The Outsiders: How UK Rap is now Flourishing outside of London

In the early years of Grime and UK Rap, the scene was dominated by artists in and around London. The Godfather of Grime, Wiley hails from Bow in East London and some of the forerunners such as Skepta and Dizzee Rascal hail from Tottenham and Bow respectively.

It has taken a number of years for artists outside of the capital to gain any sort of acknowledgement. To begin with, it was a struggle for any rapper to gain any sort of recognition via radio and television. It was not until Tinie Tempah, Chipmunk and Skepta made more commercially appealing music, between 2008 and 2010, that labels and producers were side eyeing them. This is not what fans and the scene needed though.

The appeal for radio play was there but the rawness, authenticity and originality of the UK Grime and Rap sound was nowhere to be found. At the start of 2014, Skepta and brother JME dropped “That’s Not Me”. The song arguably changed everything. It got the ball rolling again.

The music video for Skepta & JME’s “That’s Not Me” track
The music video to the remix of “That’s Not Me” that included Birmingham rappers JayKae and Sox.

The song would achieve radio and charting success, but this time, it was far from a commercial sounding track. Skepta & JME had gone back to their Grime roots and created a track that would change the landscape of the UK Rap and Grime scene forever.

Skepta’s stronghold, the reemergence of artists such as Chipmunk (before his name change to Chip) and emergence of Stormzy only pushed it on further. With that being said, all of these artists were still hailing from London. Where was the love for the outer London artists?

It was not long until artists from Birmingham and Manchester were finally getting their attention. The first sign of this actually came on the remix of “That’s Not Me” with Birmingham rappers JayKae and Sox making an appearance. Only a couple of years later, fans would be introduced to MIST. Also hailing from Birmingham, he started gaining momentum due to his debut project, M I S to the T. Tracks such as “Karlas Back” that really took off.

Since then, the idea of an artist emerging outside of London is now no longer a surprise. Last summer, MIST secured his first top 10 chart position with his track “So High”. The list is starting to become endless. Jay1 & Jevon hail from Coventry, Aitch & Bugzy Malone from Manchester, Young T & Bugsey from Nottingham, slowthai from Northampton, Stefflon Don & Lady Leshurr, as well as Lotto Boyzz from Birmingham and Tremz from Liverpool are just a few examples. All of these artists have made huge impacts on the UK Rap/Grime/Drill scene in the past few years. Most recently, Tremz whose song “Lightwork Freestyle” has gone somewhat viral on the video sharing platform TikTok with his Scouse accent being extremely prominent throughout.

UK Rap kingpins, Krept & Konan joined DJ Target for a UK version of the Rap Show which saw aspiring rappers come against each other for the chance to win a contract with Krept & Konan’s Play Dirty records. The contestants were not all from the capital city. Instead, contestants came from Scunthorpe, Aberdeen and Birmingham.

The current crop artists from Birmingham, Manchester, Coventry, Nottingham and other parts of the country are now an influence for new up and coming talent. Born and raised in Birmingham, Anderson 100, feels that it is only right that artists from other cities are getting recognised. “Birmingham is the second city it’s about time us Brummies started to come through.”

ATO is a rapper from Leeds and he states the following: “It’s a process. It’s still early days for the British Rap scene. It’s just a matter of time before the scene becomes more accessible to artists from less obvious parts of the country. You only have to look at Manchester to see how things are slowly changing. 10 years ago artists from Manchester like Shifty were complete outsiders. Now there’s artists from Manchester like Aitch and Bugzy Malone right at the centre of the scene.”

The question remains why artists from other cities around the UK were not taken seriously straight away. It could be argued that a genre and scene that developed in London needed nurturing and building in its own backyard before it branched further afield. In a 2019 interview with The Guardian, Aitch states that it may actually be down to the differing accent that has helped these artists to come through. The 20 year old states, “I don’t think I’ve got a funny accent, but everyone else does. That just draws bare attention. A lot of things in London were repetitive – people were looking for something else.”

The music video to one of Aitch’s latest singles “Raw”

In 2020, the UK scene is only getting stronger by the year. The attention on artists outside of London has never been bigger. Stefflon Don has branched across shores to the USA. Aitch is the cheeky chap that no one can dislike. MIST has been a serial hit maker for a number of years now. Nottingham duo Young T & Bugsey have charted on numerous occasions and their collaboration with Aitch on “Strike Me A Pose” last summer, highlighted that a remedy of outer London artists can still produce a hit. A couple of years ago, who would’ve thought we would hear a rapper from Leeds? ATO clearly had other plans. The field for Urban Music within the UK has only become larger. It is only time before we see more artists come from even wider spread places in the UK. Bristol, Norwich, Lincoln, Portsmouth, Newcastle and the list can go on. We can but hope that everyone continues to prosper.

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