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UK’s finest: top 5 rappers dominating the British scene

Photo by Karsten Winegeart for Unsplash.

Born from the streets of cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester, UK rap is a mix of raw lyrics, diverse beats, and mad creativity. From Grime to drill, UK rap brings the heat with its own flavour, telling real stories and tackling real issues. It’s all about the hustle, the grind, and making your voice heard.

The Grime genre emerged as a derivation of US rap, mixed with UK sounds such as garage. With its fast pace at 144 bpm, the Grime genre emerged in the early 2000s. It gained popularity through pirate radios and live events in the underground scene.

1. JME

Growing up in Tottenham in East London, JME is an icon of the Grime scene. With his brother Skepta, they formed Boy Better Know in 2005, a group and independent record label.

In songs like 96 Of My Life, he is not only rapping but also storytelling. He describes the misery he was experiencing back in Tottenham, to how he was using the pirate radio his brother had set up. When he says “After man paid the student fees, I went to Jetstar and pressed my CD’s. Boy Better Know editions 1 to 3, man just about scraped a degree”, we can understand what struggle he’s been through, including using his student loan on his mum’s rent, to arrive where he is today.

2. Skepta

Despite being JME’s brother and one of the founders of the Grime genre, Skepta has a more international presence. With hits like Show Out by Kid Cudi featuring Skepta and Pop Smoke, Skepta combines nearly 7 million listeners a month on Spotify. Skepta started by having weekly slots on pirate radios such as DejaVu or HeatFM with his brother JME and their group composed of Big H, Paper Pablo, President T and Bossman.

Throughout the years, Skepta spread Grime in Birmingham during a clash with MC Devilman where he proved the country Grime was alive and artists were talented.

After a few years of experimenting and being ahead of his time, Skepta released That’s Not Me with JME, which embodied perfectly the genre. Unapologetically rimes, a fast bpm, and a homemade anti-commercial video, he knew how to conquer once again the British scene.

3. Little Simz

The British-Nigerian rapper Simbi Ajikawo known as Little Smiz, has changed the rap scene over the years. She doesn’t only rap, she spits, she tells the story. From her darkest moments to how she feels empowered as a woman, Simz is purposeful and makes us feel her feelings through her music.

In an interview with the Guardian, she admits “I’m not the greatest at opening up”. This resonated when she performed the song Broken in her latest show in Alexandra Palace, North London. Overwhelmed by the emotion, she paused, took a deep breath, and had to start again. At this moment, the whole venue was silent, leading to a very intimate moment with the rapper who exposed us to the dark moments she had spent alone in a period of her life where it was not going well.

4. Enny

Originally from South London, the British-Nigerian rapper speaks her mind and empowers Black women through her powerful lyrics. The release of Peng Black Girls (Peng means pretty in English slang) in 2020, brought her to the foreground of the UK rap scene. With only two EPs out, Enny is being careful with what material she releases. As a perfectionist, she shared that “I’m conscious of oversharing” in an interview.

5. Sainté

The Leicester-based prodigy Sainté rose extremely quickly in the UK rap scene. At just 21 years old, he drops Champagne Shots, which instantly becomes a classic whenever his name is brought up. His flow is so smooth, it’s like the words just slide out effortlessly.

Unlike other listed rappers all based in London, Sainté stands out by coming from the Midlands, explaining in an interview that “I enjoy being the outsider and being different”. Sainté emergence from the Midlands brings some freshness to the London-based scene.

In conclusion, the UK rap scene is a testament to truth, empowerment, and struggles. It stands as a voice for minorities, allowing them to be heard and empowering their audience about societal issues.

Through their voices, JME, Skepta, Enny, Little Simz and Sainté lead the listeners through their struggles and drive them into their journey on how they became who they are now.

UK rap is far from over. With new sub-genres appearing constantly, it is an ever-evolving genre which still has a lot of surprises to be yet discovered.

I invite you to share your thoughts. Have I missed any talented UK rappers? Are there emerging artists who deserve recognition? Let me know in the comments below.

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