, staying on Billboard Hot 100 for 8 consecutive weeks summer of 2018. ‘Boy Better Know’ Skepta a co-founder ‘JME’ won  received a well deserved NME 2018 award for innovation.

‘JME’ another instrumental multi-faceted Rapper and producer on the UK Urban Grime scene released his first album ‘Famous?’ under a private label with all of ‘BBK’. ‘Blam’ his second album was released in 2010 which features tracks “Over Me”, “Side Tracked” featuring Wiley and “CD is Dead” featuring ‘Tempa T’. His compilation album “History” followed in 2011 which features the track “96 Fuckeries”. Both the single and the album respectively made the UK single and album charts.  “Integrity” in 2015 which entered into UK album charts at 12 and the UK R&B and chart and download charts at number! ‘JME’ has a very large and loyal following. His record (‘Integrity’) was nominated for AMPALA Album of the Year award 2015. His single “Man Don’t Care About That” featuring ‘Giggs’ (2015) is a UK Urban Anthem which peaked at 100 in the charts.

2018 has seen a list of collaborations featuring Skepta and emerging talents such as ‘Suspect’ on ‘Look Alive’ (2018), (BlocBoy JB & Drake Remix), Ambush on ‘Jumpy’ (2018) is show casing what looks to be the next generation of UK hip hops Super Stars!

2018 has also see the rise of super talents like ‘Not3s’ who set pace on the scene with his popular sound influenced by grime, afrobeats, and Hip Hop. He is better known for his UK Top Hit 20 songs “My Lover” and “Fine Line” which both feature ‘Mabel’. His break through track “Addison Lee” succeeded in bringing a lot of publicity from the media even performing at club ‘KOKO’ for the companies annual staff party. Notable similar artists include ‘Dave’ who collaborated with Drake on “Wanna Know” (2016) and ‘AJ Tracey’ who’s track “Butterflies” featuring ‘Not3s’ placed in the UK Top 40 charts and also won Best song at the 2018 KA & GRM Daily Awards.

‘Not3s and AJ Tracey’ Butterfly was a summer time banger  (Photo Source:

Road Rap

Road rap is a genre of music also known as British gangster rap and UK rap. IT came about as a backlash to the commercialization of grime becoming successful in the mainstream media. Its explicit lyrics depict the violence of British Gang Culture also often expressed in earlier grime music. It’s a style of music very similar to American Gangsta Rap. The Road Rap scene is focused around YouTube video popularity and mixtape releases. Its most famous artists include ‘Krept and Konan’ ‘Giggs’, ‘Sneakbo’ and ‘K Koke’.Giggs came into the scene in 2005 with his studio album ‘Walk in the Park’.

In 2007 Giggs released “talking the hardest” which was recorded on the instrumental of the song “Here we go” a song which was produced originally by Dr Dre. The following year his independent debut album “Walk in the Park” won a BET Award in the US for the Best Hip Hop Act: UK. Giggs signed with XL Recordings in 2009 making “Look what the cat dragged in” taken from his album ‘lets ave it’ which featured  and “Don’t go There”. In 2010 he also collaborated with Tinchie Stryder’s track “Game Over” together with Devlin, Chipmunk, Professor Green and Tinie Tempah which reached No 21 on the official UK charts. In 2013 he collaborated with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Styles P on his album ‘When will it stop’ which charted at 21 in the UK. His fourth album ‘Landlord’ was released independently in 2016 under his label SN1. The album saw mainstream success reaching number 2 on the UK album charts. He also was the winner of a KA & GRM Daily Award for Artist of the Year.

Giggs South London Rapper (Photo Source:

In March 2017 Giggs was featured on “KMT” and “More Life” on Drakes album ‘More Life’, ‘Wamp 2 Dem’ got released in October 2017 and reached number 2 in the UK Charts. Despite Giggs success he received much negative attention from the Metropolitan police who he claimed were purposely making it difficult for him to pursue his career and earn a living.

Negative coverage from the media regarding the music genres violent lyrical content and its association with gun crime, gangs and criminally convicted affiliated member has seen 696 a pre-emptive policing method of form used to give authority to clubs to hold acts at their venues. The racially bias form of assessment and pressure from the police has caused many artists shows to be cancelled just hours before performances. Causing both the scene to be slow in growth and its artists to suffer financially with no way to support their careers and stay out of poverty and crime. The two main things many are trying to get away from.

Recently popular road rap artist ‘Dave’ and ‘Fredo’ scored a #1 hit with “Funky Friday” which debuted at number 1 in the UK charts. The independently-released track, featuring ‘Fredo’, notched up 6.7 million audio and video streams in a  week – and knocked Calvin Harris & Sam Smith’s Promises to #2 after five weeks at the summit.

UK Drill

There has been an emergence of Trap and drill crews coming through like Section Boyz and 67 have been watched by police for gang affiliation and violent lyrical content. A resurgence of road rappers like Nines and many more tell gritty tales of violence and poverty through their music.

Mentionable Acts of today include: Blade Brown, Benny Banks, Corleone, C Biz, Giggs, Fredo, J Spades, Gunna Dee, K Koke, Joe Black, Nines, Skapz, Squeeks, Sneakabo, Young Spray, Yungen, Youngs Teflon.

UK Drill derives from road rap and drill music which originated in South London Brixton from around 2012. It borrows heavily form the distinct sound and style of drill music from Chicago. The genre’s artists usually rap about violence and self-indulgent lifestyles. The creators of this style of music are usually associated with gangs from socioeconomically deprived Urban areas where crime is a typical way of life. The relation between road rap and UK drill are close to British style Gangstar rap that became popular earlier on in the UK. Musically UK drill is often aggressive and exhibits threats and the use of violent language.

Notable gangs/groups from the current  UK Drill scene include: 150, 1011, 410, 86, 67, Harlem, Spartans, Beside, OFB, Moscow 17, SMG/M Splash, Zone 2, Silwood Nation

Notable Artists from UK Drill include: Unknow-T, DigDat, Bis, Blanco, 30, Digga D, BT, Grizzy 150, Dimzy, LD, Loski, Headie One, MizOrMac, Poky, Rendo, Skengdo & AM, Russ & Taze.


The UK Drill genre is influenced by earlier British UK garage and Grime. Some even calling it “New Grime”. Drill producer Carns Hill advised that it should be renamed because of its 140bpm not seen by its American counterpart. Auto tune is also not similar unseen in British Drill music. Rappers like ‘Chief Keef’ uses his voice as a mournful instrument whilst British rappers have a more harsh raw style inherited from Grime and previous road rap. UK drill also has a more ironic and allusive lyrical delivery.

The violent lyrical content of the genre has been blamed by some for the rise in knife crimes and murders in the London. One of many instances saw Junior Simpson a 17 year old rapper also known as M Trap receive a life sentence for his lyrical content which police linked to the  knife attack of a 15 year old boy who was stabbed to death by a gang of 4. The Judge Anthony Leonard QC told Simpson in Court “You suggested (the lyrics) were just for show but I do not believe that, and I suspect you were waiting for the right opportunity for an attack”.

UK Drill gangs usually get into violent arguments with one another exchanging violent threats on multiple tracks released to disrespect one another. Ongoing feuds between gangs include: Moscow 17 and Zone 2, 150 verses 67, OFB/NPK versus WG/N9 and 814 versus SMG. In 2016 ‘Showkey’, a member of 814 was murdered in an unrelated incident whilst ‘Incognito’ Part of group ‘Moscow 17’ was stabbed to death in Camberwell in the same place another one of his gang member had been murdered only a few months before on August 1st this year.

Uk Drills Michael Dapaah received some weighty attention in 2017 when he released his novelty track “Mans Not Hot”. The track is sampled on a beat produced by ‘GottiOnEM’ and ‘Mazza’ which was first used on a track called “Lurk” by a drill group called 86 and later again on 67’s “Lets Lurk” featuring Giggs.

YouTube the main outlet for UK Drill music and its gangs, reported the deletion of 30 videos at the request of the police in May this year. Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police Commissioner singled out the “violent” music videos as a catalyst of violent crime and murders in the London capital.

However, the rough start of this genre now looks set to shine bright with emerging rappers coming through with some incredible raw talent like ‘Unknown-T’. The young G’s lyrical flow can easily be marketed to the masses, descriptive enough to be gangsta but at the same time his lyrical content is calm, pure gritty finesse of spoken hood moments, delivered smoothly over addictive aggressive and erratic beats distinct to that of Grime and Road Rap.


American influenced artists ‘Section Boys’ dropped mixtape ‘Don’t Panic’ (2015) which debuted number 3 on the iTunes chart from preorders alone. The album would peak at 36 in the UK Charts. Other artists outside the UK Drill scene are S Loud, M Huncho, 23, Suspect,TE dness, Octavian, Nafe Smallz and K-Trap many of whom have gained influence from US Trap scene to generate a UK version of stories told about urban living and lifestyles.

Other notable British trap artists include: Fee Gonzales, Fekky, House of Pharaohs, K-Trap, Lancey Foux, Slimz, S L and Yung Fume.


Commercialization and Backlash

The post-millennial boom of Grime accorded with UK Hip-Hop’s however the keenly awaited boom never happened. Rather, artists like ‘Tinchy Stryder’, ‘N-Dubz’, ‘Chip’ and ‘Tinie Tempah’ had their traditional sounds tweaked to suit the Pop market. The lineage however of most UK rappers is undoubted Grime over UK Hip Hop.

Common agreement amongst underground hip hop followers is that it is more relevant to a small segment of listeners and not the mass market. This is because mainstream acts are believed to be paid large amounts of money by major record labels who control the sound of the music to suit current mass market. This is then met with a backlash of accusations of being a ‘sell out’ by the underground


In the early days pirate stations such as DejaVu FM, Flex FM and Rinse Fm were pretty much the only outlet for UK Urban music at the time. Rinse FM was a pirate radio station until 2010 when it was awarded a community FM Broadcast License.

The growth of British hip hop was further helped in August 2002 when BBC launched a digital radio station called 1Xtra devoted to “new black music” including R&B, Soul, Dancehall, Grime, UK Garage and Drum and Bass. However wasn’t soley dedicated to British Hip Hop.

Tim West Wood showcased both ‘Wiley’ and ‘Skepta’ on his show in 2008 BBC radio show. Both Grime MC’s dropped their classical freestyles in 2008 cementing their reputation as Kings of Grime.

Charlie Sloths’ trademark show ‘Fire in the Booth’ is considered to be a sign of achievement on the scene; especially for new MC’s and Rappers from the UK Hip Hop and Grime scenes. The show has seen rappers such as ‘Akala’, Avelino, Devlin, Professor Green, K Koke, Bugzy Malone, Lowkey, Tinie Tempah, Big Narstie, Wretch32, Drake and many more. Charlie announced he would be leaving the show to pursue newer ventures on 9th August 2018.

Cable and satellite Channel AKA (Channel U formerly) put British Hip Hop and Grime on mainstream media. Jamal Edwards created SBTV in 2006 a digital platform that serves as plat form less established artists to showcase their talent. It was this channel that would discover the likes of Ed Sheeran. Jamal was awarded a MBE on the New Years Honors list for services to music in 2014. YouTube has also been a big outlet for both established and upcoming artists. Tim West showcased many Hip Hop and Grime artists via his YouTube Channel ‘The Tim Westwood show’ which has over 750,000 subscribers and 395 million views. Grime and UK Hip Hop channels include, Link Up TV, GRM Daily, SB.TV, Pressplay Media and Mixtape Madness. YouTube was and still is a very significant outlet for new and established artists.

Julie Adenuga, sister of ‘Skepta’ and ‘JME’ dedicates her experienced ear to new and old sounds of urban inner City Culture on her Apple Radio Stations Beats1. Julie also co-hosted the first ever KA & GRM Daily 2018 awards with comedian Mo Gilligan. The ceremony was broadcast on National TV on Friday 7th September at 11.05pm on Channel 4. This is the first time the award ceremony that celebrates urban music and talent has ever been broadcast.

Women have made their mark on the evolution of UK Hip Hop from the very beginning. Female representatives include the likes of Monie Love (‘It’s a Shame’, 1990), and Nenah Cherry (Buffallo Stance, 1989). Mercury Prize winners Ms Dynamite (‘Dy-na-mi-tee’, 2002) and Kate Tempest (Circles, 2014), ‘Speech Debelle’ (“Spinnin”, 2009), Alesha Dixon with Group Mis-Teeq (“All I want”, 2001). Little Simz (“Offence, 2018), M.I.A (“Paper Planes”, 2007), Shystie (“One wish”, 2004), Lady Estelle (American Boy, 2000), Baby Blue (“Sometimes”, 2007) Leshurr  (Queens Speech, 2015) and Stefflon Don (“Hurtin Me”, 2017). Other female rappers include: Wee Papa Girl, Rappers, She Rockers, Cookie Crew, Envy, NoLay and C-Mone.

Women rappers have often been confronted with a lot of sexist stereotyping. Rapper, singer and song writer Estelle said she thinks female rappers “get a tough ride because some of them don’t see themselves above and beyond the bull-shit and no ones really given them a break.” Despite this success has been achieved by artists like M.I.A and Lady Sovereign both having hits in the US and UK. ‘Ms Dynamite’, ‘Kate Tempest’ and ‘Speech Debell’  used their rapping abilities to express their views on political and social issues through music.


  1. Greetings from SF!
    Ahhh… the labryrinthine history of Hip-Hop! Excellent piece here!
    2 quick things: Grandmaster Flash and the “Furious” Five not ‘Famous’ and John Peel was misspelled ‘Peal’.
    Besides those minor bits , this is a great in depth read, and really shines a light on a lot I didn’t know about.
    Growing up with Hip-Hop in the U.S. was an interesting experience but, like a lot of old schoolers, when it got violent and heavily misogynistic and the sample laws sucked the creativity out of it, limiting the role of the DJ, I got into other things. That being said, I always liked the little bits I heard here and there coming out of the UK. There were also some artists I remember liking back in the day that I had no idea were originally British but relocated to the U.S!
    Pre-internet we only had the info on the back record or inserts and there were hardly any mags covering it back then, so the history is murky and there are many versions only recently coming out, thanks for touching on a wide array of artists and giving some perspective!

    • Thank you so much for your positive feed back! It is much appreciated 🙂 Writing this article filled in some blanks and bought back many memories for me. I still have some work to do on it and will be sure to make those amendments! Thanks again for taking the time to read it! Glad you enjoyed!

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