While London’s diverse rap scene has achieved international recognition in the last decade or so, the UK itself has only just begun to open its mind to the plethora of talent spilling out of the Midlands. It used to sound unusual to hear a UK rapper without a London accent – but all that’s changing thanks to a few stellar talents.
Though the early ‘00s were fertile for UK rap, with the capital churning out dazzling talent by the boatload, cities such as Leicester, Coventry and Birmingham didn’t enjoy as much time in the limelight.
But when grime died down a bit in recent years, UK rap became a little London-centric again. Non-Londoners would obscure their true selves behind an accent (see the Irish drill group A9ine) while Londoners ran free in the industry. Yet the new Midlands revolution is on the way.
North-west Birmingham’s M1llionz is the most popular newcomer. With his Brum accent thick, shining like his diamond grills, his breakthrough single ‘Y Pree’ took over the streets with his artful rhymes. His scatty flows similar to (and apologies in advance for comparing him to a Londoner) those of the eccentric MizOrMac, and M1llionz could rap rings around anyone in the UK when you also factor it his stupendous, vivid stories: “Four door vehics ain’t got double glazin’ / Best mind how you go ’round trouble makin’”.
Pa Salieu, meanwhile, reps Coventry, differentiating himself from the crowd by separating his sound from his peers’ typical US-like trap beats; he’s eons ahead of the curve.
Take his latest release ‘Betty/Bang Out’, a two-track release with two polarising sounds veering from floaty jazzier notes to impaling uk rap. Starting off with the ethereal, dizzying ‘Betty’, Salieu strays away from his trademark gruff delivery, gliding between the track’s top line and bassline. Yet he breaks all the niceties with ‘Bang Out’, the production jumping from drill to trap – popular his ends – and a pinch of grime. Here Salieu tells a quick two-minute story of being a young black boy in Coventry, and it’s as raw-cut as possible. Pushing the standards in UK rap, the Kenny Beats-approved rapper is one to watch and could lead the whole UK scene one day.
As we travel further north on our Midlands rap tour, we find that Nottingham’s talent pool is currently fronted by transatlantic viral stars Young T And Bugsey. The duo have been buzzing around the UK scene for the last four years. Gaining popularity with ‘Gangland’ and ‘No Mickey Mouse Ting’ back in 2016, they were a ‘best-kept secret’ act until 2019, when charting club hits ‘Ay Caramba’ and the now-platinum ‘Strike A Pose’ came along.
Lastly, we cannot finish our exposé without some great female talent. Here’s a name to remember: Miss LaFamilia, the saucy all-rounder from Birmingham who is often compared to former NME cover star Stefflon Don, despite their recent spat (the up-and-coming rapper slammed Don for posting a 5G conspiracy on Instagram).
Jumpy, addictive verses full of braggadocio are second nature to LaFamilia. This is especially true of her freestyles – take the most recent track, ‘Hardest Bars Freestyle’, on which her sharp tongue slices through every hit-hat. Yet she has to ability to switch off that aggression, too – check out ‘Bonjour Cava’, her collaboration with south-east London’s Shaybo. The tiny lilt in LaFamilia’s voice – paired with the sampling of American R&B singer Truth Hurts’ 2002 Bollywood-inspired hit ‘Addictive’ – makes her a distinctive rap talent.
Although London is the hub for many to kickstart their careers, history teaches us that the Midlands, having produced the likes of Devilman, has plenty to offer. With focus now widening beyond the capital, there’s no longer any reason for stars outside of the M25 not to shine. With social media and streaming platforms to help out, you can get wherever you want to be with a little bit of luck and a whole lot of talent.
So stop looking at London for your inspo – you might just find some a little closer to home.