Offering An Alternative: The UK Rappers Doing Their Bit To Diversify The Scene
We’re living in an era where one of the UK’s biggest musician’s is a Grime artist from Croydon, a time where Michael Dappah’s satirical take on UK Drill music has made him an internationally known comedian, and young UK rappers like AJ Tracey and Dave are able to tour in America, the former collaborating with Denzel Curry and the latter having a song remixed by none other than Drake. Whether locally or internationally, the sound of UK rap has never been as commercially viable as it is today in 2017, and yet there is a crop of artists from the UK creating some truly innovative rap who’re falling between the seams, they don’t receive the same kind of attention from the mainstream and this is most likely due to their alternative subject matter. There’s so much more to the UK than Rap, Grime and Drill, you just need to know where to look, so I thought I’d make the search easier by creating a list of a few of the artists doing something genuinely different
Comprised of Kosi Tides and Swish, The Northaze are an Alternative Hip-Hop duo hailing from Leeds. With a Soundcloud that boasts 2,036 at the time of writing, the pair have made a name for themselves in the UK’s underground scene through supporting the likes of Denzel Curry, Pro Era’s Kirk Knight and GhostFace Killah. Of course, none of that would have been possible if it weren’t for their strong and extensive discography. The pair have released a string of EPs since forming in 2013, including ‘Mellow Thrills’ and ‘Dream Emulator’ as well as an array of collaborations and their ‘Pulp Diction’ series.
Their sound blends spacey atmospheric Hip-Hop instrumentals with singularly British accounts of life as a young black man up north that doesn’t do road but simply lives life, creating a stark contrast between them and their Grime and Drill counterparts. Which isn’t to say that their sound has no crossover appeal, their music often sees them utilise speedier flows lifted straight from the Grime rulebook. Intelligent bars and references to anime and videogames abound, The Northaze do things in their own way and it’s only a matter of time before the mainstream starts to take notice.
Latest project: SABRE SERIES VOLUME 1
What happens when you fuse the energy of Punk rock with the cracking snares, 808s and soaring synths of the likes of Tyler, the Creator and Pharrell? I don’t actually know but I imagine that the end product would sound something like South London’s Denzel Himself. This April saw the release of his debut EP ‘Pleasure’. In typical rapper fashion, Denzel’s debut project could easily be recognised as an album with its ten supremely crafted tracks but much like Drake with ‘More Life’ or Chance The Rapper with ‘Coloring Book’, Denzel opted to not label it a full length . Denzel’s been creating music since he was 17 but the now 22- year-old only began releasing music through his own label, Set Count Worldwide, this year.
The rapper has done a lot in a short period of time, in addition to having being featured on the likes of Noisey, i-D and Clash Music he also modeled for Skepta’s No Fear Forever collection. Denzel Himself is all about DIY, self directing all of his own music videos and producing his own beats, he has far more in common with American rappers like the aforementioned Odd Future founder and the Kevin Abstract led Brockhampton except every single syllable he raps is delivered in an unmistakably British cadence. While it is easy to compare him to Tyler, the Creator, given the similarity between their innovative and often dark styles, the comparison is a fair one. If anyone on this side of the pond has a chance at emulating T’s success, it’s Denzel Himself.
Latest Project: Pleasure EP
Of all the rappers in this list, Northampton’s slowthai is probably one of the easiest for fans of Grime and Drill to digest. His subject matter is more aligned with the more prevalent topics covered in Grime and Drill but it’s his delivery and production that have earned him a place on this list. His track ‘IDGAF’ sees him shouting like he’s fronting a Hardcore band over an instrumental with scattered guitar lines that shriek underneath his vocals. Much of the energy that one would come across in the hardest Grime tunes bleeds its way into slowthai’s music but it’s blended with dark, off-kilter production that harkens back to horrorcore rap.
Getting attention from the likes of The Fader, the 22-year-old is likely to see his popularity grow throughout 2018 as fans of alternative Hip-Hop stumble across his ‘I WISH I KNEW’ EP, released on November 3rd, on Spotify or Soundcloud. slowthai is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Latest project: I WISH I KNEW
Brian Nasty can be described in one word:colorful. Everything from the visual aesthetic of his album artwork to his fashion sense and his choice of language, the North London based 19-year-old, rapper, producer, video director and clothing designer has crafted an entire video game world with his debut album ‘Bajaland’ and a clothing line named Baja to match. Like Denzel Himself, Brian is another artist on this list who owes a lot to Tyler, the Creator but everything he does is uniquely himself.
All 15 of the songs on his debut were released on Soundcloud when he was only 17. The project features a mix of playful and melodic instrumental, as well as more hard hitting beats but all of them draw heavily on the sounds of classic video games. The self directed video for the single ‘NO GAMES BOY’ was released in April of this year and it epitomises everything that makes Brian unique, from the sounds sampled from Mario to the images of retro games and anime fighters projected behind him. Along with the other members of the collective Greasy Deep, to which he belongs, Brian has opened up for Indie artists like Declan McKenna and the Rap-rock group, Rat Boy. He’s one of the youngest rappers on this list and if the mini project ‘What A Time To Be Asleep’, a collaborative work with singer Ama Jones, produced entirely by Brian, released back in August is any indication, he’s only going to get better with age.
Latest project: What A Time To Be Asleep
Toshiro Steel is a Leeds based musician that hails from Sheffield, much like his friends and collaborators The Northaze, he’s proof that the North of the country have just as much talent as the South. His influences can be traced back to the half-sung, half-rapped trap style music popularised by the likes of Future and Lil Uzi Vert but there are hints of Emo rock that can be heard in his lyrics and vocal melodies.
More than just a talented musician, Toshiro Steel does all of the engineering, editing and mixing for his and his peers’ music. This year he released two fantastic EPs on Soundcloud. The first was the 3-track project ‘Missed Calls’, an agonisingly short project that serves as a teaser to the wonderfully melodic yet hard as nails sound that Toshiro creates. The second of these EPs was a collaborative project with Kosi Tides entitled ‘Ecchi Nights’ which expands on the sounds heard on its predecessor. Both projects sound like something you’d expect to hear from a much bigger artist and as time goes on and Toshiro releases more music, his reach will only widen.
Latest project: Ecchi Nights
23-year old K The Infinite is an MC hailing from Camden. He was one of MOBO’s Artists to watch this year and it only takes a single listen to one of his songs to understand why. His sound blends elements of Old School Hip-Hop with the woozy synths and off kilter drum patterns of Alternative rap. K’s laid back delivery make his music a relaxing listen but when coupled with his clever lyricism listening to him can be a thought provoking experience. A self-proclaimed creator of sound and poetry, he naturally has knack for storytelling exemplified on tracks like “…kiss of death II” and “…Kate’s Son”. K is a perfect example of Alternative Rap being for the nerds and outsiders as he talks about life through a filter of anime references.
With two excellent projects under his belt in the form of 2016’s ‘Ikigai Plus’ and 2017’s ‘this tape is void’, K’s star is bound to begin to shine even brighter next year following the release of his upcoming project ‘MERKABA’.Back in November K released the music video for ‘Pain X Pleasure’ a song that showcases the fact that his singing voice can be just as impactful as his bars. If the single is anything to go by, his next project is going to be something special, 2018 better be ready for K The Infinite.
Latest project: this tape is void
Words: Sulaiman Fell