Let’s face it, as good as we are at every other genre, us Brits are never ever going to be on the same level as the Americans in rap or hip-hop. Sure we’ve had our blips of success- the earlier years of Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, both Chipmunk and Tinchy Stryder have put pen to paper with two of rap’s biggest names- T.I. and JAY Z respectively, and of course then there are the critically acclaimed acts like The Streets, not to mention the occasional classic-potential of tracks like Tempa T’s Next Hype, but unfortunately that’s really about as far as it goes.
Many of the above you would call pop stars nowadays, with Chipmunk probably being the worst example of this, at least in my opinion. I remember when the 16-year-old MC from Tottenham stepped up to the mic during Tim Westwood’s show and absolutely smashing his freestyle. Following this he released his debut mixtape League of My Own, a epitomising piece of UK grime featuring in my opinion, one of the best grime songs, period- Light Up Central featuring Black The Ripper and Frisco. Fast forward a few years, he was owning the UK Top 10 with cheesy-pop in the form of Oopsy Daisy and Look For Me, now don’t get it wrong there’s nothing wrong with pop, or rap-pop whatever you want to call it, but with a kid this talented and so lethal on the mic when he wants to be, why oh why keep making this pop shit? Having recently signed with T.I.’s Grand Hustle label which also boasts the likes of B.O.B. and Iggy Azalea, let’s hope one day Chipmunk (now known as Chip) will return to grime properly.
It’s one thing to milk the benefits of blowing up like Chipmunk has, but I think that Wiley is an even more embarrassing example of this. The self-proclaimed ‘Godfather of Grime’ dominated the summer by churning out the infectious, pop-dance tracks like Heatwave and Can You Hear Me (Ayayaya). This is the man who near enough single-handedly built the UK grime scene, launched nigh-on every UK rapper’s careers from JME, Wretch 32, Scorcher and Kano, the list is endless. However, this isn’t just the honcho sat at the top of the tower, the man is fire on the mic, and behind the decks producing, just listen below to one of the many standout tracks from his third studio album- Playtime Is Over. However, the absolute worst thing about Wiley? His hypocrisy. The MC claims to hate his See Clear Now album, and has in fact publicly disowned the LP, claiming it was over-commericalised and that he had less creative control over the project. Yet a few years later he repeats this formulaic album with The Ascent.
Another, and final example of the frustrating world of UK rap- Professor Green. I used to love Pro Green, after hearing about his success during JumpOff/RhymeFest, where he won countless years in a row, I extensively trawled through his back catalogue copping both his debut mixtape, Lecture #1, as well as his debut EP, The Green EP. Both projects were scattered with gritty, typically British lyricism and it lined up Professor Green to be one of the biggest talents the UK’d seen in a long time. Of course, he blew up, his debut album was commercially successful and although it was slightly commercialised, it still withheld that bite that made Green as distinctive and memorable. But it’s where he’s at now that’s most disappointing, simply watch his appearance on Radio 1’s Fire In The Booth, although he doesn’t start that well, he smashes ASAP Rocky’s 1 Train and shows that the guy can legitimately fucking rap, yet still he insists on putting out music like Lullaby.
That’s what’s the most annoying this about the UK rap scene- there basically isn’t one. You either have SBTV wannabes spitting into a mobile phone cameras, or you have commercialised hit-churners like Example. There isn’t an in-between where artists like the aforementioned can put out proper rap songs, not pop songs with rapping in it, or with EDM influences, or a crappy hook. The UK scene needs a maverick, in a way it needs someone to do what ASAP Rocky or Pusha T did with their debuts- full-on, hard beats that leave every bit of work up to the emcee, and shows what a talent they actually are. We know they’ve all got that ability because they’ve proved it in the past, they just can’t hold onto their integrity or be consistent enough to make it stick.