2016 has been another landmark year for independent British urban music. Another wave of rap, grime and UK drill artists have broken through and left cracks in the road.
AJ Tracey, Nadia Rose, Abra Cadabra, 67, Stefflon Don and MoStack were amongst some of the biggest newcomers. As the class of 2016 enter their sophomore years and progress onto the next step in their careers, they make way for a whole new cast of artists with their sights set on 2017.
To make things easier for you, we’ve compiled this Starting 20, a rundown of the names you need to know as we predict they’ll be making a lot of noise in the over the next twelve months.
First up we’ve got South London collective 86 – made up of members Baby R, Gunna Grimes, Scrams, Stampface, T Mula and ZN hailing from Tulse Hill. They have been heating up the streets with their own brand of road rap and UK drill anthems. The group have been perfecting their sound with producers like Carns Hill and LA Beats who also works with 67. 86 first came together earlier this year to put out their debut mixtape Fings On Things with guest verses from 67’s LD.
Gifted South London rapper, producer and singer A2 is somewhat of an enigma, sporadically releasing music every now and then, but with a new record deal it seems he has something on the way. A2 signed to Disturbing London earlier this year, the same label as Yungen and Afrobeat star WizKid. He wrote and produced the beautifully trippy Flowers x Patron which got the remix treatment from OGs Krept & Konan, plus his More Sleep EP was a work of art.
Scouse rapper Aystar is one of Liverpool’s finest, going from having a small but loyal fan base to getting wider recognition by featuring on The Best from Giggs’ album Landlord after his Scouse Matic freestyle got Hollowman’s seal of approval. His laid back delivery and Scouse accent set him apart from everyone else in the game right now.
Belly Squad have been perfecting their blend of rap, Afrobeats and dancehall all year, with standount tracks like their remix of Young Thug and Travis Scott’s Pick Up The Phone with Abra Cadabra. The London trio make tongue in cheek hits like their recent remix of Banana with Abra Cadabra, Young T, Bugsey, Timbo and Showkey.
Rapper Berna is brand new to the game, making his debut back in July with his six minute BL@CKBOX session which went on to become of the year’s best freestyles after Abra Cadabra’s on the very same platform, which laid the foundation for his MOBO Award winning Robbery remix with Krept and Konan. Although Berna hasn’t released any singles yet, the youngster shows a lot of promise with his cold bars and dark tales of growing up in the hood.
Grime MC Big Zuu started out making a name for himself on London’s underground radio stations, coming up the same path as fellow MTP crew member AJ Tracey. Zuu’s flow is weighty with uplifting lyrics sharing raw stories of his childhood on West London’s infamous Mozart Estate on notable freestyles like his SBTV Warm Up Session or ice cold singles like Kaleidoscope produced by by Slew Dem’s OG beat maker JT The Goon.
At just 17 years old, young rapper Dis is already a signed artist with a deal from South London’s independent label GB Records and has been cosigned by none other than underground rap champion DJ Kenny Allstar. Her lyrics are candid and cheeky, with bars to match those of artists twice her age. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming single Baby Boy.
Fredo is another artist hailing from West London’s notoriously tough Mozart Estate near Harrow Road. His debut They Ain’t 100 has done numbers and even piqued the interest of Drake who featured the track in his special 30th birthday mix on Beats 1’s OVO Sound Radio. Fredo also features on the forthcoming remix of Kojo Funds and Abra Cadabra’s banger Dun Talkin alongside Yxng Bane, Frisco and Jme – it’s due to be big!
19 year old grime MC and producer GHSTLY XXVII – pronounced Ghostly Two Seven – is among the new generation of MCs who were instrumental in the resurgence of pirate radio culture. Straight out of West London, the youngster set up his very own independent music label Duppi Records which he releases his singles through.
There must be something in the water down in Croydon, after giving us Stormzy, Section Boyz plus Krept and Konan, CR0 is still pushing out talent. Take Hardy Caprio who mixes contemporary rap and raw, honest lyrics with old school grime flow patterns. Whether he’s in the booth or delivering freestyles out there on the road, Hardy doesn’t disappoint. A couple of his notable tracks include Soundbwoy 2 and Love Song.
Young drill stars Harlem Spartans are from Kennington, South London. The group have been earning a rep for themselves with hot freestyles for Tim Westwood and Kenny Allstar. Members include Bis and MizOrMac whos track Splash & Cash with 67 has over two million views on YouTube, plus 17 year old rapper Loski AKA the kid behind road banger Hazards.
North West London’s Knucks is a different breed of artist, fusing trap influences with jazz samples to paint vivid images over impeccable self-produced beats. Like the true artist that he is, he’s carved out his own refreshing new sound; endless punch lines and a distinctive flow tinged with his faint Nigerian twang from attending boarding school in Africa. It’s very rare to come across an artist as wavy as Knucks and something tells us he’s got a lot in store for us in 2017.
Kojo’s currently on a kill streak, making waves with tracks like Dun Talkin, a collaboration with MOBO winner Abra Cadabra, and featuring on Yxng Bane’s Fine Wine. He fuses influences from his Ghanaian roots and East London upbringing to create his own interpretation of “AfroSwing”, blurring the lines between R&B, grime, Afrobeats and rap to form tracks that you can whine up to whilst simultaneously bussin’ your gun.
Birmingham’s rising star Mist started building a following in his native midlands and has since gone on to take the UK’s rap scene hostage with solid hits like Ain’t The Same and Karlas Back, which have both clocked up millions of views on YouTube. Mist will already be starting 2017 with a bang with new dates for his sold out debut tour, and no doubt the flash vid for Ain’t The Same will inspire a surge in holidays to Dubai next summer.
It goes without saying that Ms Banks is definitely amongst the most talented female rappers in the UK right now. The South London MC is versatile, switching things up from spitting grime to rap or singing, but it’s her bars that make her the artist that she is, plus the unmatchable flow – fierce and fiery – earning her a firm spot as one to watch.
“Wavy” is probably the easiest way to describe Nafe Smallz’ genre of music. Born and raised on Luton’s estates, the 20 year old’s work rate is impressive as he’s been busy building an international audience, having already opened up shows for the likes of Future, Rich Homie Quan and Migos on their UK tours.
Snowy has been dubbed one of the leaders of Nottingham’s burgeoning grime scene, and the MC’s come a long way since first picking up a mic at the age of 12. The last year saw him get nominated for a GRM Daily Rated Award, build up a loyal fan base and earn support from DJs like MistaJam, Sian Anderson and Logan Sama. He’s certainly one to keep an on with new music on the horizon from his forthcoming Hater Behaviour EP.
Beckton Boy Trapz has consistently been putting in work with street anthem after anthem like Mi Na Talk, Say My Name featuring Scumz, Nothing Aint Sweet and of course Say My Grace with Kojo Funds. Trizzy Trapz is rising to prominence on the underground rap scene, so the future is looking pretty bright for him.
Young T & Bugsey
Last but certainly not least we’ve got up and coming Nottingham duo Young T & Bugsey. It’s clear from the way they effortlessly go back and forth on tracks that the two were best friends long before they started making music together. The two 19 year olds are tipped for big things with cosigns from the likes of Stormzy and more. They also recently landed a major record deal with Sony Music subsidiary Black Butter Records, joining the same roster as DJ Khaled, J Hus, Tink and Wiley.