It’s become customary since I started writing for this illustrious website to try and target one month a year, dedicating it to all that is current and noteworthy in the field of UK hip hop. It is noticeably easier in 2011, as there is just SO MUCH going on. A few years ago, it was a genuine struggle: now there is a flood of material, and the quality level has definitely risen. Whilst it’s not quite at the stage where the world is being conquered (reports of that are premature, to say the least), the involvement of major labels has helped to raise the profile of these young, hungry rappers. Whether they have come from hip hop or grime, their end destination is usually the same: success.
The Brits are very good at a couple of things: creating a “scene” and getting the youth market hyped up about it. Unfortunately, the British music press is also extremely quick to spray hyperbolic praise to undeserving artists. Whilst I’m proud of my nation, I’m also extremely aware of my reputation and refuse to compromise on certain things: it would be fair to say that the importance of my musical beliefs rank far higher than anything religious. Therefore, you shouldn’t ever see me “gassing up” a British MC for the sake of geographical pride, or because I might just bump into them. It’s strictly about the skills.
Which makes it all the more satisfying to report that UK rappers have stepped their game up. A lot. Yes, there are multiple chart successes, and the inevitable sampling, crossovers and having to placate profit-driven labels. But we are now entering the second phase: artistic freedom. In a few of my reviews, I’d frequently say the same thing about debut LP’s from British rappers on major labels: that they sounded like guests on their own label-assembled albums. The thing with a lot of labels is, however, that once you’ve proved to them you can sell, they generally allow you a bit of leeway the next time around.
Chipmunk is the perfect example – if you read the review of his debut (“I Am Chipmunk“) and then check out “Transition” (up this week), you’ll see that he’s rammed those words back down my throat. And it feels great. Great to watch a young artist evolve, take their personal growth seriously and be afforded the freedom to express themselves. Professor Green seems to be in a similar position – unfortunately, his album isn’t being released until after this month, but just one look at the track listing for his sophomore effort and one can ascertain that he’s in a similar position.
Aside from the major label rappers, we will have a selection of independent label MC’s, unsigned artists and some real hustlers doing it all by themselves. Some have a very contemporary sound, other have become experts at boom bap; some spit grime, others hip hop; some are just can’t be categorised. The first phase was to achieve recognition through commercial success, by any means necessary. That has been done. Now, the artists have a license to thrill. Prepare to be impressed over the next month.
Week of September 6th:
M.C. Mell’O’: Thoughts Released (Revelations I)
Configa: Calm Before the Storm Mixtape
Week of September 13th:
Jehst: The Dragon of an Ordinary Family
Week of September 20th:
Jehst: Falling Down
Jehst: The Return of the Drifter
Wretch 32: Black and White
Ed Sheeran: + (Plus)
Week of September 27th:
Example: Won’t Go Quietly
Ruthless Rap Assassins: Killer Album
Chester P: From the Ashes
Ghostpoet: Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam