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With emerging names like Lava la Rue and Finn Foxell billing shows on both sides of the channel, UK music is witnessing a new wave of artists stepping into the limelight, bringing with them new hybridising sounds that are expanding boundaries. Continuing hip hop’s tradition of innovation, a new generation of artists are experimenting with diverse musical influences and unconventional vocal approaches and inadvertently realising traditions of their own.
While cult legends’ like Sub Luna City (enlisting the musical insights of King Krule) and House of Pharaohs (incorporating a blend of influences from grime and drill to wonderfully bombastic hints of ‘bubblegum trap’) can be seen as early forerunners in this exploration of novel soundscapes, recent years have seen a verified scene taking form- from Loudhouse giving a platform to rising names to publications like Offie Mag and Trench magazine helping everyone win with editorials and photo features. Given the wealth of artists coalescing into a progressively unified scene making new noises in different places, a guide to some of the new sounds of the UK’s hip hop underground seems well overdue.
Ashbeck & El Londo – Wait, What?
Blending light-footed flows and silky-smooth tones, one of the more notable features among this new wave of artists are their distinct vocal approaches. Tracks like Ashbeck and El Londo’s ‘Wait, What?’ can be described as where high-impact meets easy listening as, in addition to the traditional rhyming and rhythmic techniques that define more traditional hip hop, Ashbeck and El Londo’s verses here explore a new dimension as their voices rise and fall in time with the beat to energetic effect. Borrowing sporadic melodic samples and deep bass reverberations from across the pond, El Londo’s production also plays a big part in making these sounds so distinctive, bringing a laid-back bounce for these experimental flows and tones to play with. Such vocal dynamism can be witnessed throughout this new era of acts, from artists like Ninioh to Kish!, whose name itself incorporates a bit of rising intonation for good measure. Cuts such as Sam Wise x BlazeYL’ ‘Mad About Bars’ also fall into a similar group. Peppered with pop culture references, while packaged in distinctively London delivery & vernacular, their verses draw on both sides of the Atlantic to create something that feels wholly unique to UK music.
Danny Sanchez– BOXINAFACE ft Kibo
At one end of this vocally dynamic spectrum is the outright melodic approach that artists like Danny Sanchez bring to their verses. Despite often describing himself as R&B, Danny’s verse on ‘Boxinaface’ manages to occupy hip hop territory while vocally also sounding very garage. In the same way that dynamic intonations are utilised by Ashbeck and the like, tracks like ‘Boxinaface’ and Team Steam’s ‘La La Land’ incorporate melody into traditional ‘rap flows’ to produce a listening experience that is engagingly understated. While melody is by no means new to the hip hop scene, with Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony’s early forays into harmony setting a high bar in the early 90s and T-Pain’s trail-blazing use of auto-tune in his songs growing into a hotly contested corner of the genre, Team Steam, Danny Sanchez and the like blend them into traditional rap verses in a way that feels both innovative and unobtrusive.
Para Fiction – Pap£r ft Badr
However, take this dynamism to the other extreme and you get the surreal listening experience that is Para Fiction. With a swagger that feels equal parts rock star and rap star, Para Fiction roar their lyrics over distorted instrumentals furnished with unhinged guitar riffs and tripped-out samples, resulting in energy releases that even the scattiest of raves would find hard to match. It is perhaps unsurprising that also hailing from the age-old punk stronghold of Brighton are duo Nokia Mansion, exploring alternative routes to these energy releases as they bounce between Sly Fieri’s softly-spoken one-of-a-kind melodies and Bador’s meticulously crafted vitriol-filled verses. Over in London, V7backin2007’s (now known as Voldy Moyo) ‘Hikari Storm’ spews coarse lyrics full of defiant “ain’t”s over shameless base pumps to similarly climactic effect. Less abrasively, however, is the eccentric trip that is Lilthaiprince’s ‘Goth Shawty’ ft. Raf Lychee and ‘Money Man’ ft. Abiiohgenesis, where outrageous lyrics and delivery make being over-the-top seem like a carefully crafted choice.
Mac Wetha, Louis Culture, Lava La Rue – Spit in Ur Face B
A commonality amongst this new wave of hip hop artists is their welcoming of external influences into the genre- be it the rock & punk aesthetics of Para Fiction & Nokia Mansion, the R&B overtones of Danny Sanchez’s verses or Master Peace’s agonising hooks which come across as the UK hip hop scene’s response to surf-rock. Mac Wetha’s production on tracks like ‘Spit in Ur Face B’ also embodies this cross-pollination of sounds, casting kaleidoscopic riffs and drums that feel more psychedelica than hip hop to allow rappers Louis Culture and Lava La Rue branch out into more unorthodox verse structures that draw on a range of influences and really stand to question the term ‘rapper’ itself. Deeper still is the eerie and sludgy trip-hop soundscape cultivated on S4U’s ‘Untitled’ which, between triplet style flows, dense instrumental undulations and haunting melodies, almost feels like what would happen if Tricky met 21 Savage.
Clbrks – Red Snapper
Yet this is not to say that all this experimentation necessarily be completely off the wall, however. Bearing similarities to the meandering tripped-out insights of US rappers Earl Sweatshirt and Mike, Clbrks’ reverie-filled lyrics stumble from idiom to idiom in flows that feel decidedly closer to the hip hop greats of old or, more recently, the UK legend himself Lord Apex. Not only influencing many emerging UK artists with his transatlantic aesthetics, off-kilter delivery and use of internet platforms like Soundcloud to gain attention, Lord Apex actively cultivated many of these new gen sounds with early features alongside Finn Foxell and Louis Culture. The layered sampling of Bone Slim’s ‘Marble Mansions’ also takes a leaf from Apex’s book as he meanders through complex and layered rhyme schemes that sensitively express his ambivalence to the trappings of success. Meanwhile, with an instrumental that is equal parts current and classically boom bap, ‘2020.mov’ by Dereck D.A.C. fittingly brings old-school aesthetics and sampling into the new decade with dynamic yet nonchalant vocals that feel like the musical embodiment of a floodlit skate park. All of these artists find novel and exciting ways to bring the glorious samples we all know and love into the new era.
And all this is yet to mention the rich pool of producers who all crucially pave the way for these sounds. Be it Meslo’s light-hearted melodies and warm kicks that provide the perfect environment for Danny Sanchez’s harmonies, the more off-the-wall insights of Para Fiction & Brighton-based producer Jules, or the likes of Dylantheinfamous (producing Clbrk’s cult classic ‘Red Snapper’) and Droppedmilk (working regularly with Bone Slim) who bring a modern clarity to the familiar murkiness of old-school hip hop instrumentation- all of these characters play a vital role in pushing the genre in yet new sonic directions.
Speaking to Nokia Mansion’s Bador the other week, he mentioned how he has been using ‘new wave’ to describe these sounds for a while, but also expressed a particular attachment to the term ‘know wave’. Originating across the pond and repped by US artists such as Katey Red and Wiki, ‘know wave’ soon crossed the channel with name-drops from the likes of Skepta and Sub Luna City- this journey aptly describes how many of these ‘new wave’ artists have arrived at their own musical destinations, with a chain of influences and musical exchanges on both sides of the Atlantic.
Aside from all this however, what these artists also share is a strong network between them. The fact that Bador has been seen hosting cyphers with Lord Apex or that Lava La Rue has toured with Finn Foxell not only bodes well for the future of UK music as a whole but also powerfully speaks to how special these new wave sounds actually are. Working together to produce and share new musical approaches that have yet to be codified in words, these emerging names appear joined together by a common identity that, in many ways is starting to create a separate and unique scene to the hip hop genre they were all inspired by. It is in this sense more than any other that these artists are truly exciting- with such varied influences and creative freedom, it will be interesting to see how these influences and relationships will fracture off into ever more hybridising aesthetics. While ‘new wave’ or ‘know wave’ may be a good starting-point to describe these enigmatic approaches, it is certainly only the beginning for some of these sounds. This is by no means a definitive list of all the new sounds coming out of the UK’s hip hop underground, yet the brevity of even this brief exploration highlights just how flourishing the scene is right now.
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