MIX: UKHH99-07 – A UK Hip-Hop Retrospective
UKHH99-07 is a mix by Jeej for Jus Like Music on Mixcloud, featuring UK hip-hop tracks which came out between 1999 and 2007.
I recently put together a sort of retrospective of UK hip-hop, spanning 1999 to 2007. It was a cathartic experience in a way, as I’ve not really followed UK hip-hop very closely for a while now. In fact, the clue is in the title; 2007 – that’s when I reckon I actively stopped following UK hip-hop. It’s hard to pin-point the exact reasons, whether my tastes shifted or evolved, or if the quality of the music began to deteriorate. Just too many potential variables to be able to say one way or another that ‘this’ is why I no longer listen to UK hip-hop.
Before I delve a bit deeper into my reasoning and purpose for this mix, I’ll briefly touch on what I’ve included. Essentially, these are some of my favourite UK hip-hop tracks from that era. I was a little limited in my selection due to CDs with certain tracks not being close to hand – so there were a few key omissions. Plus I didn’t want it to be stupidly long, either! Artists like Lewis Parker, Jehst, Skinnyman, Klashnekoff, Harry Love, Ghost, Kashmere, Verb T & Asaviour represent the epitome of that era to me. From a personal perspective, this is the stuff I had on repeat constantly. To the heads, it wont be anything you haven’t heard before, but it might act as a stark reminder as to the sheer brilliance of the beatmakers and emcees back then. You can stream the mix now either via the player at the top of this post, or by checking it out on Mixcloud.
I do apologise if my initial tone in this post seemed somewhat negative, I promise it wasn’t meant to be. It would be far too easy for me to dismiss an entire genre, when the reality is likely to be that my lack of willingness to explore and discover decent sounds within UK hip-hop probably goes some way to explain my own personal UK hip-hop void.
Naturally, I also wonder if there’s any correlation between the migration of UK hip-hop – or ‘urban’, as the mainstream media like to call it – into the pop charts, and the demise of my interest. There had long been a ‘closed door’ policy for hip-hop in general on UK television and daytime radio. There had been exceptions over the years, with the likes of Run DMC and Beastie Boys getting good transatlantic exposure, but it wasn’t really till the advent of Eminem that hip-hop (of any description) started to blow up in the mainstream in the UK.
To clarify, hip-hop itself has always been well regarded by certain listeners in the UK, but it was rarely seen on terrestrial television and certainly not often played during the daytime on the major radio stations. Fast forward to circa 2007 and suddenly there were some UK rappers getting some shine. I’ve more or less purposefully sidestepped Dizzee Rascal, as he was a one-off pioneering a new genre. Obviously around the turn of the century there were a few acts like So Solid Crew who had their respective moments in the sun, but that was very much treated as the gimmick it ultimately ended up being. It also feels a bit ironic that – current UK chart champion – Professor Green is now doing so well, when to my ears he is like a British version of Eminem. That’s not to question his quality, but more a commentary on the fact that a (and this is gonna sound harsh) ‘Eminem clone’ is prospering in the UK 12 years after Eminem himself broke onto the scene!
Even the appearance of UK rappers in the UK mainstream has taken a quick metamorphosis into a sound that is more associated with being chart friendly ‘dance’ music. For the major labels it’s, quite obviously, a numbers game and they want to develop a mainstream-friendly sound to shift as many units as possible. All of a sudden, “ethnic youths in street wear rapping along to 4/4 dance-chart beats” is the flavour of the moment, and it’s something that the majors will gladly rinse. “Make hay whilst the sun shines”, as the saying goes. But, as someone who rarely dips their toes into chart music territory, it presents very much a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario for these acts to be supported by people like me – and whether or not they give a shit about what I think is another matter altogether.
So, I’m under no illusions that it would be hard for a decent UK hip-hop act to move into chart territory, without compromising their sound beyond my own palate, and get my unequivocal approval. The idealistic part of me wishes decent UK hip-hop could (or could have) prospered on a larger scale, but of course my delicate ego would no doubt have imploded at the prospect of Justin Bieber fans suddenly embracing Task Force or Klashnekoff. Unsurprsingly, I think that UK hip-hop, or rap, in the charts, and then the more underground stuff, remain polarised – and that only seems logical (and somewhat obvious) after due consideration.
Ultimately, I don’t know the names of any excellent underground UK hip-hop acts at the moment, and even sadder than that I’m not sure I’m particularly bothered. I hear the odd thing here and there, like Mystro – he recently dropped his 2011 UK Rap Up and he sounded good as he ever did (if not better!). Some UK hip-hop heads from ‘back then’ have even moved away from the genre to explore other sounds. 2tall is now Om Unit, making electronic music, and Foreign Beggars have incorporated electro and dubstep into some of their stuff (although they do usually still feature emcees) – for example.
One way to test my resolve – and providing you’ll humour and educate me – is for you, the reader, to leave a comment on this post with names and links to genuinely excellent UK hip-hop acts and artists. I’d love to hear something new and be blown away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really not saying these acts don’t exist and aren’t out there, I’m just saying I don’t actively look for them anymore. So, surprise me and enlighten me!