10 UK rap artists to watch in 2018
New year, who dis? A new batch of boundary-pushing rising artists determined to conquer 2018, that’s who. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be amping up our FACT Rated coverage of vital new acts you need to care about with lists and interviews introducing you to the most exciting newcomers set to storm the year ahead. Welcome to Rated Season.
The MCs and crews who look destined to rule the airwaves over the next 12 months.
With UK MCs blowing up in the space of a single tune, any ones-to-watch list written in January runs the risk of being obsolete by February. With that caveat in mind, here are 10 MCs and crews who – currently at least – look likely to have a great year. It’s a sign of the strength of the current homegrown MC led scene that the names on the list are drawn from a variety of styles, touching on everything from the poppiest afro-swing to the bleakest of drill. The thing that unites them all is hunger and talent to spare. You can guarantee that at least some – if not all – of the names on this list are going to make some incredible music in 2018.
With the drill scene delivering more and more grassroots hits, it’s inevitable that it should produce some breakout stars. Currently, Skengdo and 410 Crew alumnus AM are looking the most likely to become the face (or in AM’s case, mask) of drill. Disproving critics who insist the lyrical content of the scene is limited to a handful of clichés, Skengdo and AM weave flashes of humour, complexity and clarity into their tales of crime and violence.
During their recent, triumphant Fire In The Booth performance, AM managed to order a Chinese mid-flow and question his own hypocrisy at believing black lives matter while threatening to fuck over an opp’s life the next. In one truly unique bar, he switches to rapping in morse code and binary code. His clear ability is offset by Skengdo’s effortlessly addictive way with a hook – turning hood reflections into club anthems. If the streets’ thrilled response to their current 2 Bunny mixtape is anything to go by, 2018 could well be their year.
Octavian has caused quite a stir in London’s A&R circles with only a handful of tracks. The reason is simple: his delivery is incredible. Sandpaper rough syllables tear from his throat, even as he delivers them with a rich melody. His most recent track ‘Party Here’ should seal the deal if you’re not already sold – its beat switches back and forth between the low-end of trap and house-tempo 4/4 kicks, showing an artist confident enough to experiment. There’s not enough music from Octavian out there yet to know for sure if this is more than a flash in the pan – but even if it is, it’s quite some flash.
With most of Harlem Spartans seeing in 2018 behind bars, Loski is one of their few key MCs still at liberty to carry the weight of expectations created by the Kennington crew’s run of peerless releases in late 2016 and early 2017. He seems to be relishing the task: with enviable energy, he’s been dropping drill bangers such as ‘Teddy Bruckshot’ and ‘Money & Beef’, both of which showcased an impressively unpredictable flow. He’s also versatile – a few months back, his track ‘Forrest Gump’ leaked, showcasing Loski sing-rapping on an Afrobashment track not a million miles from fellow Spartan TG Millian’s ‘Money on the Road‘. If he can continue to develop that mastery over style, he’ll deliver some serious tunes.
Having a massive hit with one of your first tracks isn’t always a blessing. In SL’s case, it also came while he was still only 15. His track ‘Gentleman’ dropped on Mixtape Madness’s YouTube channel in March 2017, and went on to be viewed over 13 million times. A combination of his weirdly stretched flow – like a teenage Giggs – and a haunted, funeral-paced beat made the track pick up fans as far afield as Toronto, which would be enough to mess with any kid from Croydon’s head. Silence followed, and it looked like SL might be a one hit wonder.
Now it looks like SL is here to stay. His follow-up track ‘Tropical’ dropped on Christmas Day with visuals that fucked off any attempt to work a tropical theme, with SL performing in what looked like Swedish fjords rendered in 4k resolution. As with ‘Gentleman’, the elements are familiar (deep 808 hits and bragging lyrics), but there’s a certain magic in the way it’s put together. If he can manage to put out more than two tunes a year, his 2018 is going to be huge.
It still remains remarkably hard for MCs out of London to blow up. Throw in the scene’s tired resistance to new female talent (check the comments on any Nadia Rose or Stefflon Don video if you don’t think this is still an issue) and Mancunian rapper/singer IAMDDB’s sudden rise becomes all the more impressive. This ascent is down in no small part down to the fact that she’s occupying her own lane with considerable style, drawing on the slurry sing-song flow and spaced-out beats of American trap more than any of the drill or Afrobashment most UK artists favour. As such, she’s the quite probably the artist on this list most likely to go on to mainstream success – and with the BBC Sound Of 2018 poll already giving her the nod, it’s clear the mainstream are paying attention.
Anyone who claims the appetite for Not3s and J Hus style afroswing singalongs was sated in 2017 has been well and truly disproved by the emergence of Ramone Rochester of late. Mitcham’s own Ramz had one of the biggest hits of the year with ‘Barking’, an afroswing smash carried by a relentless earworm of a chorus. He’s spoken in interviews about his love of injecting hooks into his raps. Now signed to Polydor on the back of ‘Barking’, he’s got major label clout to push that musical sensibility nationwide.
K-Trap is pick of the streets right now. On first look, he’s another driller sticking to the South London formula: he always wears a bally in his videos and raps pretty much exclusively about selling packs and splashing opps. But Trap’s true talent is how he transcends those themes and make the familiar feel fresh. His flow has such kinetic belligerence that the syllables come out like snare smashes, his style reminiscent of the moshpit-causing, aggy delivery of grime’s forefathers (in fact, it’s easy to imagine him demolishing a grime riddim). With a new mixtape set to drop in 2018, he’s likely going to remain the streets’ favourite for another year.
Hackney’s B Young is drawing a line between US autotune trap and the melodic sense of Afrobashment. On tracks like ‘London Boy’, the influence of the big American trap stars is immediately apparent. But it’s on the guitar-driven rhythm of his breakthrough track ‘Jumanji’ that he gives something really unique, shining on a track that feels like a UK garage classic dropped down to a zeitgeist-pleasing 100bpm. He’s created a big stir in a small amount of time – and his next few releases could easily establish him as a major new player.
Trillary has been dropping a steady stream of bedroom-ready bashment tracks of late that have become more assured as time has gone on. Ignoring the pressure on female MCs to lace their bars with sung vocals, Trillary sticks to a dry, languid delivery that’s in no hurry to do anything other than exactly what it wants. Her biggest tracks have been performed in Jamaican patois, but she’s not shy of occasionally switching into her own Leicester accent (as on ‘Doing It’) to prove she’s just as capable of rapping bars as she is dropping dancehall fire.
Peckham collective Zone 2 are one of the drill crews knocking loudest at the door. The definitive Zone 2 line up is nebulous, but the core of PS, Narsty, Trizzac, Kwengface, Karma, L-R and Skully were all present and correct on their recently released instant classic mixtape, Known Zoo. Whilst the majority of drill has stuck to a fairly tight sonic palette, Known Zoo saw the Zone 2 collective pushing the boundaries of what the sound can achieve, with the smart sampling of ‘No Hook’ and the Cadenza-produced jitter of ‘Trash’ showing they have the ambition and vision to dictate just where drill goes next.
Ian McQuaid is a DJ, A&R and journalist based in London. Find him on Twitter.
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