So, is British rap popular? Well, thanks to releases from some good British rappers like Pop Smoke, Stormzy, AJ Tracey, and more, rap and hip hop are among the most popular music genres in the UK right now. The popularity of hip-hop soared in the UK in 2020 according to the latest research and statistics.
British hip-hop, often called UK rap and UK hip-hop is a genre of music and culture that covers different styles of hip-hop. It is often called urban music. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best British rappers.
Born as Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr, Stormzy is a famous hip-hop artist from the UK. He became popular in 2014 on the underground music scene thanks to his series of freestyles over classical grime beats. Called Wicked Skengman, the series of freestyles made him a household name in the underground hip-hop scene. Even his song, Shut Up, was initially released as a freestyle on YouTube. It peaked at Number 8 on the UK Singles Chart. Stormzy launched a campaign to reach Christmas Number One, but he didn’t make it. He often describes himself as a child of grime. Speaking about his influence, he often cites singers likeFrank Ocean and Lauryn Hill. He is also popular outside of the music world. In May 2016, he openly endorsed Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Some call him Santan Dave, others just Dave. Born as David Orobosa Omoregie in June 1998, Dave is a singer, record producer, and actor. He gained popularity for his socially conscious lyricism and wordplay. Speaking of British rappers, he is among the most easily recognized. He released his debut extended play in 2016, called Six Paths. Before that, he had a number of successful singles including the popular grime song Thiago Silva with AJ Tracey. Canadian rapper Drake has remixed Dave’s song Wanna Know in 2016 as well. In 2019, Dave released his debut album, Psychodrama to widespread critical acclaim. It debuted at Number 1 on the UK Albums Chart.
She is among the group of female British rappers. Little Simz was born in February 1994. She is a UK rapper, singer, and actress of Yoruba heritage. Little Simz rose to prominence with the independent release of her first three albums. The last one, Grey Area in 2019, helped her earn a nomination for the Mercury Prize. She was born in London to Nigerian parents and was raised on a council estate with two brothers. Besides music, she also has a decent acting career. It began with the role of Vicky in the BBC children’s series, Spirit Warriors. She then portrayed Meleka in the E4 television series, Youngers.
During her musical career, she has performed alongside Estelle, Ms. Dynamite, and Kano.
Stylized in lowercase, he is a British rapper raised in Northampton. Born in December 1994 as Tyron Kaymone Frampton, he rose to prominence in 2019 for his gritty and rough instrumentals and raw, politically charged lyrics. He often rapped around topics like Brexit, Theresa May, and her tenure as British Prime Minister. In 2019, he released his debut studio album, Nothing Great About Britain. It was nominated for the Mercury Prize. During the 2019 Mercury prize ceremony performance, he held a fake severed head of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on stage. As you can assume, it prompted quite a lot of controversy. Speaking about his musical influence, he cites Radiohead, Nirvana, Juelz Santana, Alex Turner, Sex Pistols, Jay Z, Oasis, and many more.
Born as Harrison James Armstrong in December 1999, Aitch is a British rapper and songwriter from Manchester. He got famous thanks to his singleStraight Rhymez. It amassed more than 24 million views and brought him to the attention of Stormzy, a London-based UK rapper.
Then, his song Rain amassed more than 51 million views on YouTube and more than 140 million streams on Spotify.
Fun fact: he got his first taste of attention in 2015. At the time, a YouTube video of him rapping to friends gained local popularity. He didn’t want the video published originally, but changed his mind when the video reached 10,000 views instantly. Then he continued uploading his freestyles to see if he can gain more views.
Arguably one of the most famous British rappers, he was born in March 1994. His real name is Che Wolton Grant. AJ Tracey is from Ladbroke Grove, West London. He rose to popularity in 2016. The Guardian listed him as “one of the best new acts to catch at festivals in 2016”. In 2017, he released his first mainstream EP, Secure the Bag. The EP reached Number 13 on the UK Albums Chart. Rapping since the age of 6, he was educated locally at Middle Row Primary school. He then went on to attend Holland Park School. He did enroll at a university but dropped out of a criminology course at London Metropolitan University to pursue his music career.
Fun fact: AJ Tracey is an avid fan of Tottenham Hotspur FC.
Let’s move on to a female rapper from the UK, ok? Born in December 1987 as Melesha Katrina O’Garro, Lady Leshurr is a rapper and producer. She is famous for her Queen’s Speech series of freestyles. The fourth one became widely popular in 2016. In 2021, she entered Channel 4 Series The Celebrity Circle for Stand Up to Cancer. The young female rapper got interested in poetry at the age of six. Yet, she decided writing music would bring her to a wider audience. Then, at only 14, she released her first mixtape. Her mother played a lot of reggae during her childhood, with artists like Bob Marley and Sister Nancy. In 2020, she was awarded the British Empire Medal in the 2020 Birthday Honours for service to music and charity. Besides reggae artists, she cites artists like Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Ashley Walters, Lil Wayne, and Missy Elliott as her influences.
Born as Rodney Hylton Smith in 1972, Roots Manuva is one of the older British rappers. He debuted in 1994, and since then, has produced numerous albums and singles on the label Big Dada. He achieved commercial success with his albums Run Come Save Me and Slime & Reason. Many describe him as one of the most influential artists in British music history. He grew up around Stockwell, London. His parents were from a small village in Jamaica. There, his father worked as a tailor and a preacher. Roots Manuva spent most of his early life in poverty. The lyrics of his songs have a British edge. He also joins other artists on their tracks. So far, he has worked with Beth Orton, Saian Supa Crew, Chali 2na, DJ Shadow, Mr Scruff, and many more.
Born as Jermaine Sinclaire Scott in March 1985, Wretch 32 is a British rapper and member of the grime collective, Combination Chain Gang. But he formed his own collective, The Movement alongside artists like Scorcher, Ghetts, and Mercston. Born in March 1985 to a Jamaican family, he had three Top 5 charting songs from his debut studio album, Black and White. During the 2012 London Olympics, he was employed by Adidas and Coca-Cola as one of their main faces for the ad campaign.
The British MC, rapper, and songwriter is a pioneer of grime music. His work also incorporates elements of British hip hop, UK garage, bass line, and R&B music. Born in 1984 as Dylan Kwabena Mills, Dizzee Rascal released his debut album Boy in da Corner in 2003. That album helped him win the 2003 Mercury Prize. Since then, the album is considered a grime classic. He started to make music in his teenage years, learning to rap fast over drum and bass tracks. That was a contrast to the slower tempo of the UK garage. Dizzee cites the Three 6 Mafia Group and their crunk music as his big influence.
The British rapper and singer rose to fame after her 2017 single Hurtin Me made it to Number 7 on the UK Singles Chart. French Montana joins her on the track. Born as Stephanie Victoria Allen, Stefflon Don released her debut mixtape Real Ting in 2016. She was born in Birmingham, England. She has seven siblings, one of which is another rapper, Dutchavelli. When she was only five years, her family moved to Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She is also fluent in Dutch. At the age of 14, she returned to Britain to study at a London school.
Fun fact: at one point she worked as a cake decorator and hairdresser before pursuing a full-time music career.
Formerly known as Headz, he is a British rapper and singer. Born in 1994, he released his mixtape in 2018, The One. This mixtape contained the popular single, Know Better, featuring rapper RV. It became an underground hit. Headie One is a member of the UK Drill music group OFB. He is considered a pioneer of the UK Drill scene. His track 18 Hunna, featuring rapper Dave, is one of his most famous songs. It peaked at Number 6 on the UK Singles Chart. So far, he has released seven mixtapes, four of them as a solo artist.
Born in 1992, Sneakbo is a British rapper that got famous thanks to hits like The Wave, Zim ZImma, and Ring a Ling. He produced most of his music in the early 2010s. As a young man, he listened to Tupac Shakur and pop star Michael Jackson. To this day, he cites those two as his biggest influences. The British rapper is of Nigerian descent.
Let’s finish off the list with Kane Brett Robinson. Born in May 1985, he is known by his stage name, Kano. The actor and songwriter from East Ham, London is a huge contributor to grime music. Many consider him the pioneer of grime music and culture alongside artists like Wiley and Dizzee Rascal. He released his debut single, Ps and Qs in 2004. The song quickly became an underground hit within the grime community. His 2007 album, London Town, featured his highest-charting single, This is the Girl. The song, featuring Craig David, was a huge success. Besides music, he is also known for acting. He played the role of Sully in Top Boy. Speaking of his personal life, Kano is a supporter of Liverpool FC.