All those hip-hop old timers still harking after the days of LL Cool J and Grand Master Flash you’re about to get a rude awakening. A transatlantic rap revolution has swept the UK by way of the US and left rap royalty such as 90s rapper Rakim shaking their heads in despair.
1980s & 90s hiphop kings Eric B and Rakim
He recently tweeted his concerns about modern rap and didn’t mince his words: “You are now witnessing the devolution of rap music. The death of poetry and smoothness, they use this. The absence of a message. This inability to create meaningful change through words and verses, but the worse is, they don’t even know they hurt this artful purpose, it’s tragic.”
Were these comments aimed at the controversial drill rap which has hit the UK by way of the mean streets of Chicago? Drill? Grime? If you’re having difficulty keeping up with your Lil’ Reeces and JHUSes here’s a little history on the latest rap genres and the stand out UK artists.
Drill rap, although common to the streets of Chicago, surged into public consciousness with the overnight success of teen rapper Chief Keef in 2012. The Chicago resident was a member of the Black Disciples street gang who were warring with their BDK rivals (Black Disciple Killers). The murder of BDK rapper Lil’ Jo Jo, after releasing a Chief Keef diss track, fuelled tensions and the rise of other Chicago rappers. It also became increasingly linked with violence and gang-related lyrics.
Chicago drill rapper Chief Keef
In the UK it soon dominated the headlines as London drill rappers began to proliferate, with violence spilling over from their creative outbursts. The recently reported murders and stabbings in South London highlighted the growing rivalry between Camberwell’s Moscow 17 and Peckham’s Zone 2. The Grime rap which had dominated in London since the early 2000s has been pushed into the shade as the sensationalism of drill rap takes hold in both the UK and the US.
However, Grime rap battles weren’t necessarily all sweetness and light in comparison. Grime’s uncompromising urban sound was first birthed in London’s East End, leading to the rise of the best of the area’s talent – Plaistow’s Ghetts and more recently Stratford’s JHUS, amongst them. Ghetts’s rap battles with the likes of Bashy and PMoney are legendary in the genre. However, violence was never the headline-grabber even if and when such incidents did occur.
Drill rap has taken this to a new level. It has to be said, the social media revolution meant that beefs could quickly spill into violence: after uploading a goading rap track to Youtube and awaiting the comeback – lyrical or physical.
Most UK Drill rappers now wear hoodies and scarves across their faces to avoid the inevitable consequences. But once you sift through the proliferation of belligerent new young pretenders, the elite who make the Tim Westwood Crib Sessions and clock up the hits on GRM Daily are proving a match for their Grime predecessors in talent alone.