Music: Brothers and sisters are doing it for themselves

UK rappers and producers putting the hip back into UK hip hop.

When hip-hop culture started spreading its tentacles across the Atlantic back in the early 1980s, its effects were instant. The breakdancing, graffiti art, DJ tricks and music were embraced by an increasingly urbanised youth. In the 20 years since, the boundless energy, creative expression and street-wise sound has become an enormously widespread phenomenon. In America.

The story of UK hip-hop is slightly different however. After the initial enthusiasms produced talented British rap acts in the early Eighties, such as The London Posse, Katch 22, The Demon Boyz and Overlord X, the scene began to fade. A small amount of die-hards still produced records for other die-hards to collect and listen to. Spray-paint sales were slightly strengthened by "graffers". Linos were kept to one side for the occassional head-spin. But aside from the occasional album or promising artist, not much has happened over the last decade.

Until now, with a resurgence of interest, particularly in the rappers and producers. Of all the facets of British hip-hop culture it has been the music that has been the hardest to keep alive. The two main criticisms that are endlessly churned out are that British MCs sounded too much like their American counterparts and our producers make sub-standard music.

But over time, the critics have at least been silenced. This year especially has seen an unprecedented number of releases which possess strong production as well as a very British identity. Tony Alabode (aka Black Twang) is acknowledged as one of the artists who first began to get attention focused back on to UK rap. He has been voted best UK hip-hop artist; has received a nomination for the prestigious Black Music Awards and has won a MOBO (Music Of Black Origin) award.

"I released my first single in 1995." He says. "After that came a couple more and the feedback we were getting seemed to indicate that this was what people wanted. So I made an album. But the album never got released due to label politics. I went back to the studio and started again. We had some distractions from major labels, but it was always the same thing. They'd call up and express an interest and we'd get the ball rolling. But when it came to the crunch, they chickened out."

Although the album will be released this month, Tony's predicament highlights another long-time barrier for the UK scene - a lack of interest and support from major labels who are, perhaps justifiably, unwilling to provide financial backing. This obstacle has been surmounted by a spate of independent labels.

Mark B, a producer who is involved in two such labels, K'Boro and Jazz- Fudge, explains: "The quantity of releases has improved because of the independents. People were shopping around for majors but first you have to prove to those people that you can sell records. Between K'boro and Jazz-Fudge we are hoping to put out a record a month."

Another label which has found a receptive market is Big Dada, an independent set up last year as an offshoot of the avant-garde dance label Ninja Tune. Big Dada has a mission to "put out quality hip-hop ... wherever it's from". It has been responsible for recording and promoting UK artists such as Juice Aleem, Part 2, and Roots Manuva. And they are set to release a compilation.

This entrepreneurial spirit seems to pervade the whole scene now. As Tony says, "artists find friends who can do the artwork for records, other friends who work in mastering studios, friends who have access to recording equipment; people are more aware that majors only see them as a product and they want to do things themselves."

This accounts for the quantity of releases, but what about quality? Why have British artists only just started to sound British? Rapper MC Ty believes it's been a natural evolution. "It's like learning to play an instrument. When you first start out, you imitate, you mimic. As you gain confidence, you start to sound like your favourites. The next stage is your own style."

Ty reckons that we are now at that final stage. "A rapper must use a UK accent, a producer must make a song that represents the UK. The entire musical landscape should reflect the physical landscape that we live in. An audience can then relate."

In terms of production, it seems that the same process applies. Combined with a new influx of technology, producers are concentrating on finding their own sound. DJ Skitz, a London producer responsible for the impressive "Fingerprints Of The Gods" EP last month says: "This is definitely a new era. People have honed their skills. Production-wise, people are just taking their time and not just churning it out. Rapping-wise, people now realise that it's good to be natural and to talk about what you know. If you're talking about everyday living in London, then you're not talking about running around with a gun are you?"

Part 2 hail from the unlikely location of York and work closely with rapper Juice Aleem (from Birmingham), and is perhaps one of the most avant- garde producers, eschewing the bass-heavy style of the Americans.

His passion for both graffiti and production are equal: "I've been finding breaks for years," he says, "and I know that I've got influences no-one else has got. My art-work has a Dadaist/Surrealist edge to it, and that's what I want my music to reflect."

So what of the future? Although cautious to claim a new renaissance for British rap, most artists are excited and believe that right now is a great opportunity.

Nebula and Nzareen, a female duo with a combined age of just 38, have seen the effects at their live gigs. "We've performed at places like The Blue Note and The Jazz Cafe which have a mixed clientele, and everybody was really enjoying it," reports Nzareen. "I really believe that the thread is gonna go right through the needle this time."

Juice Aleem sees a difference between the current resurgence and the mere flashes that have gone before. "There's often a problem when only one person is pushed forward to represent a whole scene. You need a group of artists and that's what seems to be happening right now."

Indeed, this month sees Black Twang's debut (finally) as well as the Big Dada compilation. Other artists such as Roots Manuva, who has featured on the latest Rebirth of Cool project (a mainstream landmark for UK rap) has just signed to the latter label for an album deal, and most others questioned are feeding from the current positivity and have album plans.

Even the perennial in-house hostilities that have divided artists and audiences in the past seem to have abated. A homogeneity is apparent that reveals the passion and desire to succeed. The whole purpose of hip-hop in the first place was to provide an expressive outlet for a silenced minority. Now we shall see how loud the UK can shout.

THE ARTISTS

BLACK TWANG

One of the most humourous and relevant voices around at the moment. 19 Long-Time ... Live from the Big Smoke is out at the end of June.

ROOTS MANUVA

An avuncular figure in UK hip-hop and tipped to be a leader. Signed to Big Dada for an album.

MARK B

Producer for numerous UK artists, including Blade and The Mudd Family. Runs K'Boro records and is involved with Jazz-Fudge.

DJ SKITZ

Producer behind 'Fingerprints Of The Gods' EP on Ronin records. Very reggae-influenced. JUICE ALEEM

Birmingham MC, a floating member of Nu-Flesh 4 Old.

PART 2

Avant-garde producer who works closely with Juice Aleem. Produces quite dark, minimal sounds. Also an internationally reknowned graffiti artist. Runs Nu-Flesh Music.

SKELETON

Extremely distinctive rapper who featured on The Fingerprints Of The Gods EP.

TY AND SHORTEE BLITZ

Duo who perform live a lot. Ty MCs while Shortee Blitz DJs. Next single on Wayward.

NEBULA AND NZAREEN

Talented female duo (both 19) whose first release 'London Bridge' has caused a stir.

BLADE

Old-school rapper who has been releasing records fairly consistently since the early years. On Mark B Hitmen for Hire compilation.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick