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Will US hip hop Fans ever give UK rap a chance?

Joe Reitan challenges the US backlash against UK rapper Giggs on Drake's 'More Life.'

3rd Apr 2017

Image Credit: Clashmusic

With Drake giving big co-signs to British artists like Skepta, Sampha, Jorja Smith and Giggs on his latest project ‘More Life,’ we’ve seen some resistance in American culture when it comes to embracing this new sound, particularly against UK rap. One song which has sparked particular controversy amongst rap fans is the song KMT featuring legendary London rapper Giggs.

During ‘KMT’, Giggs’ deep voice adds another dimension to the first half of the song on ad libs alone, giving it the dark, mob-boss feel that is so loved in popular Trap music. It’s the lyrical content of Giggs’ verse itself that many American rap fans seem to have a problem with, and while some say the whole verse is bad, people are more so upset with the way Giggs ended the verse, using what some might call “goofy” wordplay. While some boldly claim he ruined the song or even ‘More Life’ (he’s featured on another track on the album ‘No Long Talk’) as a whole, this would be just one simple perspective.

American Exceptionalism?

To comprehend why some Americans see it this way, you have to reflect on the culture and also the education system in America to understand why we have such poor understandings of international cultures, and in this case, genres of music. A ‘typical’ American may envy the ‘typical’ British accent for sounding so much more proper, but this admiration for the accent doesn’t translate very well into pop trap music, and that’s what we’re seeing today in Hip Hop.

Popular Hip Hop commentator DJ Akademiks put it in a good way during a recent interview with BBC Radio 1Xtra host DJ Semtex by saying that “...A lot of people will hear the accent and because it sounds so proper, they’ll be like “Oh he’s not about it.”,... and that’s a misconception.” The fact is that Brits and Americans just have different tones of aggression, and that does play a part in how we perceive the music.

Again, what we’re seeing is American Hip Hop culture adjusting to different flavors of music, and since we American’s aren’t typically raised to learn what other modern societies and cultures are like outside of our own, some tend to be blindsided by artists likes Giggs. To go even further, some New York Hip Hop fans won’t listen to Hip Hop from outside the East Coast. One cannot deny the regional dimensions of US Hip Hop, our European counterparts for the most part are more open to other cultures.

When a UK rapper says….

A number of hilarious memes have taken off recently, highlighting the controversy and emphasising the views and stereotypes that some Americans hold when it comes to how they look at British culture in general. Many of these centre around British people drinking tea and generally being polite and proper - cynical undertones perhaps but nonetheless encouraging cross national banter between Hip Hop fans on popular online Hip Hop communities on Facebook such as The Side Bar

British fans have got their own back highlighting the ignorance of some of their American counterpart, search queries like ‘What is a Skepta?’ were certainly more popular the week of More Life’s release.

It’s to the credit of the British accent that they have been capable of developing more technical forms of rap genre. Rising London rapper Dave recently explained on New York Radio show Hot 97 exactly what Grime music is, and how technical it can be, saying “So you have trap music and drill music with the quick drums and the 808s, and grime has the 138-145 tempo and very grungy basslines and hard hitting sounds, so grime MC's usually rap and switch instrumentals and try to catch the drop. And if you catch it perfectly, you get something called a 'wheel-up'” Unfortunately, due to grime being more technical, it's less accessible, and especially so with the mainstream American crowd that is becoming more accustomed to pop trap music everyday.

As an American, I would listen to Skepta’s ‘Konnichiwa’ album and think “Man, this guy's talented, but even some of his hardest lines sound goofy”, but after a few months, the elements that Skepta brings forward began to sink in, and I began to look at the music differently.

To be fair, we know for a fact that people think artists like Kodak Black and Lil Uzi Vert sound goofy, and I even know people that said Kendrick sounds goofy, so it’s really hard to blame people for simply not liking the sound of someone’s voice in their music and instantly rejecting it.

A certain sound or genre being less accessible doesn't necessarily mean it’s worse, but it’s up to artists like Drake continuing to embrace other cultures and attempting to make them accessible for his fans. This is the very reason why he titled his latest project a playlist and was clever enough to exploit the growing desire for globalism and featured a range of sounds from across the world on his project. In the age of digital information, it’s only a matter of time for people’s minds to start opening. With various unique dialects or sub-accents found in both American and British accents, I would hope that ultimately we could get around how people look or talk, and perhaps find the deeper character in an artist you otherwise might not like.

If you’ve decided Giggs certainly isn’t for you, then some other UK artists you should definitely check out if you are a fan of lyricism are Wretch 32, Wiley, Kano, Dave, AJ Tracey and Stormzy.

As for ‘KMT,’ it really gets harder every time we hear it, and we can’t wait to see if artists like Skepta and Giggs can fully transition into the American market if they so desire. Drake being Canadian, and Toronto culture being so diverse and transcendent in international culture, he certainly is helping bridge the gap between British and American music tastes.

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