Brit Awards: George the Poet, Years and Years, and James Bay to battle for Critics' Choice award

Three artists up for award that launched Emeli Sandé and Ellie Goulding

George the Poet, a Cambridge-educated “urban wordsmith” who attacked universities for their “elitism”, has been shortlisted for the Brit Award which helped launch the careers of Adele and Sam Smith.

George Mpanga, 23, who performs as George the Poet, will compete against singer-songwriter James Bay and electropop trio Years and Years for the Critics’ Choice award, which will be presented at the 2015 Brits ceremony next February.

The award, identifying future British music stars, has previously catapulted winners including Emeli Sandé and Ellie Goulding to pop success.

But Mpanga is a very different candidate. A recording artist, spoken word performer and public speaker, his poetry is informed by his background, growing up in inner-city London and the Politics, Psychology and Sociology degree he studied at Cambridge.

Born and raised on the Stonebridge Park estate in Harlesden, north-west London, Mpanga describes his poetry as a reaction against the materialism and clichés of rap.

He rose to prominence with a 2012 poem My City, contrasting the massive investment required to stage the Olympics in Stratford with the “real” London he knew – “estates with the least funding - look at the state of east London, that's a paradox/ Economy booming for the have-a-lots.”

Mpanga won the Stake, a business challenge organised by Barclays and Channel 4, which granted him funding to run poetry workshops for 15-year-olds across London.

Signed to Island Records, his poems, which mix social comment with humour, tackling issues such as teen parenthood, have enjoyed 500,000 views on YouTube.

Questioning the lack of “diversity” among the backgrounds of the student intake at Cambridge, Mpanga said it should be compulsory for leading universities to forge links with children from a younger age.

George said: “I feel privileged to have been shortlisted for the Brits Critics’ Choice Award. I always dreamed of reaching people and this nomination shows me that I’m on track.” 

His ambition is to “provide an attractive and influential alternative to all the stereotypes”.

Along with the Mercury Prize-nominated Kate Tempest, Mpanga has made British “street poetry” a new cultural force and an alternative to the overtly commercialised genre of hip-hop.

The winner of the Critics’ Choice award will be announced next week and the hottest industry buzz currently surrounds James Bay. The 24-year-old Johnny Depp lookalike from Hitchin has already amassed a large following, selling out venues including the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

An acoustic performer discovered whilst studying at the Brighton music college BIMM, Bay has recorded his debut album in Nashville.

Years and Years are fronted by Olly Alexander, a rising British actor who starred in the films The Riot Club and God Help The Girl.

The Critics’ Choice Award is chosen by a panel of music industry experts and tastemakers as well as key players from television and radio stations.

Artists are eligible for consideration if they are signed to a record label and are set to release their debut album in 2015.The final three were selected from a list of over 100 candidates from a variety of music genres.