We are about to enter a new year and a new decade. As we approach the final weeks of 2019, it is time to reflect back on some of the successes of the past year. The UK urban music scene has long been overshadowed by the more pop-influenced and/or American-based artists. However, as the decade draws to a close, it is undisputed that the UK urban music scene is finally beginning to get the recognition it deserves not only in the UK but globally. In particular, 2019 has been a massive year for the UK urban music scene; the British summer was dominated by grime and drill influenced tracks. This year has seen many already successful artists prove why they are still at the top through breaking records and facing much deserved new opportunities, but also has begun to pave the way for up and coming artists who are only beginning to make waves in the UK urban music scene.
As we reflect back on 2019, we have created a list of seven artists who deem have been real trailblazers in the UK Urban music scene over the last year. The list was created on the basis of many factors; the impact of the artist and their music, the impact on the artists career, chart position/ sales/streaming success, their wider impact on society and of course, a mix of personal opinion. Of course there were many other artists who could have easily been featured in this list and special mentions go to the likes of AJ Tracey, Slow Thai, NSG and D-Block Europe – As such, below is our list of the Top Trailblazers of 2019…
8) Headie One
First up is Tottenham-based Drill rapper Headie One. UK Drill music has been subject to criticism since its inception over its affiliations with gang violence. Despite drill music being banned from being played in most public places, 2019 has seen Headie One has begin to bring drill to the masses. The beginning of the year saw his single “18Hunna” featuring Dave entered the UK music charts at #6, making it the highest charting Drill track ever. Like many others in this list, Headie One has also had a successful summer having performed at some of the UK’s biggest festivals such as Glastonbury and Wireless. Also, in July, he featured on Krept & Konan’s “I Spy” which later featured on the duo’s third album Revenge Is Sweet. In August, Headie One released his seventh and first mainstream mixtape Music x Road which peaked at #5 on the UK Albums Charts, making him the highest charting drill artist. Concluding the year, the Autumn saw Headie One complete a successful UK Tour.
Following his success this year, it is very likely that Headie One is one to look out for and may be the one to show why drill music should be just as respected as other UK urban music genres.
7) Jorja Smith
Our 6th trailblazer of 2019 goes to the incredible Jorja Smith. Although her debut album Lost & Found was released back in 2018, this year has still been a big year for Jorja. Her debut performance on the Brits earlier on this year showed views that if you didn’t already know who Jorja Smith was, you should. This year she won Best British Female Artist at the Brits 2019 and was nominated for the Grammy for Best New Artist. This year has been a busy year for Jorja having completed a joint North American tour with Kali Uchis. Despite not releasing any music until the later half of the year, her song “Wandering Romance” from her album Lost & Found was sampled on one of the biggest UK tracks of the year – AJ Tracey’s “Ladbroke Grove”. In August, her hit “Be Honest” featuring Burna Boy offered a taste of what’s to come next year and we look forward to it. This year has shown that Jorja is one of the hottest female R&B singers right now and another artist who we predict to do big things next year.
6) Ms Banks
Although she has been on the scene for a few years, Ms Banks has had an unstoppable year. British female rappers have long been in the shadows behind the male dominated UK urban music scene. However, Ms Banks could possibly be the woman to watch next year. The Croydon-based
rapper had already began to pave the way for British female rappers having toured with Cardi B on her 2017 UK tour.
This year, Ms Banks has proven why she is one of the biggest artists to look out for in 2020 through transcending many UK music genres. The beginning of the year saw Ms Banks debut herself as a one to watch through her performance with the world’s biggest girl band Little Mix at the Brits 2019.
Since having her lyrics tweeted by Nicki Minaj back in 2017, Ms Banks made waves through her guest appearance on Nicki’s Nicki World Tour earlier this year. Her verse on Russ’ “Gun Lean (Remix)” added a powerful vibe to the already successful track demonstrating that women are in the game too. Furthermore her successful hit “2Snack” featuring Kida Kudz was one of this year’s hottest tracks. As the year draws to a close, Ms Banks is currently supporting UK rap royalty Giggs on his European tour.
Ms Banks’ recent brush with Prince Harry truly proves she is one to watch next year. She is finally beginning to get the recognition she deserves. With speculation of a Nicki Minaj Collab, 2020 is sure to be an even bigger year for Ms Banks.
NSG’s trailblazing year, can be argued, to have actually been 2018 when “Options” dropped. Nevertheless, the Afro Beats/Afro Wave supergroup have kept up the momentum gained from 2018 and upped the levels in 2019. The release of “OT Bop” and “Trust Issues” have showcased that the group can produce a variety of hits and sustain a place amongst the UK’s elite group of musicians. Their last project was dropped in 2017, so many critics and fans alike will be hoping for a project in the new year that can be enjoyed. They make this list for the simple fact that they have managed to maintain a consistent record of chart positions with their tracks as well as consistently gaining millions of views/streams via Spotify and Youtube. They remain one of the top sources for Afro Beats in the UK, whilst bringing energy at their live shows and a new dance craze for every new song.
The UK Grime/Rap scene is heavily centred in London although over the last few years we have seen a rise of artist from other regions such as MIST, JayKae and JAY1. In particular 2019 has seen the rise of Manchester’s next biggest artist since Bugzy Malone, 19 year-old Aitch. Aitch is one of the newest artists in the UK music scene. Just last year, Aitch dropped his debut track “Straight Rhymez” onto YouTube and Spotify which catalysed his successes in 2019. The track now boasts over 10 million YouTube views, proving he really is one to watch next year. The Manchester rapper has received an abundance of attention and recognition this year particularly through his features on some of the biggest tracks of the year. His feature on Russ’ “Keisha Becky (Remix)” and his feature of Young T & Bugsey’s summer hit “Strike Me A Pose”, truly established Aitch as one of the newest artists of Rap/Grime. His newest feature on the remix of Ed Sheeran’s & Stormzy’s “Take Me Back to London (Remix)”, also featuring JayKae launched Aitch as one of the biggest up and coming UK artists.
Following his success, Aitch dropped his highly anticipated debut EP Aitch20 in September showcasing a new flavour to the scene. His EP tour sold out in a record time of six minutes again proving he is one to watch. This year has been a massive year for Aitch and thus we predict big things in 2020 for the Manchester rapper.
3) Krept & Konan
Number 3 goes to Krept & Konan. As mentioned in a previous article Krept & Konan have become one of the biggest names in the UK urban music scene. A decade since they dropped their first mixtape Redrum Volume 1, the duo have become two of the biggest rappers in the UK. Two years since their latest project 7 Days & 7 Nights, Krept & Konan released their third album Revenge Is Sweet in November 2019 which features some of the biggest names such as Tory Lanez, Stormzy, Wizkid and dancehall’s finest – Spice. However the album also showcases up and coming artists such as Headie One, MoStack and D-Block Europe.
Following their success, the duo have proven themselves to be true trailblazers by offering others a platform to showcase their talents. Now truly established in the UK urban music scene, Krept & Konan have exceeded expectations by becoming true role models, particularly for young black youths. Their visit to Parliament and various daytime television appearances to discuss the issues surrounding the banning of Drill music demonstrate how the pair are using their success to support others. Furthermore, the duo have created new opportunities for their local community through their Positive Directions Foundation and their opening of their South Croydon restaurant – Crepes and Cones. This year saw more of Krept & Konan’s generosity and willingness to give back through the debut of Rap Game UK on BBC Three in which they mentored seven aspiring rappers. The year concluded with the start of their Revenge Is Sweet Tour which has already shown to be a success. We are sure that over the next year, whether it is making more music or further helping the
community, Krept and Konan will continue to promote the UK Rap scene.
This year has been a successful year for Dave earning him the #2 spot. The rapper’s debut album Psychodrama released earlier this year, has been praised by many through debuting at #1 in the UK album charts and through beating the likes of The 1975 for this year’s Mercury
Prize. This summer was a huge hit for Dave having his track “Location”, featuring Burna Boy – dominate the British summer. Dave already finished last year by making history; his track “Funky Friday” featuring Fredo became the first Grime/Rap track ever to reach #1 in the UK music charts. After many many years, Grime is finally beginning to be recognised as one of the greatest (British) music genres. Furthermore, Dave’s Glastonbury performance was one of 2019’s most talked about music moments having gained viral attention during his performance of Thiago Silva.
This year, Dave also demonstrated that his talents extend beyond music having played the role of Modie in the new season of Top Boy released in September 2019. Fans were quick to praise Dave for his performance having one of the best lines in the whole series: ‘Daily offender, crazy East End-er’. Dave has shown that he is a man of many talent and we hope to see him in more acting roles soon. This year has been huge for Dave, we hope to see him succeed and break more records as we enter the new decade.
Our top trailblazer of 2019 goes to Stormzy. Although possibly predictable, no artist deserves the top spot more than him. This year really has been the year of the Stormzy. The Croydon-based rapper has broken records, exceeded expectations, put grime back on the map and has become a positive role model for young (black) youths.
Following the success of fellow rapper’s Dave and Fredo, his leading track ‘Vossi Bop’ from his second studio album Heavy Is The Head became the second ever Grime track to reach #1 in the UK music charts proving that grime is back and here to stay. This year’s Glastonbury Festival saw history being made. Stormzy became the first UK black artist and first UK rapper to headline one of the world’s biggest festivals. His set is one to be remembered for many years to come through his fusion of grime, gospel and garage whilst acknowledging the many UK artist who have both paved the way for UK Grime and who are predicted to make waves in
the UK Grime scene. This night will be remembered for many years to come, showing that the UK Urban music scene has even more to offer as we enter the new decade. There is no doubt that Stormzy has become a huge role model for young black youths. He undoubtedly has a significant influence on British culture today through both his music and his work
with minority groups and young people. Following the launch of #MerkyBooks and his Stormzy Scholarship for BAME students last year, Stormzy has proven to be a voice for young British black youths, using his success and platform to help others.
Stormzy’s second studio album is set for release next Friday; this album will no doubt be just as amazing as his first. Stormzy’s incredible year has concluded with his cover art for Heavy Is The Head being hung in the National Portrait Gallery. As 2019 draws to a close, Stormzy has been recognised as a huge influence on contemporary British culture. Stormzy’s success and humble nature ensured he has become a household name. He truly deserves the top spot. His many successes this year is only just the beginning. His world tour kicks off next year showing that the next decade will be an even bigger success for the Croydon-based rapper.
The new year will bring plenty of new artists and breakout stars amongst the UK scene. The progression of new sounds, genres and artists will only help push the scene to further than it has ever been. These artists are influences to these up and coming artists to showcase that boundaries and barriers can be broken down and doubters can be proven wrong.