Not to be that one person who won’t shut up about how “studying abroad changed my life,” but the British rap scene finally grew on me after staying in London last Fall Quarter. Despite the initial peculiarity of a posh-voice rap about dark subjects with vernacular that clashed with my American ear, I have now subscribed to the British rap scene. The melodic Afrobeats, distinct tempos and hard-hitting elements that American rap doesn’t quite touch makes British rap a distinct genre, but most Americans can’t stand it. And yet rap from the U.S. is simply more popular across the globe.
Why do American hip hop lovers have such disregard toward British rap and grime?
First, some listeners genuinely don’t register the accents that are paramount to UK rap, as people associate British accents as being proper and unfitting with the grit of contemporary hip hop. Simply put, people often find it difficult to adapt to differences and write the music off in an act of dismissiveness.
Secondly, people think the jargon and context is unrelatable because it’s from a different country with different slang and living circumstances. However, by paying just slightly more attention than usual, it’s easy and interesting to piece together the lyrics while learning more about the culture and life in the United Kingdom using an American fan’s perspective on rap music.
Innovation is a revered quality in hip hop. Mainstream American artists such as Kanye West are constantly pushing to change their music and create new genres, sounds and production within hip hop. Yetmany Americans typically take a pessimistic approach to accepting innovative music from a different country.
More recently, British rap has become more prevalent across the U.S. with the help of American artists. Whether it be P. Diddy, who dropped a remix with grime-godfather Skepta, Drake featuring UK rapper Giggs in his project More Life or A$AP Rocky’s strong friendship with Skepta and production of the minor hit “Praise the Lord,” many American rap powerhouses are slowly starting to bridge the gap between U.S. and UK rap.
Generally speaking, in American rap, different states have particular linguistic and stylistic differences, making Atlanta rappers and New York rappers distinctly unique from each other. Rap is inherently cultural and has branched into many separate directions, so it’s hard not to appreciate its differences within the country. Similarly, rap from the United Kingdom contrasts regionally in order to piece together neighborhoods of the UK.
For all my hip hop lovers who are ready to give British rap a chance, here are some of the best right now:
As a veteran of grime, Skepta is greatly influential to the British rap community and even American rap in his rise from underground to chart-topping singles across the pond. He has numerous features with acclaimed American artists such as P. Diddy, A$AP Rocky and Pharrell and has received love and attention from industry titans Kanye West and Drake.
A multi-award winning rapper, Stormzy has made huge moves forward for the UK rap scene. His album Gang Signs & Prayer was the UK’s first grime album to reach No. 1 on Official Charts. Stormzy is also one of the few rappers to talk about his Christian faith and explore it in his music, receiving acclaim from many for it.
Giggs has helped build the foundations of UK rap with his subtly well-timed rhymes about the tribulations of urban life in South London. His style makes him distinct, as his production is rather audacious without much thought about precision or arrangement.
Boasting a very different style from the previous artists on this list, Dave’s projects focus more on clarity and smoothness in a cathartic form of music. He showcases his lyrical mastery through raps about societal injustices, opening up about his racial identity and his own personal struggles through measured rhymes.
Little Simz is an up-and-coming British rapper paving the way in the industry. The artist is a woman in the historically and currently male-dominated field while also combining R&B, jazz, soul and hip hop all into her music, paired with her lyrically ingenious rap and impressive flow.
J Hus combines his Gambian heritage with UK style rap to create a dancehall grime with the Afrobeats that have been increasingly popular in British rap and not extensively explored in American hip hop.
With a very different style from the other rappers, Octavian includes a cacophony of melodic moments in his music; some songs are calm and somber while others harbor a distinctive dance hall sound with incredible flow in his lyrics combined with the music.
So whether it be the differences in regional slang or the more up-tempo dance-type beats of British rap compared to the trap 808s that American rappers favor, the U.S. and the UK boast two distinct homes to hip hop that can both be appreciated – whether they’re together or apart.