It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows me on social media that I love a good rant. Forget politics or footy, though — one thing always gets me more hot under the collar than anything: poorly reasoned/researched lists about UK hip hop.
I’m happy to admit I’m a bit of a purist, but I certainly wasn’t the only one having a go at Noisey’s recent run down of the ‘Greatest UK MCs of All Time’. I won’t begrudge the guys at the top — after all, the likes of Skepta and Wiley have done plenty for grime both here and abroad. The hip hop element of the list is a completely shambles, though, underrating key figures in the scene’s history or overlooking them entirely.
Emcees missed out include: Possessed, Professor Green Stig of the Dump, Kyza, Lowkey, M9, Jam Baxter, Skinnyman, Respek BA and Life MC. Legends like Jehst and Klashnekoff, who released classic albums that influenced an entire generation of rappers, are ranked alongside/below Stormzy and Swiss from So Solid Crew.
Now, I’m not taking a pop at those guys by any means, but greatest emcees of all time? To be fair to Noisey, the list is produced by a panel of select guests so it’s undoubtedly skewed, but it’s probably wiser to research in depth if you’re going to put out a definitive list (missing out descriptions on several entries also comes across as lazy and amateurish).
So, having said all that, here’s another list that’s entirely personal and subjective and won’t fulfil any of the criteria I just set whatsoever. I suppose the difference is that I won’t claim this list to be definitive and there will plenty of gaps in my knowledge (I’ve also incidentally missed out a couple of the guys mentioned above now that I read back….). Also, just to address the REAL older heads: I’m not a huge fan of Britcore, sorry, so not much from that era makes it through regardless. Nevertheless, if you’re new to UK hip hop and want to discover new albums, hopefully there’ll be some stuff here you can sink your teeth into.
For clarity, there’s no garage/grime stuff here at all — they’re separate genres in my eyes. I love The Streets as much as the next person but it doesn’t really fit under the hip hop umbrella. The only thing I would highlight is that some of my absolute favourites dropped in the early 2000s, which many people regard as a golden age for UK hip hop. If anyone’s interested specifically in the Scottish artists I mention, you can check out the blog/podcast I run at www.scotlandstandup.co.uk. With that all out the way, here’s my top 50 hip hop records made in the UK:
50. Logic & Last Resort — More True Talk
The sequel to another on this list, it’s pretty aptly named. More impactful beats from Last Resort and smooth rhymes from Logic.
49. Lee Scott — Butter Fly
I have friends who swear down that Lee Scott is the greatest thing since sliced bread. His obscure, stream-of-consciousness style finally clicked for me here.
48. The Four Owls — Natural Order
A real life UK hip hop supergroup (with masks and everything). They even recruited DJ Premier for the lead single Think Twice.
47. Kate Tempest — Everybody Down
Mercury Prize nominated poet/rapper with big ideas. Features everything from drug deals to love stories. A thought-provoking record.
46. Cyrus Malachi — Black Athena
Less apocalyptic than his other album on this list, Black Athena is still a serious project with a lot of content to get through. For fans of albums with depth.
45. Ed Scissor & Lamplighter — Tell Them It’s Winter
He shortened his name but his ideas and philosophies are just as fascinating. The production side of things goes up a notch here. Check my interview with him here.
44. Jehst — The Dragon of an Ordinary Family
As he says himself, Jehst is the illest. No debating. The fact that isn’t even in his top two records says something. England sounds prophetic to this day.
43. Onoe Caponoe — Voices From Planet Catelle
There probably aren’t enough weird, experimental hip hop records on this list. But take it from me, this one is mindblowing.
42. Lowkey — Dear Listener
For those that aren’t a huge fan of Lowkey’s political stuff, it’s worth noting that he’s also just an exceptional songwriter. Dear Listener is proof he could rap about almost anything.
41. Ocean Wisdom — Chaos 93
Ocean Wisdom has the potential to be an all-rounder. His double time, delivery and cadence are all spot on. Kudos to High Focus for signing him.
40. Skinnyman — Council Estate of Mind
Many would place this higher but the spoken word bits always put me off (sorry!). Still, this is pretty much compulsory listening.
39. All Time High — From the Dawn We Came
The first Scottish hip hop record I heard. Primitive but a good representation of the early scene.
38. M.I.A. — Kala
Technically her least hip hop project, but this is too good for me not to include. M.I.A. is an absolute icon and I wish there were more dope female emcees on this list (recs please!).
37. Plan B — Ill Manors
I prefer Plan B as a rapper to Plan B as a singer. I won’t lie. This is his best record, mainly because the film it soundtracks gives him a readymade narrative structure.
36. DJ Format — Music For the Mature B-Boy
A classic that I only heard relatively recently. DJ Format has studied the greats and this album feels like a really fun history lesson.
35. Rhyme Asylum — Solitary Confinement
More glossy than their debut but no less technically impressive. Possessed in particular is at his best here.
34. Unusual Suspects — Unusuowl
Necro-esque horrorcore but with better rappers and better beats. Cruger and Lord Measle are completely off-the-wall.
33. Shotty Horroh — Dead Bodies and Junk Food
The UK’s best battle rapper — let’s not mess about. His nasal delivery and Mancunian accent sounds odd at first but his personality shines through.
32. Akala — It’s Not a Rumour
I’ve always been more into Akala’s talks/fire in the booths because he experiments too much for my liking. It’s Not a Rumour is the most solid display of his undeniable talent.
31. Task Force — Music From the Corner 5
The most offbeat of the MFTC series but it instantly clicked with me. Chester P and Farma G are perfect partners in rhyme.
My review is here.
30. Phoenix Da Icefire — The Quantum Leap
Featuring legendary producers like Chemo, you can’t go wrong. But Phoenix himself deserves credit, too. A natural wordsmith.
29. Task Force — Music From the Corner 1
Where the MFTC series began and probably (just about) the best of the lot. This album was BIG at the time.
28. Orphans of Cush — White Noize
Awesome one off project featuring some of London’s most complex emcees. Kyza’s verses are iconic in particular.
27. Fliptrix — Theory of Rhyme
All of Fliptrix’s albums are worth a listen, but I’d say this is the most consistent one. A really unique delivery and rhyming style too. Check my interview with him here.
26. Mystro — Mystrogen
Funny as hell. Mystro has this amazing ability to sum up in a few bars what most rappers can’t in an entire song. Beats are great too.
25. Roots Manuva — Brand New Second Hand
I’ll openly admit that I only own one Roots album (soon to be remedied). In my defence, it’s a belter.
24. Logic & Last Resort — True Talk
Not to be confused with the American Logic. But it’s Last Resort’s colourful production that makes this a classic.
23. Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip — Angles
Who cares if it’s the hipster’s rap album of choice? It’s impossible to sniff at the level of creativity shown here.
22. Loki — GIMP
Set in Glasgow, 2034, after Scotland’s voted No to independence. Terrifying and ridiculous but also brilliant. Read my review here.
21. Klashnekoff — The Sagas Of…
If you’ve not heard It’s Murda before then have you really listened to UK hip hop? Iconic record.
20. Task Force — Voice of the Great Outdoors EP
Technically an EP but my favourite Task force project. That Luiz Eca sample on Cosmic Gypsies is pure genius.
19. Jehst — Falling Down
Jehst sounds even more robotically charged here than he did on his debut. An absolute monster rapping over primal beats.
18. Iron Braydz — Devil May Cry
Now known as Da Flyy Hooligan, Iron Braydz has always been seriously underrated. One for fans of 90s east coast stuff.
17. Cyrus Malachi — Ancient Future
Malachi has the most authoritative delivery ever — he sounds like he’s snarling through half his rhymes. Screwface material.
16. Mog — Nomad’s Land
A dark, gritty project by Glasgow’s most reclusive emcee. Often forgotten, Mog might be the most talented Scottish hip hop lyricist ever. Read my review here.
15. Phi-Life Cypher — Millenium Metaphors
Expertly crafted ‘conscious’ hip hop. Life MC in particular is immense — some of the most impressive flows you’ll hear.
14. Braintax — Biro Funk
For sheer charisma, Braintax has always been one of my favourites. As head of Lowlife, he was (once) a massive figure on the UKHH scene.
13. Skitz — Countryman
A good representation of Brithop in 2001. Features many emcees at their peak — and Skitz’ beats are phenomenal.
12. Cruger — The Lazy EP
Hilarious and overlooked gem by Unusual Suspects’ Cruger. It’s technically an EP but has eleven tracks so couldn’t resist throwing it in.
11. Jam Baxter — The Gruesome Features
Absurdly talented lyricist and all round emcee. Opening track Brains is the best UKHH single of the 2010s in my book.
10. London Posse — Gangster Chronicle
The oldest album on this list. More patois-based but still clear and concise in what it tries to do. See also anything by Rodney P.
9. Triple Darkness — Darker than Black
London’s answer to Wu-Tang, featuring many emcees on this list. Dusty beats, heavy delivery and hardcore subject matter.
8. The Brotherhood — Elementalz
“One mixed race one black, one yid, trap you like a arachnid.” An early UKHH classic that sought to smash stereotypes.
7. Respek BA — Wasteland of the Free
I think (just about) my favourite Scottish hip hop record. Nobody puts together rhymes like BA does.
6. Edward Scissortongue — Better.Luck.Next.Life.
One for fans of more introspective rhyming styles. Ed’s cold, nihilistic vision is articulated beautifully.
5. Lowkey — Soundtrack to the Struggle
My favourite political record bar none. It’s long and covers a lot of points, but Lowkey as an emcee as constantly gripping.
4. Rhyme Asylum — State of Lunacy
The most fantastically sick and twisted English album ever made. Incredible multisyllabics and gloriously brutal imagery.
3. M9 — Magna Carta
The most gifted (and underrated) UK lyricist of his generation spitting over amazing boom bap beats. Check my review here.
2. Lewis Parker — Masquerade and Silhouettes
Hugely influential album in terms of production. Lewis Parker is a master in the vintage style, using strings and film samples meticulously.
1. Jehst — Return of the Drifter
Sick piano loops, jazzy drums, clever samples, creative flows, dense poetry, amazing imagery. Nothing tops this. Check out Tom Kwei’s breakdown here.
I’d love to hear other people’s lists so please respond/tweet/link me/do what you wanna do.