and say that rap culture is all about bling. I feel like it’s suddenly snuck up on me (though I haven’t really followed hip-hop for years – flick thru my CD collection and the newest thing you’ll find is Roots Manuva’s third disc) but aren’t we producing some absolutely top drawer ‘urban’ acts.
No longer in thrall to the gloss and bullshit from over the water this is cool, authentic, soulful and distinctly British music. The aforementioned Rodney Smith deserves credit for setting the standard – stick on ‘Brand New Second Hand’ now, it still rocks, gently yet insistently. Mike ‘The Streets’ Skinner pointed a new way with his catchy and compellingly soulful Garage hybrid. Dizzee Rascal scooped both a Mercury and a Brit, turning the mashup into something of an artform, reeling in pop, rock and dance elements and now Wretch 32, also an exponent of the Grime school demonstrates his skills in a low-key, Indie setting. The latter is significant: it takes balls to strip a tune back to its basics – just a voice, a beat and minimal accompaniment – and it also throws the quality of the material into sharp relief. Wretch and his cohorts, you’ll agree, have got the tunes, and the soul.
The fact that of these acts having a distinctive cross-genre, multicutural bent is not insignificant. British culture – musical and otherwise – has never been more of a ‘melting pot’ so it’s inevitable and proper that ‘progressive’ music should reflect that.
British acts have been admired and emulated around the world since The Beatles – deservedly so. Few of those acts could, hand on heart, deny the massive influence of Black America – whatever style of music they performed be it rock, r’n’b, Jazz, dance, trip-hop, d’n’b or whatever. What’s impressive is the ability of the best performers to soak up those influences, mix it up with trademark British irreverence and throw back something fresh and new. Let’s celebrate a few of the best examples from the last few years.