For any genuine fan of U.K. hip-hop, the genre offers a feeling of exclusivity that has two very contradictory sides to it.
On the one hand, you can’t help but feel bewildered and frustrated that even British people themselves so easily overlook this musical art form. It is confusing. Chunks of other genres like grime and dubstep have been seized at early stages of their development and packaged and showcased so that their artists rise to fame. It has certainly happened with hip-hop at points along the way, but not at any consistent rate. Since the late 1980s—unlike the tsunami of American hip-hop that found its way to every corner of the earth—the major components of the U.K.’s movement have lurked timidly in the underground, ignored by the popular economy. It has remained a largely underground sound, held at the periphery in self-analyzing curiosity about subsistent life in the city.
But this confusing negligence that U.K. hip-hop has faced is actually more of a blessing than a curse. The other side of its exclusivity is that being ignored has made it what it is. You can say a lot of good things about American hip-hop, but you cannot say it is a predominantly underground form of expression any more. It certainly offers opportunities to rise from nothing, and still has an underground scene, but its following is so huge and so worldwide that it doesn’t have much of a reason to doubt itself.
So what does this mean for U.K. hip-hop? Because of its inherently underground nature, it has been forced to evolve in a certain way. Hip-hop artists in the U.K. are experts at exploring themes of economic struggle, failing urban infrastructure and, after so long without a real culture-wide breakthrough, philosophy. There is an abundance of real poetry and meaning in the lyrics of so many of the good British hip-hop artists, and so much incredible talent that is criminally under-appreciated and over-looked, especially by American audiences.
So, if you've dismissed the U.K. scene without giving it a chance, think there's no good hip-hop coming out of Britain, or just want something a little bit different to listen to, this one's for you. Here are 15 UK hip-hop songs you probably don't know, but should.