Over the last couple of years, the fascination with UK rap and grime has grown to an international level, with the likes of Skepta, Stormzy, Dave and Little Simz, receiving critical acclaim in the so called ‘promise land’, America, as well as throughout the world.
One potential reason for the growth and newfound interest in the UK music scene is down to streaming services such as Spotify and Apple music, helping to expose different sounds to people all over the world. Also, due to the fact streaming services measure songs on the amount of times that they are listened to, and when these songs are receiving millions of listens, the songs are more likely to be seen in charts and brought to the attention of the masses.
YouTube has had a similar effect, with UK artists receiving millions of views, and therefore appearing on people’s YouTube homepages as suggestions. The increased interest, from the states in particular, has also lead to many Americans creating reaction videos to UK music through channels such as, TooBlunttv and Zias; leading more people from across the pond being introduced to UK’s own style of rap.
However, despite this, many music fans have credited worldwide Canadian megastar, Drake, for the sharp, sudden rise in the popularity of the culture; through his consistent promotion and co-signing of UK artists. Although, this is a somewhat controversial opinion, there is no doubt that Drake has helped with the exposure of UK music to the world thanks to shout outs, bringing them on tour, and even featuring UK artists on his project.
Recent playlist, More Life, featured UK rappers Giggs and Skepta, as well as songstress, Jorja Smith, and these features have had a polarising effect on music fans. These split opinions have mainly been focused on legendary UK rapper, Giggs, as to the majority of American music fans, this is the first time they have heard the deep, distinctive flow of the proclaimed ‘Landlord’ of the UK rap scene. Giggs’ features on tracks “KMT” and “No Long Talk” which led to outcries of rage on social media platforms, on why he appeared on two Drake tracks. This led many people from the US, labelling him as ‘wack’ and launching attacks on UK rap as a whole. This woke up the sleeping giants that are UK rap fans, who proceeded to hit back by insulting upcoming US rappers such as Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty for their lack of skill and claiming their opinions are void. Regardless, this open ridicule of one of the most revered rappers in our scene, led me to thinking, Will Americans ever really accept UK rappers? And should we really care?
The first aspect of UK rap/ grime is its production and sound. Now, as UK rap and grime are two different genres in their own right, I will look into them both separately, starting with UK rap/Hip-hop. The UK rap scene has an extensive list of producers, who do not tend to get the credit they deserve, i.e. Carns Hill, Pinero Beats, Meance, Jevon, Nyge, Show ‘n’ Prove to name a few, and many of their beats can go toe to toe with many of the US producers currently making waves in Hip hop. The production is also similar to the production in the US and I struggle to see a reason why the beats in UK hip hop would turn off our cousins over the pond.
However, I could potentially understand them seeing UK rap as, in some ways, an unauthentic imitation of a genre they created, in the same vein as if a US rapper began making grime music. This could cause many music fans to turn their noses up at the English brand of Hip hop.
Grime is a completely different story in terms of production and it is easy to understand why grime music might be difficult to comprehend for American music fans. Grime production takes influence from electronica (EDM) music, garage, Jungle, dancehall as well as Hip-Hop, and this blend of sounds is very different to the music in America. The fast pace of 140BPM, and dirty bass sound is very different to typical rap music, however if Americans view it as separate from Hip-Hop, I believe many would be able to appreciate grime music and is part of the reason why grime is developing a small underground following in the US. Also, the underground success of very alternative hip hop artists such as, Death Grips and Shabazz Palaces, has open up many music fans in the US to different types of music.
Many of the insults towards Giggs, focused on his bars and lack of skill, with lines such as “Looking all Christmas gift-wrapped/looking all turkey”, and “Batman/da-na-na-da-na”. Admittedly, these are not the greatest bars Giggs has ever spat, but this is not an overall representation of the skill levels of UK rappers. Artists such as Wretch 32, Nines, Ghetts, Cadet, Devlin, and many more display the ability to play with words; use metaphors and flow on a level that is on par with many of the top rappers in the US. If an American took time to listen and understand some of the more lyrical artists in the UK, I’m sure they will begin to appreciate the skill level of these rappers.
Grime, again, may be a slightly different story. In grime culture, many MCs take a more simplistic approach to their lyrics and this is due to the influence taken from the garage and jungle scenes. An MC is there to get the crowd hyped and in turn gain a wheel-up from the DJ, which means there is often a repetition of bars and a deeper focus on flow. This culture is unfamiliar to those from the US and may be mistaken for a lack of skill, which ultimately will turn off a lot of music fans on first listen.
I strongly believe that the subject matters in UK rap should not cause a US music fan to reject the genre, as it holds a strong correlation to US rap music. UK rap and grime cover a range and subjects, with strong focus onto life struggles, crime, violence, sex, issues within the community, the government, etc., and this is not dissimilar to that covered by US rappers. Although, there may be some references that may not be understood I don’t think this is a reason not to accept UK rap/grime music.
The English accent is quite simply, the biggest turn off for any US fan when they hear UK rap music in any form, whether it be Hip-Hop or Grime. For some reason, they love to hear British people talk but as soon as an English person raps it is like a bucket full of ice water being slowly poured onto their head. This may all come down to many traditionalist hip hop fans, being very closed-minded to new facets of rap music, and hearing a different accent is just too much for them to bare. This can be seen in the early days of hip hop music where, rappers from the South, who held strong accents, were mocked and overlooked, in a similar way English rap is now. But the talent of Artists, such as OutKast, T.I., Scarface, UGK and Ludacris, was undeniable and forced Hip-hop to open up its doors to the wide array of southern talent. Nowadays, the south hold some of the most successful rappers in the scene, with the likes of Future, Migos, Travis Scott and Rick Ross, being some of the biggest hip hop acts currently active. This comparison between southern rap and UK rap, does not necessarily mean that that it will follow the same path, but it does show a glimmer of hope that if exposed to enough UK rap music, they may start to understand and accept the music.
In terms of slang, this could easily tune out many music fans as they won’t understand what is being said. This will take people to take an avid interest in the music, to do the research to understand what is being said, but it is very unlikely many Americans will go to these lengths.
Ultimately, it is hard to tell whether UK rap and grime music will be accepted in the US, however in a day and age where our rap artists are charting and doing shows up and down the country, do we need to care? UK rap and grime music is made by British artists and are therefore relevant to British people. Artists no longer need to break the American market to be successful and the main focus needs to be on people in the UK supporting their artists, so they do not have to search elsewhere.