UK rap has never been as regionally-inclusive as it was 2018.
The scene no longer begins and ends in London, each major city now has an artist pushing each sound forward: Birmingham’s Dapz On The Map, Nottingham’s Mez and Dublin’s Danny Bones emerged with idiosyncratic styles that sat alongside drill, trap and grime.
Northampton’s slowthai is one of the most exciting breakout artists of the year. His macabre realism has a punk feel, particularly his live shows, where he’ll often strip down to his boxers and perform sweat-dripping and head-banging offering a palliative to the more stoic style of a lot of UK rap.
Social and political commentary was a common thread through some of the standouts, which comes as no surprise after the Grenfell tragedy in 2017 and the Windrush scandal this past spring. People are feeling dejected and it’s being reflected back through the music. Guys like Awate and Oscar #Worldpeace rap about the realities of the rising impact social cleansing has had on many of Britain’s black working class communities. #Worldpeace’s ‘No White God’ is particularly potent on the regression and commodification of black British music culture in some respects: “Who killed culture? White men in suits / Who killed Smiley? White men in suits.”
All of the voices here represent varied, but overlapping, experiences: Jesse James Solomon, 808INK and SL employ nonchalant, south London steez, while any muttering that grime is dead is diffused by wunderkinds like Flohio, Mez and Aitch of London, Nottingham and Manchester, respectively, who have shown that in the hands of the next crop of talent, the genre’s ready to evolve.
Danny Bones, Jelani Blackman, Children of Zeus and, especially, CASisDEAD are pushing the sound of UK rap into peculiar realms. Perhaps one day we’ll find out who the enigmatic CASisDEAD really is, but until then, we dig into tracks like ‘Pet Earrings’, which sounds easily like it could be released by Italians Do It Better.
This snapshot of UK rap and grime bodes well for the future. Going into 2019, the scene is in an incredibly healthy state.
01. Little Simz – ‘Boss’
02. Taliifah & K9 – ‘Major Problem’
03. CASisDead – ‘Pet Earrings’
04. Dapz On The Map – ‘Off to Work’ [Feat. JME]
05. JJ (Jesse James Solomon) – ‘Under the Sun’ [Feat. kadiata]
06. Awate & Turkish Dcypha – ‘Happiness’
07. 808INK – ‘Handy’
08. SL – ‘Nothing to Say’
09. Ocean Wisdom – ‘Revvin’ [Feat. Dizzee Rascal]
10. Mez – ‘Tyrone Freestyle’
11. Flohio – ‘Bands’
12. Unknown T – ‘Homerton B’
13. Jelani Blackman – ‘Lockjaw’
14. K-Trap – ‘Edgware Road’ [Feat. LD]
15. Jamzz – ‘Everything Dead’
16. Shaun Sky – ‘Global Calling’ [Feat. Kojey Radical]
17. Aitch – ‘Blitzed’ [Feat. Kay Rico]
18. slowthai – ‘T N Biscuits’
19. Shay D – ‘Spit For Me’
20. Nadia Rose – ‘On Top’
21. Peigh – ‘Answering Phone’
22. Eklipse – ‘Facts’ [Feat. Earbuds]
23. Oscar #Worldpeace – ‘No White God’
24. Danny Bones – ‘Mama’
25. Children of Zeus – ‘Slow Down’
Jesse Bernard is freelance music and culture journalist based in Brooklyn and London, still hotsteppin’ in a Nike Air sneaker. Find him on Twitter.
Keep up with all of FACT’s Best of 2018 coverage here.