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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 18:46 GMT
Is UK on verge of Brithop boom?
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

A new crop of British urban music artists are gathering major awards, rave reviews and chart success. Is the UK on the verge of a homegrown hip-hop revolution?

Sway at the Mobos
British rapper Sway beat US star 50 Cent at the Mobo Awards
When the Mobo Awards picked the world's best hip-hop artist in September, the prize did not go to US heavyweights 50 Cent or The Game.

An unsigned and largely unknown British rapper, Sway, stole the award - a sign that the UK's street stars may finally be ready to challenge the scene's American rulers.

That is not the only sign of stirrings in the UK underground.

BBC urban music radio station 1Xtra recently broadcast a Homegrown Weekend to showcase local talent, while artists like Lethal Bizzle, Kano and Roll Deep have started to land in the charts.

And the latest issue of urban magazine Touch features four of the hottest British rappers - Sway, Lethal Bizzle, Klashnekoff and Killa Kela - on its cover, complete with a Union Jack.

'False dawns'

Touch magazine featuring Sway, Lethal B and Klashnekoff

The image and words "It's War!" are reminiscent of the 1993 "Yanks go home!" issue of Select magazine, regarded by many as the birth of Britpop.

"It was partly because we wanted to reflect the fact that there are a lot of strong artists who are all doing something interesting," says Touch deputy editor Chris Blenkarn.

"What's happening now is very exciting and there is definitely some potential."

But there have been false dawns before and no British artists will make it to the top until TV and radio stations get behind them and fans dig deep, he says.

"I'm always sceptical about it. I hope it does go further, but until people start putting bums on seats then it's hard to say."

Lethal Bizzle, who made his name in More Fire Crew and scored a number 11 solo hit with Pow!, agrees that radio and TV need to play UK acts much as US stars.

'Get your game up'

Ras Kwame on 1Xtra

"We don't have Radio 1 playlisting our records, or all these other outlets supporting us to the fullest potential," he says.

"Once that happens, this whole music game will really take off. It's just a shame that right now there's only few outlets that are really supporting it."

But if radio stations are not playing British hip-hop, it is because the music is not yet good enough and too few fans want it, Sway believes.

"Artists just have to be professional and realise that if they've got a product that's worthy of being exploited, there are going to be people who are going to want to exploit it for financial gain," he says.

"A lot of people in the UK are bitter saying 'they don't want to support us'. Just get your game up."

Roll Deep at the Urban Music Awards
Roll Deep, led by Wiley (right), recently won an Urban Music Award
'New sound'

The Roll Deep collective reached number 11 with The Avenue and leader Wiley says it will take another four years to reach chart-topping, million-selling status.

"In England, it's a new sound and everybody's not as open-minded as you think," he says.

BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra DJ Ras Kwame agrees that the UK hip-hop market is not yet big enough to produce a British Eminem.

"However, that picture is changing as we begin to recognise and embrace even more our local heroes and realise that alongside the Americans the par is level," he says.

"I think the quality is out there. But as with anything new and fresh and sounding original, it takes time fort it to penetrate, to get under people's skins and for them to have a serious long-term reaction to that in terms of buying records."

When that does happen, the music will be distinctly British and "not just derivative of an American thing", he says.

'Different league'

We've got a totally different society, we've got a totally different way of thinking - we're British, not American
1Xtra DJ
Another 1Xtra DJ, Semtex, says Britain will never catch up with a 30-year old US artform, but has its own unique scene and potential for major success.

"Obviously we're never going to be as good as the Americans," he says. "When it comes to the UK market, what are you going to buy - Eminem or the UK Eminem? You want the proper Eminem."

But British artists will make it big, Semtex says - and when that happens, the fact they are not just copying the US will be their greatest strength.

"By the second, third, fourth album, a lot of these artists are going to come into their own as stars.

"We're in this totally different league to the Americans - we've got a totally different society, we've got a totally different way of thinking. That's what we've got to take into consideration. We're British, not American."

Do you think British stars will ever make it to the top of the hip-hop scene? Are UK artists as good as Americans - or will they always be second best?

Your comments:

What do they mean it's 'a new sound'? All that hip hop rubbish sounds the same, whether British or American

Birt stars will never make it to the top because the 'haters' always outnumber the supporters. People simply don't purchase UK urban music from the shops, downloading is much easier. As for the corporate side, the artists are ignored unless there is money to be made. Money can probably be made from all artists, but artists also suffer from what could be described as industry nepotism. Some UK artists are considerably better than US artists, but the US buy their own, put money into their own artists pockets, and subsequently fund their own industry. Their urban music arrogance only means that they miss out on a ridiculous amount of high quality imports...
Dub10, London, UK

There is plenty of UK talent that can crack the international market but it is hard to convince the USA that our rappers are as good as theirs. It is also quite odd for USA Hip-Hop enthusiasts to hear an English accent rapping about subjects that aren't covered in the USA mainstream. I personally think it will be a long road for British Artists to be taken seriously on an international level but on a national level, within our own shores, it is going to get bigger.
Craig Newman, Cardiff

They might not make it to the top as the American owned music companies won't let them. But they are better and deserve to be there.
Martin, Leicester

It's so refreshing to see some people showing pride in their country and what they do here in the UK!
Richard Thorne, Manchester, UK

I live for rock and roll myself, but any music which is original and genuine is preferable to all the manufactured junk the large record companies keep trying to force-feed us. Good luck British hip-hop!
Thos, Nottingham

The thing with hip-hop 'music' is not the music itself but the attitude. On that front the British artists are every bit as hateful, resentful and superficial as their American counterparts so I don't see any reason as to why they can't make it in the states.
Dan, Wrexham

There is no question that British rap and hip-hop artists are becoming ever more popular and are increasingly recognised for their innovate styles, however, saying that they are going to take over the US as the leading source of urban music is a bit premature. It's great that a British artist has won a MOBO, but remember that these are after all British awards that receive very little, if any, media coverage within the US. Similarly, a British magazine declaring that British artists are set to take on their US counterparts is hardly an objective means by which to measure the future potential of British rap. The ultimate goal for each of these artists is financial success and more importantly artistic respect within the United States, so until an American award or urban magazine is willing to make the same bold claims about British rap and hip-hop, it's pointless to start predicting the downfall of the country that literally created this genre of music.
john, London, UK

uk hip hop needs to stop sounding like it's imitating its cousin. look to roots manuva for a prime example of creating a distinctive sound.
sean brazier, london, england

We won't ever make it to the top of the hip-hop charts in America because we don't live the life and we don't experience the life the Americans have. We do do some great tracks but not as many as people think we do.
Lil-choppa, Newcastle

Not being the biggest hip-hop fan in the world I feel unbiased in this appraisal but British hip-hop artists tend to be a lot more eclectic, inventive and progressive with their styles. Whether this will transcend to better sales than American artists is something I find hard to picture in an industry which at face value seems to be more about attitude than ability
Martin, Dublin

I think that the UK rappers are good and they will make it one day!
Natalie Crowhurst, South Norwood

I believe that our British artists will make it due to the fact that they do have a great amount of potential. Lethal Bizzle for instance has already done a collaboration with US star Twista. Big tingz are happenin in da UK trust!
Christine Akintaro, Lewisham, London

Absolutely excellent, well proud! Do it your own way, don't go Yankie, go British, even better go English! Proud of the hip-hop and the black culture for being proud to fly the flag on the front of the magazines. Bravo boys, thank you! Proud to be British, proud to be English, proud of our multi-cultural society, proud of you, proud of all the ethnic groups who embrace the British and the English way, as we have embraced their cultures and music.
Peter, Sussex and South Korea

I think British hip-hop stars will find it difficult to break into the American charts because the music business is reliant on radio airplay as well as actual sales. Also why would the American public want to listen to British hip-hop artists when they have their own?
Leon Patten, Sheffield

Part of the problem is that mass-market hip-hop fans, the kind of people that put 50 Cent and Eminem top of the charts here, are not interested in the UK scene. They are American wannabees, who buy US artists because they are seduced by the "glamour" of US hip-hop culture. No matter how great the UK music is, it won't appeal to them because they are not interested in the music so much as in the fake American-ness.
David, Sunderland

The best of The British hip-hop movement is totally distinct from the stuff coming from the States. We have an original sound exemplified by the likes of Roots Manuva, Dizzee Rascal and Foreign Beggars. Until the media open up their minds and ears and get totally behind this great stuff and stop hyping and hankering after the great stuff from the States like 50 Cent and Eminem, hip-hop sales will stay focused towards talent over the Atlantic which is a shame.
Toby, London UK

The process by which brilliant underground artists conform to commercial ideals is much faster in UK hip-hop (look at Dizzee Rascal) and therefore it will not match US hip hop any time soon. When those who have the talent decide to have the money instead their art suffers. The reason Eminem had so much respect for so long is because he did not fall in line with what was expected until the release of the Eminem Show. Yeah, 50 Cent sells but he is no more than a stereotype.
Dennis Stiffel, York

In UK hip-hop we should be looking for the people doing something different to the Americans, not asking whether they can match them. America are very good at what they do and the whole reason it is so popular is that so many people in America relate to it, we need to get the same with our hip-hop. UK hip-hop will never crack America, but then again what Britpop bands managed it?
Toby Green, York, UK

People are fed up listening to the likes of 50 Cent going on about their own excesses. People like British artists because they bring a more intelligent message through rap music. I would like to see the UK instrumental hip-hop scene get more recognition - it's second to none.
AJ, Aberdeen

The UK hip-hop scene will not surpass the American simply because it's not authentic enough to be considered seriously. That is why UK hip-hop floundered so spectacularly in the 1990s. They never gained enough credibility and authenticity to appeal to the masses. Now Wiley, Sway, Roll Deep and others have created their own genre of music - grime. It is authentic, raw, and is the new London sound sweeping the underground. Grime has its own language and tells its own story, about life in urban Britain. Grime is not trying to be American. The artistes don't sound like Americans. Grime music will be huge in the next year or two.
Ashleigh, London, UK

What the Americans are producing at present can barely be called hip-hop - it's pop with lazy boring lyrics, the production is what sells it and their image. Decent hip-hop (from the US or UK) would never enter the charts, people like pop.
Josh, Exeter, Devon

UK artists can be just as good as US hip-hop artists. It's got to work two ways: a) that the artists represent a British image and have British material - I'm not interested in American fakeness, and b) that DJs are willing to play home crop. It's risky but daring. American hip-hop may be the cream, but let's not forget that their language is English! They owe us anyway!
Mo, London, UK

The heyday of American hip-hop was in the early to mid 1990s. Groups such as a Tribe called Quest, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, The Roots, Gangstarr and souls of mischief and the Wu Tang Clan can't be matched anywhere at any time. In the late 1990s, American hip-hop seemed to lose its way somehow and the British scene started to take off. The face of American hip-hop now seems to be driven by the dollar particularly on the east coast where old heavyweights such as Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg have simply become businessmen rather than artists. British hip-hop still has a sense of "realness" about it that some of the American acts seem to have lost. If the American scene wants to come back they have to stop watering down their music for mass consumption.
Alex Hodge, Edinburgh

Other than Kanye West, there is nothing interesting coming out of the US at the moment. If I hear one more bling or gangsta track I will cry! On the flip side, the UK artists all sound original and have loads of different styles and great rhymes. I know which I prefer to listen to.
Chris Blackman, London, England

Sure they will, there's some good rappers out there! The Streets is dope, Dizzee Rascal kicks ass, don't know for instance Sway (gonna find him on the internet after reading this :)) but I see it happening. If I look at the Dutch scene, homegrown hip-hop is definitely on the rise, several artists get a lot of airplay on radio and TV and they are already beating the American rappers at the top of the charts. Also, in Germany homegrown is big, same thing in France and all over the world. All those rappers out there know it's true they've got to get their game up and won't rest until they have, it's just a matter of time...
-20, Utrecht, Holland

British hip-hop artist just ain't got the talent and flair to compete with the more relaxed and talented Americans. the best they can hope for is to sell their records in the UK only. With all respect to the British hip-hop artists, you are just in the country, the British are supposed to be formal and boring not hippy.
John, Accra, Ghana

British artists are simply not good enough at the moment and are not ready to work hard enough (like US artists) to make things happen for them. Americans take 6-12 months to produce an album, while Skinny Man took 10 years to make his first album! What is there to exploit when there is simply no material to be played? How many UK artists have an album to sell? I have met only a handful and those are of questionable quality as they have been done unprofessionally and in below-average studios.
Jason Grant, London, UK

People should stop comparing UK & US! We are two completely different countries with totally different sounds! The US hip-hop scene is no-longer just about the music its an image & way of life. I'm proud to be a part of the UK scene, less commercial and with its cult following. But I do agree, more people should be checking out the excellent standard of UK talent, instead of being distracted by the bright lights across the Atlantic!
UK-MC-"Gent", East Anglia

I think UK hip-hop is in a league if its own. Lyrically, UK rappers speak of issues that break the mould of pre-conceived lifestyle values, they don't just rap about guns and 'hoes' as is expected, they push the boundaries with conscious observations. In terms of production, they don't imitate US 'polished' styles, they create their own gritty and experimental backing. The US market will be imitating the UK market in a few years, UK rappers bring a whole new meaning to 'keepin it real', by promoting their real identity rather than one that will sell.
Steph, London

British hip-hop is far more interesting, progressive, and experimental than the Americans who just keep on pumping out the same old cookie cutter McDonalds tracks. It's sad that people just want the same things instead of moving forward. Things must change.
Brian Swan, Bermuda

I think that hip-hop from over here has the potential to be as big 'over here' as US acts are, if not bigger. There's so much good British hip-hop out there at the moment - Sway, Doogz, Pirelli, Mystro, Foreign Beggars, Blufoot, Blak Twang etc. People just need to get behind it. Radio & TV has a lot to do with this, they need to give up more air time for people like those above to ply their wares.
Spencer Tathery, East London

The UK leads the world in dance music innovation because we were amongst the first, there is a market demand for it and it enjoys a high level of airplay from some of the worlds best DJ performers. I don't think there is as much of a demand for hip-hop. The bling bling gun culture doesn't transpose well. Socially, we don't do gas guzzling cars, and we definitely don't do guns. We'd like to, but the government has ensured the average Joe can't. It's a lot easier to aspire to doing ecstasy than guns.
Alex, Aylesbury, UK

Why do we need to try and imitate the Americans? Artists like The Herbaliser, DJ Slippers and Braintax have been smackin it up on the UK scene for years. They've been making their own sound. Why do we want to mould our music into one homogeneous, mindless, monotonous heap? People talk of 50 Cent like its the definitive hip-hop sound. Have you actually heard any of his lyrics? They're totally brainless and mediocre. There's no bass and the beats are whack.
Alex M, Newcastle upon Tyne

European rap and especially Brit-rap is far more intellectual and much deeper that US-mainstream. While the US-rappers are busy producing the 6 millionth video with naked girls dancing and posing around with gold-chains and teeth, the serious underground on this side of the pond is turning up its potential until it will eventually boil over and the whole world will know when!
Shariq Ali Khan, High Wycombe, UK

We've all known British hip hop is fantastic for ages, since the Brotherhood, Gunshot, Gemini twins etc we had amazing foundations... since Big Dada set up , we've had an amazing platform for UK rap, be it underground or commercial.
Phil Thompson, Aberdeen Scotland

The reason the Brits are seen as second best is due to the American media forcing hip hop down our throats. Its all marketing - American hip hop has never sounded so stale. Eminem, 50 Cent and G-Unit - they are the hip hop equivalent of the Spice Girls. If you look at the British scene, lead currently by the likes of Big Dada's Roots Manuva and Skitz and more commercially by Dizzee Rascal - there is a sound that the US have yet to emulate. Don't get me wrong, the US has and continues to produce incredible hip hop. The Roots surely must be one of the best bands on the planet yet not every song is a hit. Ask any member of the public to name a rapper, you know the answers going to be 50 Cent or Eminem. Britain should encourage its own music instead of accepting whatever is thrown at us. MTV does not help this situation by treating mainstream rappers like royalty where every song and video looks and sounds the same. Image and no substance.
Mike B, Battersea, London

Hip-hop is fundamentally about social comment, not how much money you have. As a South African hip-hop music video maker I saw the SA hip-hop scene grow immensely in the 90's as a result of apartheid-scarred youth finally being able to express themselves. Similarly here the youth will slowly turn from UK 'yobbism' , which breeds only money-grabbing idiocy, to realising that radical socio-political comment is a more interesting and fulfilling activity and indeed desperately needed among UK's apolitical and apathetic youth . *This* is when the music will really start to shine.
umlungu, London/CapeTown

The best music always remains underground. The power of hip-hop is in it's message, not the money. Rappers such as Klashnekoff can easily compete on the US scale, the problem is that there are just so many US rappers to compete with...
Niz, Manchester, UK

English hip-hop can be as good as Americans, you only need to look at artists such as Roots Manuva, Ty & Infinite Livez as an example that produce quality music.
Mike K, Fair Oak, Hampshire

There may be a few exceptions but generally speaking i think it's a case of looking at the resource pool they have in the USA vs here. And they will always have bigger (and more) ghetto's and places where poor (generally) black people will come from, giving their stories and the struggles of their lives through rap. I don't see many rich, white rappers out there! or am i wrong?
Nev Hammond, Milton Keynes, England

Part of the problem is that mass-market hip-hop fans, the kind of people that put 50-cent and Eminem top of the charts here, are not interested in the UK scene. They are American wannabees, who buy US artists because they are seduced by the "glamour" of US hip-hop culture. No matter how great the UK music is, it wont appeal to them because they are not interested in the music so much as in the fake American-ness.
David, Sunderland

Definitely not. UK artists are not in the same league as their US counterparts. I firmly believe that the reason why UK rappers "dominated" at the MOBO awards was because US artists weren't in attendance. The organizers knew this and voted whoever showed. If 50 Cent/The game/Ludacris, etc were in the audience, do you think Sway would've won. Of course not. Most of these UK artists don't have street credibility in the UK much less around the world.
Steve, Burwell, Cambs

Depends on what they're singing about... I've lived in New York and have seen real ghettos and gun culture. When a British person raps about that life style I see most of it as "chat" - we do have rough areas/gangs here, but nothing close to other parts of the world - UK hip-hop will only be good if people start rapping about what they actually know and not try be American because it becomes embarrassing to listen to!
Ryan, London, England

If everyone had the same attitude as Semtex, the only British scene would be the morris dancers massive, as most 'pop' forms of music can date way back to the states in some way or another, be it rock, pop, or hip hop. However, I believe any artist worth their salt would disregard such comments as anti-productive, and yet another attitude to be overcome.
David Williams, London, UK

Let's hope, if UK hip-hop "stars" do take on the Americans, that they don't bring the US guns and drugs culture with them. Oh, So Solid Crew already have. When are people going to wake up to the fact that this isn't culture, it's crime.
Mike G, London, UK

Bring back Morris Minor and the Majors. They were one class act!
Steve Wilcockson, Diss, Norfolk

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