As we explained in the previous article, by the early 1990s, Hip Hop in it’s original form had somewhat fallen out of favour with the mainstream music industry but ironically it had established itself as a legitimate genre with a loyal following and several dedicated radio shows. Probably the best known group from that era was the Brotherhood, a talented bunch who released several albums but ultimately fell victim to record label problems at Virgin in 1998.
As electronic dance music was finding a massive audience in this era, so Hip Hop began to include fusions of the two genres. DJ Vadim’s Jazz Fudge label and Mark Rae’s Grand Central were two of the leading lights. The Brotherhood’s ‘One Shot” is an excellent example of British Hip Hop of the time.
Looking back at the quality of the Brotherhood’s music, it seems incredible that they did not ever make the step up to the big time. They toured with and supported some of the biggest U.S. acts of time including the Wu Tang Clan and Cypress Hill but major success eluded them.
The subsequent years saw gradual changes in the current style of British Hip Hop and by the early 2000s, many new artists had entered the field; among the most well known names from that era were Roots Manuva, Mark B and Jeep Beat Collective. As the style of music changed again, it took on a form which is absolutely individual o the U.K. – grime. Grime is a fusion of various genres including dancehall, hip hop and garage and has launched several careers, Dizzee Rascal and Kano among them.
This period marked an era of some diversification as various artists pushed out in different directions – grime, Hip Hop and possibly more undefinable styles such as Mike Skinner’s The Streets. It has barged its way back into the mainstream as more and more younger fans grow up only knowing Hip Hop.
Welcome back to our brief guide on the subject of Hip Hop in the United Kingdom. In the late 1980s the genre started to take on what could be described as a U.K. style, one that was diverging from and moving away from it’s U.S. origins. London was unsurprisingly the first hotbed of Hip Hop in the United Kingdom but other areas with significant black populations such as Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester followed soon after.
Bristol produced The Wild Bunch (who later became the iconic Massive Attack) and Scratch Perverts, Manchester had MC Tunes and the Ruthless Rap Assassins while Nottingham produced the Stereo MC’s. The move to U.K. styles also came with a message of scorn for those who continued to use American accents, an attitude which served only to distance the U.K. style from their American cousins. The first proper magazine dedicated to U.K. Hip Hop, Hip Hop Connection, was published in 1989. Hip Hop was booming.
Possibly the first cause of some of U.K. Hip Hop’s problems was the notorious issue of sampling. Sampling small sections of other tunes with or without prior permission was commonplace in Hip Hop; it was popular in the U.S. and it was used heavily in the U.K. The difference was that while the bigger U.S. labels and musicians could afford the cost of sampling. smaller U.K. labels and artists could not. Some hotly anticipated releases hardly saw the light of day, notably productions from The Criminal Minds and Hijack’s Horns of Jericho.
These disappointments added to low sales and music industry loss of interest in a genre that had perhaps been overhyped and gradually, dedicated Hip Hop record labels began to close down. Around this time, Jungle began to gain popularity – a mix of Hip Hip, hardcore and reggae. From an optimists point of view, one could argue that Hip Hop just moved on; sub-genres come and go and jungle was now the popular style. Traditional Hip Hop retained it’s own loyal fan base and received national airplay on various radio shows. It may no longer have been part of the zeitgeist but it was certainly established.
In the first article we’d just about reached the mid-1980s and by this point, British Hip Hop was well-underway; it featured many of its own proponents but often the sound was heavily influenced by U.S. styles. Songs such as Wham’s 1982 Wham Rap and to some extent Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Girls also featured segments of songs which were entirely rap, a popular trick at the time and one which is occasionally still copied today.
More ‘hardcore’ Hip Hop was still heard to come by on mainstream media channels and most artists found their name spread by either word of mouth or via the proliferation of pirate radio stations in urban areas. This was the era of The Ruthless Rap Assassins and DJ Richie Rich. It was also the time of electro music, a style which grew up and developed with the breakdance movement. Films such as Breakdance: The Movie brought it into our cinemas and for a time Hip Hop and Electro shared the same demographic.
Towards the end of the 1980s the first Hip Hop record labels began to emerge, Simon Harris’ Music of Life being one of the best known proponents but others included Kold Sweat and Mango Records. With the emergence of dedicated labels, mainstream DJs began to pick up on the genre – John Peel (always a fan of new music) was one of the first and this combination of exposure and marketing led to more ‘commercial’ acts such as Cookie Crew and the Wee Papa Girl Rappers making chart entries.
The United Kingdom was by now developing its own style of Hip Hop, marked by a harder, faster style which, it could be argued, lessened its general appeal, but there were various, more mellow derivatives which still commanded a wider audience. Outlaw Posse and Caveman both used jazz influences while the London Posse used reggae samples while recording.
An entire article dedicated to British rap and hip hop may seem a little optimistic but the United Kingdom has a thriving hip hop industry with a sound all of its own. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a history which dates back to at least 1980, only a few years after the genre really kicked off in the United States.
Of course without U.S. hip hop there would be no U.K. scene and the early pioneers were influenced by contemporary culture at the time – break dancing, graffiti and the emergence of the DJ as more than just a guy who changes the records. Although hip hop mainly attracted the black community, the lack of U.S. style ethnic ghettoes meant the genre quickly became popular with all ethnicities.
Black Echoes Magazine noted the artist called Knowledge in 1980 as the first U.K. rapper, although now known mainly as a spoken word performer. One of the first artists to break through to the mainstream was Derek B, recording for the Music of Life label in 1986. Derek B, who sadly passed away in 2009, has several charting singles in the mid to late 1980s and clearly inspired the flurry of artists who broke through in the mid 1980s. Derek B was not the first however, we can go back to 1982 for a track called Christmas Rapping by Dizzy Heights, a record clearly influenced by U.S. styles.
Legendary innovator Malcolm McLaren also had a hand in the early days of British hip hop, although the artists he used for the 1982 track Buffalo Gals were in fact New York based World Famous Supreme Team. Buffalo Gals also delved into the world of scratching and sampling to create a sound which now appears to be uniquely British.
In the early days of British rap, many artists struggled with the notion of rapping in a British accent, preferring instead an American impression. Thankfully those days came and went as performers realised that a British audience wanted a British accent from its homegrown artists.