The British Dream…U.K Hip Hop

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On Sat­urday 14th May 2016, I was at The Roy­al Fest­ival Hall with friends to see one of the greats in Hip Hop — Ghost­face Kil­lah. I like to define myself as a ‘Triple H’- a Hip Hop Head to the death; so any chance I have to see and hear artists that have influ­enced my life, I grab it with both hands and feet.

This was the first time I had heard of South­bank hav­ing a hip hop or any fam­ous record­ing artist for that mat­ter per­form, so I was very curi­ous as to what was about to hap­pen. The lay­out was still the same as any oth­er the­at­ric­al show I had viewed there pre­vi­ously. I had a assumed that there would be some sort of stand­ing area in which people would do their usu­al squish-squash con­cert shenanigans.

Two tal­en­ted Brit­ish artists star­ted off the show with the theatre being half full. People walked in and out without a care. Their only con­cern was for the artist they had paid money to see. Not their own, homegrown tal­ent.

An hour and a half later, Ghost­face came on the scene, sweep­ing the stage with his time­less rhymes and flow, remind­ing us all of the amaz­ing and influ­en­tial lyr­i­cism that has help shape Hip Hop today. Towards the end of a seam­less set of clas­sics, Ghost­face decided to intro­duce an upcom­ing UK artist to the stage; to share his tal­ent with us. Now in my own per­son­al opin­ion, the artist wasn’t my par­tic­u­lar taste, but I with my friends still bopped and grooved to his poten­tial and the oppor­tun­ity that he had been given to share the stage with the Legend that is Ghost­face Kil­lah.

To my hor­ror, how­ever, the crowd — at this point full to brim on their feet; as you should be at any real con­cert — booed fero­ciously. This led me to really ques­tion America’s influ­ence on music and cul­ture.

Read­ing inter­views with artists such as Skep­ta; who had made the cros­sov­er to the States got me think­ing about the UK’s lack of sup­port and respect for its own artists, espe­cially in the Grime and / or Hip Hop sec­tor. There is this hugely per­petu­ated idea across; not only the music industry; but in film, dance and the oth­er arts, that suc­cess is defined by hav­ing your work recog­nised in and by the USA.

Sure, every­one knows (and if you don’t know you do now!) that Hip Hop ori­gin­ates from Amer­ica. The Bronx to be more spe­cific in New York, but it doesn’t mean even in New York that artists from the oth­er bor­oughs, oth­er states and coasts have less of a value in the Hip Hop industry. Events such as the 2012 Olympics in which we as a nation invited Rihan­na to per­form exem­pli­fies our lack of sup­port for our own.

From this I decided to send two ques­tions to ten of my friends; 1 from Spain, 1 from Ger­many and the rest born and raised UK res­id­ents. I asked them to name their top 3 Hip Hop Artists, their opin­ion on UK Hip Hop and it’s voice in the glob­al music industry.

The answers to the first set of ques­tions were as fol­lows: 110 men­tioned a female artist, clearly illus­trat­ing the lack of female rep­res­ent­a­tion in the industry (also I would like to point out that the per­son who men­tioned the female artist was in fact female her­self).

210 people men­tioned a UK artist; one of them being Natty, an Amer­ic­an born UK artist in which I would con­sider to be more of an eclectic mix of Reg­gae, Ska, Indie music (that’s just per­son­al). This also leads me to ques­tion how people define Hip Hop music in 2016.

My friend from Spain did not name any Span­ish artists and when he spoke about the Rap­pers in Spain; he men­tioned that the good artists were under­ground and the main­stream artists try too hard to copy their US idols. He also claimed that the Span­ish Rap­pers he liked all came from Lat­in Amer­ica and this; we con­cluded was because of it’s geo­graph­ic­al prox­im­ity to the ori­gin of Hip Hop music; as well as the large amount His­pan­ic inhab­it­ants in the USA. My friend from Ger­many men­tioned one Ger­man artist, ranked in third place behind his ‘Amer­ic­an Idols’ but at least there was an appre­ci­ation for one of his own.

There is a great deal of blurred lines and dis­con­nects; which doesn’t help the situ­ation in the UK in regards to its’ anti-pat­ri­arch­al sys­tems in UK Hip Hop music. The clas­sic being that Grime and Hip Hop are the same thing or that Grime is a sub-gen­re of Hip Hop. Grime is a gen­re in its own right for sure; but as MC-ing is one of the five ele­ments of Hip Hop, one could argue that it falls under the same cat­egory. Sim­il­arly the argu­ment could be made about artists such as Iggy Aza­lea, who of course raps also over her instru­ment­als; but in my own per­son­al opin­ion would say she makes pop music.

Also; slightly off top­ic: what about the black artists in the UK that make music of urb­an nature? What is their cat­egory? Rnb? Hip Hop? Pop? I’m say­ing this in ref­er­ence to artists such as Kwabs and Labyrinth.

Hip Hop can be defined as black music; so do we define them as Hip Hop too as they’re artists of black decent? People like to place things into boxes. It helps them feel a great­er affirm­a­tion. A more defin­it­ive approach and more edu­ca­tion could may­be help our artists to become more appre­ci­ated and recog­nised.

The answers to the second ques­tion all were along sim­il­ar lines; the UK lacks west­ern main­stream rep­res­ent­a­tion for UK artists, the idea of UK Hip Hop being a under­ground cul­ture or space to inhab­it, the dif­fer­ences in the pro­mo­tion of UK artists and Amer­ic­an artists and the lack of edu­ca­tion about Hip Hop in the UK; i.e. who is mak­ing and pro­du­cing it the music?

There was also talk about this idea of ‘play­ing catch up’ that I’ve heard in oth­er com­par­at­ive con­ver­sa­tions in regards to UK artists and Amer­ic­an artists.  I know this is only just a small and prob­ably biased sample of the real truth about UK Hip Hop and it’s rep­res­ent­a­tion in the minds of its own home audi­ence but it does illus­trate the point that we as a com­munity need to think abkbout our own voice in the world and sup­port our own which will in turn only bet­ter ourselves.

The UK club scene is a sim­il­ar ven­ture. A Hip Hop night will con­sist of main­stream Amer­ic­an Hip Hop and the occa­sion­al song by Skep­ta, JME, Labyrinth, Leth­al B, Dizzee Ras­cal and Stormzy. Only High Focus seems to be the night to my know­ledge really try­ing to push UK Hip Hop tal­ent. No won­der why people like Azealia Banks think they have the right to speak about UK tal­ent as a US sub­or­din­ate. What we’re doing is no bet­ter. The Brit Awards this year also made it per­fectly clear too; without a single award going to any UK Grime artist or any artist of black ori­gin for that mat­ter. The ques­tion that lies now is how do we solve this prob­lem and how did it even occur in the first place? Grow­ing up I wasn’t even fully aware that the UK even had a Hip Hop scene and when I did view artists attempt­ing to mc or intro­duce rap, they often the per­formed their bars with an Amer­ic­an accent so off the cuff I was imme­di­ately put off.

Now we have a com­munity of over­whelm­ing tal­ent emer­ging from Lon­don, Manchester, Birm­ing­ham and oth­er areas such as Leeds which is beau­ti­ful but where is the push from media and oth­er ves­sels of pro­mo­tion to take our artists from the under­ground and put them in the fore­front next to the Drake’s and Kendrick Lemar’s of the world. The French have a great way of pro­mot­ing their own. They’ve incurred a rule that radio sta­tions have to play a min­im­um of four songs in ten that are French. This is to ensure that the lan­guage and the artists of the coun­try get the expos­ure and sup­port from their own that they deserve.

Do I have the solu­tion? No but in order to start address­ing the prob­lem, one has to know that the prob­lem exists. I hope that through this we can provide faith in our own homegrown tal­ent to start liv­ing dream and be proud of where they came from. No more boos only fero­cious cheer­ing for our own.

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Valerie Ebuwa

Valer­ie “wing girl” Ebuwa is a freel­ance dance artist and yoga teach­er from East Lon­don. She is cur­rently dan­cing for 3 con­tem­por­ary dance com­pan­ies and is one of the found­ing mem­bers of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.

About Valerie Ebuwa

Valerie "wing girl" Ebuwa is a freelance dance artist and yoga teacher from East London. She is currently dancing for 3 contemporary dance companies and is one of the founding members of Eclectics Dance and CEO of Hip Hop House.