As part of the doc­u­ment­ary “Back 2 Tape”, music journ­al­ist Niko Hüls meets two defin­ing faces of Brit­ish hip-hop: rap­per Rod­ney P and pro­du­cer and I Am Hip-Hop Magazine’s Apex Zero.

The roots of Brit­ish hip-hop lie close to Buck­ing­ham Palace, in Cov­ent Garden. The Lon­don theatre and enter­tain­ment dis­trict has always attrac­ted people of all ages and back­grounds. Like oth­er attrac­tions in the Brit­ish cap­it­al, Cov­ent Garden is both his­tor­ic and inspir­a­tion­al.

The will to cre­ate some­thing of your own

In the 1990s, it was pre­cisely here where hip-hop, with its essen­tial basic ele­ments of rap, DJing, break­dan­cing and graf­fiti, became part of urb­an cul­ture. Ini­tially under­ground, later more and more as its own fully respec­ted cul­ture of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions. Early Brit­ish hip-hop is an expres­sion of a cer­tain atti­tude towards life, just like its Amer­ic­an coun­ter­part.

It ori­gin­ates primar­ily from socially less priv­ileged areas, mixed with influ­ences from the reg­gae and ragga scene. In addi­tion to the song “Lon­don Bridges” by the artist Newtra­ment, which was released on a Brit­ish label in 1984, the beats of the loc­al artists are mainly passed from fan to fan on tapes. You can feel the influ­ence of the New York hip-hop scene at every corner in Cov­ent Garden — but at the same time, there is a con­stant desire to cre­ate some­thing of your own.

Trip-hop, gar­age or drum & bass: Brit­ish hip-hop is unfold­ing, becom­ing more aggress­ive, louder. It gains respect bey­ond the bor­ders of Lon­don’s West End, to Bris­tol, Manchester or Birm­ing­ham — and finally to the USA. Labels like Simon Har­ris’ “Music of Life” help the Brit­ish scene enorm­ously to break away from the US mod­el.

Hip-hop is atti­tude
I meet Rod­ney P on my Porsche road trip in Lon­don. For many young artists, he is a shin­ing star in the some­times dark world of hip-hop. In his days, he was also known under the pseud­onym Rid­dim Killa. Whenev­er his music got Carib­bean influ­ences, Rod­ney P became Rid­dim Killa. His first album was released in 1986, and later he foun­ded his own label and hos­ted the BBC show “The Ori­gin­al Fever”, where he met rap legends like Kanye West, P Diddy and 50 Cent.

Rod­ney, who came to hip-hop through break­dan­cing and so-called freerid­ing, is massively dis­turbed by the neg­at­ive lines and the lack of com­plex­ity in today’s rap busi­ness: “They all just write lyr­ics about crime and drugs,” laments the god­fath­er of Brit­ish rap.  “But there is more. It’s not about land­ing the next mil­lions with one hit. It’s about build­ing a future for you and being able to look at your­self in the mir­ror.”

After all, for Rod­ney P, hip-hop is an import­ant part of soci­ety: “Hip-hop con­nects with all its ele­ments. Big and small, rich and poor, black and white. Many young people often ask me ‘Who is the greatest MC of all time?’ But that’s not the right ques­tion,” says Rod­ney P. “It has to be ‘Who is the most influ­en­tial MC of all time?’, ‘Who shaped a pos­it­ive rebel­lion in music?”.

Afric­an-Carib­bean beats
Anoth­er pro­ponent of the ori­gin­al idea of Brit­ish hip-hop is Apex Zero. His home is in Brix­ton, my second stop in the Brit­ish cap­it­al. The dis­trict south of Lon­don, on the oth­er side of the Thames, is pulsat­ing with Afric­an-Carib­bean life. And that fits the Afro-Eng­lish Apex Zero like the turntable pin fits in the grooves of the vinyl.
“Around the corner here is Elec­tric Aven­ue. Do you remem­ber the song by Eddy Grant?”, Apex Zero asks me and imme­di­ately tunes in to the song while his Rasta hair bounces with the beat. “This neigh­bour­hood is so import­ant for hip-hop, not only here but all over Europe. Just think of the Brix­ton Splash Music Fest­iv­al or the Chip Chop Café,” says Zero, who has immersed him­self in Beijing’s Chinese hip-hop scene for two years.

“Hip-hop showed me who I am”
Apex Zero, who co-foun­ded a hip-hop magazine as a journ­al­ist in 2012, aims to pre­serve the roots of hip-hop: human­ity and atti­tude. The magazine “I Am Hip-Hop” helps ex-crim­in­als to regain a foothold in nor­mal life after their release and offers oppor­tun­it­ies for par­ti­cip­a­tion. “You can sup­port the magazine by writ­ing, par­ti­cip­at­ing in report­ing or pro­du­cing pho­tos,” Zero explains.

“It’s import­ant that hip-hop gives people a per­spect­ive, no mat­ter where they come from. I owe a lot to the music. Hip-hop has shown me who I am and led me on the right path. Before, I just did crazy stuff and drif­ted off in dif­fer­ent dir­ec­tions,” says Apex Zero, for whom hip-hop is always open and mul­ti­cul­tur­al — but also threatened by media and com­merce. “I’m sure: Good hip-hop will sur­vive.” Apex Zero is def­in­itely doing its part.

Back 2 Tape

In 2018, music journ­al­ist Niko Hüls embarked on a jour­ney to the roots of hip-hop in Ger­many in “Back to Tape”. Now, he’s con­tinu­ing his road trip across Europe in a Porsche Cay­enne S Coupé. In coöper­a­tion with the hip-hop magazine Backspin.de, the Porsche News­room pro­ject “Back to Tape” sheds light on cul­tur­al influ­ences through the four cent­ral ele­ments of hip-hop: rap, DJing, break­dance and graf­fiti. In Part 4, Niko Hüls vis­its Lon­don.

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.