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: 1⁄10 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).
2⁄10 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 about 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.