British hip hop: Wikis


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British hip hop usually UK Rap is a genre of music, and a culture that covers a variety of styles of hip hop music made in the United Kingdom.[1] It is sometimes known as Brithop,[2] and is generally classified as one of a number of styles of urban music.[3] British hip hop was originally influenced by the New York hip hop scene, with British rappers often adopting American accents in the early years.

In 2003, The Times described British hip hop's broad ranging approach:

"...'UK rap' is a broad sonic church, encompassing anything made in Britain by musicians informed or inspired by hip-hop's possibilities, whose music is a response to the same stimuli that gave birth to rap in New York in the mid-Seventies.[1]


Origins of British hip hop

Tim Westwood is a prominent DJ

Following an initial flurry of interest from major record labels in the 1980s, by the early 1990s the scene had moved underground after record companies pulled back. In the mid-1990s hip hop in the UK started to experiment and diversify - often mutating into different genres entirely, such as trip hop, UK garage or Drum n Bass - and began making inroads into the US market. While many rappers such as Derek B could not help but begin by imitating the styles and accents of their U.S. heroes, there were many who realized that to merely transpose U.S. forms would rob U.K. hip-hop of the ability to speak for a disenfranchised British constituency in the way that U.S. hip-hop so successfully spoke to, and for, its audience. Attempts were made by U.K. rappers to develop styles more obviously rooted in British linguistic practices - Rodney P of the London Posse deliberately chose a London accent - although many succeeded only in adopting a slurred hybrid that located the rap somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. [4]



Early years: 1980s

As in the US, British hip hop emerged as a scene from graffiti and breakdancing, and then through to DJing and rapping live at parties and club nights, with its supporters predominantly listening to and influenced by American hip hop. Unlike in the US, it should be noted that the British hip hop scene was cross-racial from the beginning. This is due to the fact that various ethnic groups in Britain tend to not live in segregated areas, even in areas with a high percentage of non-white individuals. These places allow youth to share a cultural interchange with one another including musical genres such as hip hop.[5]

Cross pollination through migrating West Indians helped develop a community interested in the music. There were, however, British tunes starting to appear - the first ever British hip hop tune released on record was "London Bridge" by Newtrament and released on Jive records in 1984,[6] though prior to this British artists were rapping live or recording amateur tapes.

There were earlier pop records which dabbled with rap - such as Adam and the Ants' "Ant Rap" from the Prince Charming (CBS, 1981) LP, Wham's "Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do)" (Inner Vision, 1982) or Malcolm McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" (Charisma, 1982) - but these are often considered pop appropriations of US rap.

Over the next few years, more UK hip hop and electro was released: Street Sounds Electro UK (Street Sounds, 1984), which was produced by Greg Wilson and featured an early appearance from MC Kermit, who later went on to form the Wilson produced Ruthless Rap Assassins; The Rapologists' "Kids Rap/Party Rap" (Billy Boy, 1984); DJ Richie Rich's "Don't Be Flash" (Spin Offs, 1985). Releases were still few and far between, and the scene remained predominantly underground.

Although record labels began to take note of the underground scene throughout the 1980s and 1990s, radio play and publicity were still a difficulty in helping the fledgling scene to grow, and the scene only managed to survive through word of mouth and the patronage of pirate radio stations around the country. Mainstream radio did play British hip hop on occasion, and instrumental in giving the scene wider recognition were DJs such as Dave Pearce, Tim Westwood, and John Peel.

The first British hip hop labels

The first UK record label devoted to releasing UK hip hop acts was founded in 1986. Simon Harris' Music of Life label was home to rapper Derek B - the first UK rapper to achieve chart success.

Building on Derek B's success, Music of Life went on to sign groups such as Hijack, the Demon Boyz, Hardnoise (later Son of Noise) and MC Duke. Their Hard as Hell series mixed homegrown talent like Thrashpack and the She Rockers with US artists such as Professor Griff. Music of Life was swiftly followed by other labels such as Mango Records and Kold Sweat. Another successful British hip-hop artist that emerged from Music of life, was Usher D[1], due to being originally from Jamaica, he would often mix hip-hop with reggae music.

Moving away from its US roots, British hip hop started to develop its own sounds: acts like Hijack, II Tone Committee, Hardnoise, and Silver Bullet developed a fast and hardcore style, while many other acts took influences from elsewhere.

Caveman and Outlaw Posse developed a jazz influenced style, whilst MC Mell'O' mixed jazz and hardcore. London Posse and Black Radical Mk II were more influenced by reggae, whilst the Wee Papa Girl Rappers, Cookie Crew and Monie Love achieved chart success with more radio friendly hip hop.

Other acts and styles developed from the hip hop scene, resulting in new genres to describe them - for example Massive Attack[7] with trip hop, or Galliano with acid jazz.

False dawn: 1985

Despite the chart success of some British born hip hop artists - for example Slick Rick and Young MC, who all moved to the US at an early age - the majority of the scene was still underground and small scale.

In 1987 Positive Beat Records [2]came out of the hotbed of early UK Hip Hop, Ladbroke Grove, London with two releases. The label followed up the single 'Its Getting Rough' by 'Rocky X and D-D Dance' [3]with the bold and seminal 'Known 2 be Down'[4] album. This featured Sir Drew (of KREW and Newtrament), MC Flex, She Rockers, Rapski and more of West London's finest rap talents.

In 1998 Rapski released 'The Connection' [5]on 12" [6]. The track was taken from 'Known 2 Be Down' and was an early example of mixing Hip Hop and Reggae in a (London) Style. More was to come in the early 1990s in the form of MC Reason aka Voice of Reason with 'Symbolise / HouseQuake' and Jonie D with 'Which Base / Ride On' which was performed live on ITV in 1991.

A mindset began to develop - typified by the Gunshot tune "No Sell Out",1991 or Son of Noise's tune "Poor But Hardcore", 1992 - that distrusted successful artists who did not utilise the hardcore style most associated with the scene. Silver Bullet's chart success was applauded due to an uncompromisingly rapid delivery, whereas Derek B and Rebel MC were scorned when their more pop influenced styles earned them success. Such artists were often branded "sell outs".

Hip Hop Connection - the first major British hip hop magazine - was founded in 1989 and by the early 1990s the British hip hop scene seemed to be thriving. Not only was there a firm base of rappers in London - such as Blade, Black Radical Mk II and Overlord X - but many distinct scenes developed nationally.

Bristol's scene (specifically, the St. Pauls area) produced The Wild Bunch (later better known as Massive Attack), and major crews like the Scratch Perverts and Smith & Mighty, and later became the home of trip hop.

Nottingham was the birthplace of the Stereo MCs, whilst Leeds spawned Braintax and Breaking the Illusion (who both founded Low Life Records) as well as Nightmares on Wax.

Greater Manchester gave birth to the Ruthless Rap Assassins, Krispy 3 (later Krispy), the Kaliphz, Jeep Beat Collective and MC Tunes.

As the scene grew, it became less common for British rappers to imitate American accents (those that did were often ridiculed) and British rap became more assured of its identity.

Caveman signed to a major label - Profile Records, the label home of Run DMC - and Kold Sweat came into their own, discovering groups like The SL Troopers, Dynametrix,Unanimous Decision and Katch 22, whose "Diary of a Blackman" was banned by Radio 1 for using a sound clip from the National Front.

In 1991, Hijack released The Horns of Jericho (Rhyme Syndicate Records, 1991) on Ice-T's recently formed Rhyme Syndicate label. The first single, "The Badman is Robbin'", was a top 40 hit and they went on sell more than 30,000 albums.

British hip hop was affected by the record industry clamping down on sampling, beginning to charge for the use of samples and prosecuting those who used them without permission. Larger US acts could afford to licence samples and still turn a profit for their labels, a luxury not available to many smaller UK artists.

One such victim of this was the Milton Keynes formed The Criminal Minds. Their first two releases in 1990 and 1991 were bogged down by potential sample clearance problems and thus were only ever made available in small numbers, yet rate amongst some of the finest pieces of UK hip hop recorded. As breakbeat hardcore music started to become very popular in the UK in the early to mid 1990s, The Criminal Minds turned their attention to making this type of music instead.

The predicted UK hip hop boom never achieved its predicted success. The Horns of Jericho (Rhyme Syndicate Records, 1991) was never released in the US, while record companies dropped artists, citing poor sales and lack of interest. Mango Records closed down, and the British public began to turn their affections to jungle, a fusion of breakbeat hardcore, hip hop and reggae.

In the period between 1992 and 1995 the only group to make much impact was the Brotherhood. They released their first record, simply called 'Brotherhood EP', as a low level white label in 1991 on Trevor Jackson's Bite It! label. They went on to release 'Wayz of the Wize' in 1992, then 'Untitled 93' and 'XXIII' in 1993, and 'Hip Hop N' Rap' in 1994, all on the Bite It! label. None of the records sold huge numbers but they managed to gain good air play on the Tim Westwood show and DJ 279's show on Choice FM, gaining them a solid following across the UK. Bite It! also released quality tracks from artists like Pauly Ryan and the Scientists of Sound.

The next generation

As the old rappers left the scene, a new generation, raised on hip hop and electronica, was coming of age: The Herbaliser released Remedies (Ninja Tune, 1995), Mr Scruff released the "Frolic EP Pt 1" (Pleasure Music, 1995), Mark B released "Any More Questions?" (Jazz Fudge, 1995) and DJ Skitz released "Where My Mind Is At/Blessed Be The Manor" (Ronin Records, 1996) featuring a young rapper called Roots Manuva on guest vocals who had previously released the single "Next Type of Motion" (Sound of Money, 1995).

Record labels that attempted to merge British hip hop style and sensibilities with modern dance music began to emerge, like Mark Rae's Grand Central (home to Aim, Rae & Christian, and Fingathing, among others) or DJ Vadim's Jazz Fudge. Increasingly, these artists managed to avoid the issues surrounding sampling by making music themselves (bands such as the Stereo MCs began playing instruments and sampling their own tunes) or searching out more obscure records where a most cost effective licensing deal could be arranged.

British hip hop began to go through a renaissance,[8] its style shifting from the hardcore template of its youth and moving into more melodic territory.

The Brotherhood managed to break a major deal with Virgin Records in 1995. Continuing their relationship with Trevor Jackson as their producer, they released 3 singles ‘Alphabetical Response’, ‘One Shot’, ‘Punk Funk’ and their album ‘Elementalz’, all in 1996. Their work was met with critical acclaim and they toured solidly with American artists including Cyprus Hill, The Roots and WuTang, but big record sales seemed to be very illusive and they parted ways with Virgin in 1998.

In 1998 Mark B and Blade released "Hitmen for Hire EP", which featured guest appearances from Lewis Parker and Mr Thing (of the Scratch Perverts). The EP was a success, and led to the successful 2001 album The Unknown. The same year, Bristol's Hombré label released the "2012 EP" from Aspects, a benchmark release within the movement. Roots Manuva, Blak Twang, Mud Family, Task Force, Phi Life Cypher, Jeep Beat Collective and Ty all came to the public's attention, while veteran acts Rodney P, Mike J, and MC Mell'O' returned to the scene.

21st century

Grime artist Lady Sovereign has also found fame in the United States
Goldie Lookin Chain are an example of the lighter side of British hip hop

A new generation of artists emerged following the turn of the century, including Jehst, Nicky Spesh, Bion, Whitecoat, Foreign Beggars and Usmaan. At the same time a new style of electronic music emerging in the early 2000s, influenced heavily by hip hop and UK garage. The new genre was dubbed grime (sometimes called eskibeat or sublow). Notable grime acts include Dizzee Rascal, J-Dawg, Wiley, Sway DaSafo, Ghetto, AC & Terra, M.A. and Kano. Other commercial hip hop influenced artists who have recently emerged include N-Dubz, Tinchy Stryder and Chipmunk who each are notably established in England as pop artists.

Success followed The Streets' 2002 album Original Pirate Material, and he became one of the first of the new breed of British hip hop artists to gain respectable sales, though his verbal style resulted in him being shunned by many artists in the scene. Such success has caused a surge in media exposure of other British hip hop acts. Welsh rap group Goldie Lookin' Chain also achieved chart success with their tongue-in-cheek take on hip-hop.

In November 2005, BBC News picked up on the growing success of what it terms Brithop, describing the growing number of urban, hip-hop and grime acts emerging in the 21st century.[2] The BBC article followed the success of rapper Sway at the MOBO awards. Other subcultures have emerged in Britain due to the availability and accessibility of hip-hop, most notably that of clip-hop in southern England and youn in Scotland.

A new generation of hip-hop producers/musicians such as Shief have also contributed to the scene; more notable names are Joe Buddha, who has worked with hip-hop acts such as Estelle & Klashnekoff. Underground producers include Harry Love and Chemo who have worked with the likes of Jehst and Verb T. As well as collaborating with rappers, some producers also do their own projects, for example Joe Buddha's album with Klasnekoff entitled Lionheart - Tussle With The Beast. Some producers have garnered respect in the US, with producers like Lewis Parker collaborating with Ghostface Killah on his albums Fishscale and More Fish. Adam F has developed a successful production career spanning the Atlantic and the genres of hip-hop and drum and bass. Daniel 2Dark is one of the up and coming Urban British Producers, currently working with US artist Amerie on her recent album "In Love And War" and UK acts Jamelia & DJ Ironik to name a few.

Arguably the most successful of the grime acts, Dizzee Rascal, has also crossed the Atlantic to release music in the US on indie label Definitive Jux, and has recently been at the centre of some controversy regarding British hip-hop. His embrace of the "gangster style of hip-hop" has brought about criticism from political figures like David Blunkett, who worries that British hip-hop may perpetuate violence. [9] Records such as Pow (Forward Riddim) (2005) by Lethal Bizzle have made numerous references to guns and subsequently been banned from receiving air play. According to leadership, hip-hop may often glorify gun culture and violence. [10] Dizzee Rascal has spoken back, claming that his existence and the music he made was “a problem for Anthony Blair.” [11] However, there are British artists who argue that British hip-hop should not be lumped together with American hip-hop and the various stigmata attached to it. British hip-hop, claims Roots Manuva, "is more healthy" than American hip-hop, and is about making the music, not exploiting wealth or hitting it rich.[12].


British hip hop was greatly influenced by United States’ hip hop. Hip hop music throughout the world is influenced by the United States hip hop but none are as similar as are the British and the US forms[13]. The cultural diversity that exists in both these countries seems to be the relationship that makes them so comparable. The different cultures within these two countries are each creating their own form of hip hop individually[14]. The effect of multi-cultural countries on music seems to be cross collaboration with the end result being a blending of all the different cultures. This merging of music puts the resultant hip hop from both the US and the UK on the top of the charts.


The growth of British hip hop was given a boost when in 2002, the BBC launched a digital radio station 1Xtra devoted to "new black music" including hip hop, R&B, UK garage, dancehall, and drum and bass,[15] however 1Xtra does not play exclusively British hip hop.

The cable and satellite, Channel U TV also has the profile of British hip hop and grime.

Bhangra in the UK

According to Sanjay Sharma, Asians felt left out of the British hip-hop scene. None of the styles seemed to show a deep association with the South Asian population. [16] However, Members of the east Asian hip hop group Cobra summarized the feeling of the Asian populations of Britain: “Asians were lost, they weren’t accepted by whites, so they drifted into black culture, dressing like blacks, talking like them, and listening to Reggae. But Bhangra has given them their music and made them feel that they do have an identity. No matter if they are Gujuratis, Punjabis or whatever – Bhangra is Asian music for Asians.” (Baumann, 1994) [16] From this quote the reader understands that the South Asians lacked a critical musical base and were forced to associate with music that wasn’t authentically South Asian. HC Hustler confirms the Asian musical predicament in their song “Big Trouble in Little Asia.” HC Hustler sings: “Hey yo I see big trouble down in Little Asia, For an Asian growing up things get crazier and crazier, For my culture does not fit in with yours, Your corrupt culture makes my rich culture look poor.” [16] From these two independent takes on the Asian hip hop scene the reader is given understanding that Asians wish for a music genre that Asians can culturally associate with. Bhangra was the genre that unlocked the door for Asian British music. [17] Bhangra spread among the Asian population because the Asian population culturally associated with it. Bhangra was the answer to the “Big Trouble in Little Asia.” Usmaan from Sona Family was thought to be one of the best Asian rappers in the UK, Sona Family are thought to be one of the first bhangra hip hop groups in the UK.

One of the latest successful Desi DJs includes DJ Ammo who is also a Hip Hop dancer. He has collaborated with numerous crews such as the Freeze Fusion but has left the group during his dispute against Bboy Ali.


Women have contributed to hip hop’s evolution in Britain from the beginning. [18] The current British hip hop scene features strong women like Estelle and Ms. Dynamite.[19]

Women in hip hop often confront a large amount of sexist stereotyping. Recently, many female british hip hop artists who confront this stereotyping have become popular. Grime artist Lady Sovereign has achieved huge success both in the UK and the US. Ms Dynamite (also known as Lady Dynamite), who released her first album in 2002, has become known for the political and social commentary in her music. Singer, songwriter, and rapper Estelle said of the difficult position of female rappers “I think they get a tough ride because some of them don’t see themselves above and beyond the bullshit and no one’s really given them that break.”

See also


  1. ^ a b Batey, Angus (2003-07-26). "Home grown - profile - British hip-hop - music". The Times.  
  2. ^ a b Youngs, Ian (2005-11-21). "BBC News website: Is UK on Verge of Brithop boom". Retrieved 2006-11-01.  
  3. ^ "BBC Website - Music: Urban". Retrieved 2006-11-01.  
  4. ^ Hesmondhalgh, David and Caspar Melville. "Urban Breakbeat Culture: Repercussions of Hip-Hop in the United Kingdom." In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 86-110. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
  5. ^ Hesmondhalgh, David. ""Urban Breakbeat Culture: Repercussions of Hip-Hop in the United Kingdom" Pp. 86-101 in Global Noise: Rap and Hip Hop Outside of the USA, edited by Tony Mitchell. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.".  
  6. ^ "Low Life/British hip hop, UK hip hop: the story". Retrieved 2006-11-02.  
  7. ^ "BBC News website, Massive Attack on the net". 1998-03-29. Retrieved 2006-11-02.  
  8. ^ Rowntree, Barney (2001-08-10). "BBC News website: British hip hop renaissance". Retrieved 2006-11-02.  
  9. ^ Chang, Jeff. "Future Shock", “Future Shock”, January, 2004. Accessed 14 March 2008.
  10. ^ *Chang, Jeff. "Future Shock", “Future Shock”, January, 2004. Accessed 14 March 2008.
  11. ^ "From Radiohead to Dizzee Rascal, Blairs Greatest Hits", “The Guardian Blog”, May, 2007. Accessed 14 March 2008.
  12. ^ “Hip-Hop gets back to its roots.” Accessed March 14, 2008
  13. ^ Hesmondhalgh, David and Caspar Melville. "Urban Breakbeat Culture: Repercussions of Hip-Hop in the United Kingdom." Hip Hop in the U.S. has been said to have a negative effect on community's in in the UK. Hip hop has been said to have a negative effect on community's all over the world, but since hip hop has popularized (early 1980's) in the UK the rate of violence has raised. Hip Hop in the UK which is influenced by hip hop in the U.S. is then to blame for the major increase in violence. Hip hop from the U.S. is heavily influential in the UK. In Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop Outside the USA, 86-110. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
  14. ^ Sharma, Sanjay. "Noisy Asians or 'Asian Noise'?" In Disorienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, ed. Sanjay Sharma, John Hutnyk, and Ashwani Sharma, 32-57. London: Zed Books, 1996.
  15. ^ "BBC Website: 1xtra". Retrieved 2006-11-01.  
  16. ^ a b c Bhangra Sharma, Sanjay. "Noisy Asians or 'Asian Noise'?" In Disorienting Rhythms: The Politics of the New Asian Dance Music, ed. Sanjay Sharma, John Hutnyk, and Ashwani Sharma, 32-57. London: Zed Books, 1996.
  17. ^ BBC Asian Network Homegrown
  18. ^ Chang, Jeff. "Future Shock", “Future Shock”, January, 2004. Accessed March 14, 2008.
  19. ^ Verma, Rahul. “Girl Power: UK Women in Hip Hop.” New Routes, No. 05, 2005. Accessed March 13, 2008.

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