Why isn’t UK hip-hop commercially successful yet?



The UK has always been about ten years behind America in everything, and this doesn’t change when it comes to commercially successful music. The UK hip-hop and grime scene is nowhere near as popular as your typical young-money-American-hip-hop, and few UK artists will have the same success as American artists. This, in my opinion, is solely due to the clash of interests between American and UK hip-hop, rather than any difference in quality between UK hip-hop and its American cousin.

Unless you head down a similar route to artists such as Wiley, and commercialise your music with a generic bass line or chorus, it’s pretty much set in stone that your music will not become commercially successful, and won’t result in you earning the millions of pounds that so many UK artists dream of. But is that really a bad thing?

There are so many UK hip-hop and grime artists that have a huge following, yet still continue to stick to a less commercial sound. Take London based High Focus Records for example. Every artist signed to this label continues to produce original sounding UK hip-hop. Grime, rap, trap – whatever you want to call it, it’s original and true to its UK roots. Veteran emcee Verb T is a perfect example; although he may struggle to hit the same amount of views or reach as many fans as someone more commercial, Verb doesn’t feel the need to sandwich an extremely cringey pop-style chorus into his tracks.

It’s fair to say that the majority of commercially successful hip-hop that spends weeks in the charts does not appeal to me. Personally I prefer the typically “South London” hip-hop and grime scene; the music that isn’t as commercially successful yet remains original UK hip-hop.

Perhaps as a result of my bias, I don’t really think there is anything that holds UK hip-hop from commercial success. I think it’s a deeper more traditional reason that stops many UK artists hopping on a plane to the states and releasing a hugely successful track.  America has and will always be the place to go to become a world famous artist, with thousands of budding musicians working with artists from the States each year, making more and more commercially successful hip-hop. On the other hand, many UK artists stick to the gritty grime and uncensored tracks because it’s what they love and it’s the reason why they decided to make music in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, of course there are aspects that only UK artists have that may stop them becoming more commercially successful than their Canadian or American counterparts. For example, if you’re going to completely Americanise your music, please at least try and sound American. There are only a small number of UK artists that are able to make an Americanised track work with their accent. Wiley is an example – he’s a UK artist that has managed to sound surprisingly good on a usually cheesy and unoriginal beat , however I’d still much prefer to listen to his older, more “Where’s My Brother” kind of music.

Of course the crowd that the UK hip-hop scene tends to attract isn’t commercially friendly, often leaving the impression that UK Hip-hop is violent, with no thought given to the meaning behind the lyrics (if you believe this, then please I ask you to stop reading this and YouTube Plan B’s “Ill Manors” or Akala’s Fire In The Booth). It’s a shame that this is the impression given by UK hip-hop, when actually many of the UK artists that I am so fond of, describe their experiences, opinions and values through their bars. However, when America is your biggest target audience when trying to make it in the industry, they don’t seem to appreciate that kind of lyricism, thus resulting in artists choosing to commercialise their music in order to create a bigger fan base.

Although many artists who choose to stick to making typically British music may struggle to become commercially successful, I personally admire their ability to stick to, spread and be proud of their musical origin. The UK is such a diverse place when it comes to Hip-Hop, with different takes on UK hip-hop being produced, recorded and released every day. I love that the UK has a such an underground hip-hop scene, I love that Giggs, Ghetts, JME, Kano, Akala and many others continue to make such typically British music, I love that they love that music, and I love that they don’t value commercial success over the reason why they started to make music.

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