It recently came to my attention that this side of UK music often goes unnoticed by many UK listeners and certainly globally, which is a shame because it's such an exciting hub of diverse music. That hub being the Alternative UK Rap scene.
It's easy to merely imagine the likes of Santan Dave, D-Block Europe and Stormzy when UK rap is mentioned, as these are the artists regularly broadcasted on UK radio and I'm sure you've heard them on a night out (pre-corona of course!). But the scene is so much richer and juicier than that. So many UK rappers aren't getting the recognition they deserve, only bringing in a few 10 thousand streams (should be in the millions in my opinion).
I remember when Skepta collaborated with Octavian (who at the time was not a household name), it was a massive deal. Here was an artist with Skepta's calibre opening doors for a UK rapper who was straying away from the normal grime or club style that was getting and still gets nationwide recognition. It was fascinating to see how one collaboration could catapult Octavian's career seemingly overnight (though it has now rightfully seen a quick demise).
But not every artist in this sub-genre has been able to seize the same opportunity.
So with this in mind, what better excuse than to write a post on my top 10 favourites from this sub-genre. It's been seemingly difficult to narrow it down to only a handful, so I've also created a playlist which I've linked at the bottom of this post!
1) Finn Foxell
Ugh my love for this man's music is unmatched. Finn Foxell has a voice like velvet and the soothing beats to match, not to mention impeccably smart lyricism relaying the trials of everyday life. Foxell's music to me sounds like the end of the night when you just want to sit and chill with your mates: effortless but uplifting. He recently released an album titled 'Talk is Cheap' and I'm in love with the production, super easy listening and really telling of the jazz inspired, soulful sound that is super popular among alt UK rappers at the moment.
2) Black Josh
Black Josh was one of the first alternative UK rappers I really got into and he jump-started my love for the genre. He introduced me to a marriage I didn't know I needed: a strong UK accent (in his case mancunian) and old school hip hop/jazz-style beats. Something I love about Black Josh is his witty and cheeky lyricism, on tracks like 'Know About It'. Not to mention he has a collection of amazing collaborations, an example being 'Own Ting' with ELIZA (formally known as Eliza Doolittle). His most recent album 'MANNYFORNIA' has a variety of heavier tracks and some more melodic tunes featuring the likes of [KSR] and Meme Gold.
3) Sam Wise
For me Sam Wise is a massive YES. He is certainly one of the more prominent names in the alternative rap scene and is about to undeniably blow up in the next year. I could speak words of praise about Sam Wise for hours, but I think the main conclusion of my ramble would be that he makes people want to get up and move. This is where I see his major success rising from, I believe his music really appeals to the club scene whilst remaining pretty true to his own style. He has a incredible collection of singles and released his debut album 'Sorry You Were Saying (SYWS) late December 2019, a must listen and a personal favourite of mine.
I've only recently become familiar with CHLOBOCOP after hearing her song with Joell 'Holla', but she was a great find. I've really wanted to discover more ladies in the scene, which can be tough when the rap in general is very male centric. Nonetheless, CHLOBOCOP is proving that UK female rappers aren't lacking.
5) Jesse James Solomon
If you are to take any one artist from this list, it should be Jesse James Solomon. To me he encapsulates everything about this rap sub-genre. His catalogue of music has variety, its uplifting and playful but can be also deep and meaningful. I recommend JJ Solomon purely due to the fact I think he can fulfill any need and suit any person. He also has some amazing collaborations with the likes of Giggs, Rejjie Snow, A2 and The Streets.
6) Louis Culture
Louis Culture was a great discovery, I'm just disappointed I didn't find him sooner! Something I really like about Culture's music is the electronic style he's recently explored. The beats throughout his debut album 'Smile Soundsystem' are really reminiscent of SBTRKT's electronic beats, particularly 'First Date' and 'Being Me'. The album seems like a stepping stone towards Culture's trademark sound. It's so interesting to see artists experimenting with their style, meanwhile producing some really great music.
7) Little Simz
Little Simz is an artist that has been attracting the masses over the last few years. Her various A COLORS SHOWs on YouTube have racked up millions of views. I would argue she is the most prominent female voice in the scene. I remember the first song I heard of hers was 'Backseat' and then for a few years I hadn't looked into her music, but since then she's amassed an impressive catalogue of music with calm and collected lyricism which has rightfully received praise from some massive names in music: Zane Lowe, Kendrick Lamar and Dizzee Rascal to name a few.
8) Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn
What a perfect duo. FS & HG really are the definition of easy listening, their sound is super laidback and they stray from heavier beats and harsher flows. As well as presenting real-life events and emotions through a combination of heartfelt lyricism and tranquil production, FS & HG have experimented with more spirited, dance beats on tracks such as 'Coconuts' and 'I Notice'. A must listen!
NiNE8 is a london collective comprising of 9 ridiculously talented members. NiNE8 have managed to create a beautiful marriage of 9 very individual styles. You can hear this range as you shuffle through their various singles, EPs and their debut album 'No Smoke'. To me this is the beauty of collectives and NiNE8 have executed it perfectly, there's such variety from track to track. I can assure every person can find a tune to their taste, or you can sue me haha!
Saving my favourite to last, Manchester artist KinKai. I adore everything about his music: his voice, his lyrics, his beats, I can't get enough. To me KinKai is the epitome of chilled UK rap. Every lyric feels so off the cusp as if you're just sat in front of him, listening to him effortlessly speak whatever is on his mind. KinKai often collaborates with Glue70 a Manchester producer which elucidates the lo-fi, meditative sound that prevails through his catalogue of tunes.