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How The London Riots Affect UK Hip Hop

UK Hip Hop Finding Its Feet

I’m not someone who likes breaking Hip Hop down into sub categories and regional genres. Though, undoubtedly they do exist, I like thinking of Hip Hop in its entirety, branching out into different areas of the world where those influenced by it can continue to add their voice and style into the mix and contribute towards its overall development.

The process above is what UK Hip Hop artists have been doing for the last twenty or more years. Struggling with finding their feet and comfortably leaving their mark on Hip Hop culture. By comfortably, I mean producing a sound and impression that fully embodies life from an unspoilt, organic UK perspective.

Derek B

Derek B

For a long time UK Hip Hop artists were heavily influenced by American culture and were striving to sound, look and practically replicate everything US Hip Hop artists were doing. Some of the first real breakout UK acts into American Hip Hop music were Monie Love, Derek B and Cookie Crew who all rapped in American accents. There’s no shame in that, and you always need those chosen few to help pave the way. However, it always felt as though a little substance from UK Hip Hop was missing, that’s what happens when essentially all you’re doing is diluting down someone else’s culture.

Eventually at the turn of the century along came garage and that intertwined with grime and finally the UK had a formula of its very own to work with. So Solid Crew hit hard and were rapping unashamedly in UK accents and dropping in local slang and references. This was the UK and this was the significant mark we could leave on Hip Hop culture as a whole.

It’s taken nearly ten years since So Solid Crew went mainstream with the track 21 seconds and in the last year we have started to see the ultimate successes from a decade of UK Hip Hop experimentation. We’ve recently had Chipmunk

Tinie Tempah and Wiz Khalifa

Wiz and T

hooking up with Chris Brown and Tinie Tempah rapping alongside Wiz Khalifa. Whether you like the music or not, there’s no doubt that this shows how far UK Hip Hop has come. Having the most popular UK artists standing side by side with their transatlantic counterparts on their own terms is nothing but successful. It’s felt as though UK artists had finally found their feet and were standing tall with something honest and unique to deliver.

London Riots

Then last week, in my opinion the London riots took a step to undoing all this hard work and development in 3 days of embarrassing recklessness. As well as many other things, Hip Hop has always been the sound of youth, struggle and the voice of the underdog. Therefore it’s unavoidable that certain boroughs of London with considered low opportunity and minimal resources have been influenced and have become synonymous with ‘urban’ culture.

Gradually, as mentioned above, guys like Tinchy Stryder, Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Chipmunk and Tinie Tempah have all been celebrated as successes and leaders of UK Urban/Hip Hop music. They have risen to the very top with their own sound and came from extremely humble beginnings, the same as those who were destroying their local communities this last week. They found an outlet, worked hard and showed that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. A Hip Hop lesson more of us should have learned by now.

UK DJ Trevor Nelson

UK Urban Music Pioneer Trevor Nelson

The rioting throws the hard work of DJ’s such as Trevor Nelson, Semtex and Westwood back in their face, after decades of them championing the UK Hip Hop and helping to bring UK Hip Hop into mainstream media without it being misrepresented or frowned upon. In 2002, nothing symbolised this dedication to proving that UK Hip Hop was more than just American imitation than the arrival of BBC 1Xtra, a digital radio station dedicated to ‘home grown’ Hip Hop/Urban music.

See, it felt like recently we had turned a corner. UK Hip Hop has suffered the same mainstream negativity as US Hip Hop dealt with in the 90’s. The media associated and presented Hip Hop as glorifying violence, gang culture and drugs. But we were JUST getting over that. The success of UK Urban music had started to, almost hypocritically, be celebrated be mainstream media with some artists even affectionately being labelled the ‘Brap’ pack by national media. Cheesy, yes, but significant also.

I feel as though, despite the UK still replicating aspects of US Hip Hop culture with its imitation of gang mentality still lurking in the background, finally UK Hip Hop music had overshadowed all those negative connotations. Then came the riots.

US Hip Hop Obsession

We had young people on TV wearing hoodies (which have also become synonymous with Hip Hop culture) tearing down their neighbourhoods. Looting places like Footlocker and JD sports. There’s an image I remember seeing of a guy who had just looted a sports shop and was checking the outside of a sneaker box he had just robbed. To me, this symbolised everything bad about UK Hip Hop culture and allowed it a national platform. All it done for me was highlight the fact that there are more followers than leaders within our communities and as a wider issue it showed that our generation are fixated on having things instantly without having to work for them. It exemplified Kanye West Self Graduatedeverything that is wrong with the majority of our generation. We want everything the ultimate Hip Hop lifestyle has to offer, without putting any effort to get it. That’s the reason we don’t have any artists or businessmen on the level of Jay-Z, Kanye West or Russell Simmons. You want the same clothes, cars and lifestyle as Kanye? Did you not listen when he said he locked himself in a room doin’ five beats a day for three summers? He deserves to do those numbers and earned those luxuries. You, do not.

Yes, I know that not EVERYBODY involved in the rioting was directly involved in Hip Hop. But when you’ve got young people from Hackney, Tottenham and Clapham throwing up their hoodies, looting places like Footlocker and dropping gang signs at TV cameras, SOME of those mainstream media authority figures are going to make that Hip Hop association once more. It takes us back a whole ten years. It shows me as a generation we are still infatuated with the lifestyles of US Hip Hop figures and want all those luxuries without putting in the long hours.

Some are saying that the riots were the acts of a mindless few. I personally don’t agree with that and think that it’s unfortunately it’s part of a wider issue. The majority of our generation are obsessed with having everything NOW, whether that’s luxury goods, a hood reputation or their five minutes of fame. There are no excuses; it’s just a pure lazy attitude. If you were a looter or rioter who had the energy in you to burn something down, you also had the energy to build but were too stupid to action positively.

I just hope that the minority of those involved in UK Hip Hop who are genuine, creative professionals and who have found their feet, voice and direction are able to overcome the negative associations which are bound to taint the name of Hip Hop in this country. We at When The Beat Drops are willing to support anyone who we feel represent the true values of Hip Hop.

Lauryn Hill B+

Unsung Heroes in Hip-Hop Pt. 1

Unsung. Underrated. Whichever way we put it, it unfortunately sounds patronising. Though the people we’re about to feature in this article have no doubt been given the respect and acknowledgement they require from their peers. We just thought we’d take a minute to lend a little light to those who don’t necessarily dominate the column inches but yet consistently pull the stings in the background within this culture that we love. We called this Pt 1, anticipating the influx of further suggestions for Pt 2. Enjoy, and share this post if you want to give something back to others who have given us a lot.

B+ (Photographer/Director)

One of the finest photographers in Hip-Hop is Irish and hails from the aptly named town of Limerick. So how did he end up snapping Hip-Hop’s most elite artists including J Dilla, Q-Tip, Mos Def, Madlib and Eazy E to name but a few?

Well, after graduating from Dublin’s National College of Art and Design in 1989, he left behind the lush green of Europe and stopped in L.A to geek down at the California Institute of Arts in 1990.

After first project “Its Not about a Salary: Rap Race and Resistance in Los Angeles” was published in 1993, he became the go-to guy for album artwork. With his creativity in full flow, he went on to work on music video direction projects for DJ Shadow, Nitro Microphone and Control Machete.

His experience led him to form the production company ‘Mochilla’ with Eric Coleman. Mochilla have since gone on to carve our their niche in producing innovative music films including a personal favourite of ours, Timeless: Suite For Ma Dukes, the orchestrated tribute to J Dilla led by Miguel Atwood Ferguson.

B+ remains in L.A, working on projects through Mochilla as well as being a photo editor for Wax Poetics magazine and DJ’ing from time to time.

He recently directed the documentary ‘Distant Relatives’ which follows the  journey between Nas and Damien Marley.

The only guy in Hip-Hop that you’d want to be shot by.

James Poyser (Producer/Songwriter)

Mr Poyser could probably produce water from stone.James Poyser

As a founding member of the neo-soul collective ‘Soulquarians’, Poyser played a key role in contributing towards classic albums such as ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Like Water For Chocolate’, ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Mama’s Gun’ and won a Grammy for best R&B song in 2003 for co-writing  ‘Love of My Life’. Just check the sleeve notes on your favourite albums and count the number of times his name appears, you’ll get the picture.

Until around five minutes ago, we had no idea that he was actually born in Sheffield, U.K. Useless info, but it’s info all the same.

Currently he’s performing with The Roots as part of the house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. They currently passed the 400 show mark in a move which we feel has proved significant for Hip-Hop and it’s development both socially and in business.

Though arguably he’s played his part in the ‘background’ of many Hip-Hop classic shows and albums, we’d advise you all to check out a rare moment in which he took centre stage. The 2009 album ‘James Poyser Presents The Rebel Yell, Love & War’. For whatever reason this flew under the radar (maybe because of the relatively unknown artists that feature) but it’s abstract dose of soulful RnB and switches in tempo/sounds will remind you every bit of some of the Soulquarian’s best work.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s one of the only guys aware of D’Angelo’s current whereabouts.

Trying to do research on this man proves to be very difficult. He rarely seems to give interviews. So if you’re out there Mr James Poyser, please can we get a few words with you?!

A man of few words, yet undoubtedly one of the finest songwriters in Hip-Hop.

Kevin Liles (Record Label Executive)

Kevin LilesIf there were ever an example that Hip-Hop is as much a state of mind as it is a genre if music, Kevin Liles is it.

To cover everything he’s been a part of we’d need to go all out a write a full biography, maybe another time. For now, we’ll try and do it the Liles way by getting to the point, quickly.

Growing up as a kid in Baltimore, one of Lile’s first lessons in business came when his group ‘Numarx’ successfully sued Milli Vanilli’s record label for taking their Grammy award winning song ‘Girl You Know It’s True’.

From 1992, Kevin Liles worked as an unpaid intern for two years at Def Jam before finally getting a paid position as their Mid-Atlantic promotions manager in 1994. The sacrifice more than paid off.

His ability to become a details man, spot trends, whilst managing to relate to the artists saw him contribute to Def Jam’s rapid growth. It could be argued that the structure and organisation he instilled in Def Jam gave inspiration or birth to the fact that Hip-Hop businesses could achieve longevity.

His ongoing commitment led to a promotion in 1996 to Vice President of Promotions before being made the first President of Def Jam in 1998. Under his leadership as president, Def Jam’s revenue doubled to almost $400 million and he guided them into areas of television, movies and video games.

He went on to become the Executive Vice President of the Island Def Jam Music Group from 1999 to 2004 before leaving to join former mentor Lyor Cohen as Executive Vice President of Warner Music Group until September 2009.

Speaking of Def Jam, Liles once said, ‘We want people looking to us as trendsetters. We don’t think of ourselves as a record company–we’re a lifestyle company, the pulse of urban youth’.

Liles has himself become a brand, trendsetter and pulse of urban business.

Hype Williams (Music Video and Film Director)

With the release of Kanye’s short film ‘Runaway’ and most recent music video for ‘All Of The Lights’ we expect Hype William’s profile to rocket.

But he’s been shooting music videos since a time when high definition meant you could pack more footage onto a ropey VHS.

In a career spanning 20 years, Hype has worked with the likes of LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, TLC, Aaliyah, Jay-Z. Nas, Will Smith… in fact we will just give you a link to his videography > …saves us all some time! As you’ll see that videography reads like a who’s who of Hip-Hop.

His career and significance has been synonymous with the rise in popularity of music television. As technology has advanced, boundaries have been smashed, taboos disregarded, Hype Williams has remained one of the most talented music video directors by carving out his own style and staying true to his own vision.

Today, we understand he’s the man who is going to direct the video to Kim Kardashian’s debut single ‘Turn It Up’.

Brave or stupid move? That remains to be seen, all we know is that you better believe the HYPE.

OK, now you’ve seen our Part 1, feel free to share and tell us who you think should feature in Part 2…


Lost In The Mix – Where Did All The Female Singers Go?

Sit back, empty your mind and ready yourself for the forthcoming question. Ready? Okay, how many significant female singers within Hip-Hop and it’s related genres can you name that have emerged in the last 20 years? By ‘significant’, we’re talking about having an impact  through record sales, credibility or both.

Have a think. Ready?…

My guess is that the following names will be kickin’ about your brain: Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, Mary J Blige, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, India Arie, Aaliyah… maybe even Rihanna thrown in at the end.

Now break that down to the last 10 years… a little harder right? We’re given just Jill Scott, Alicia Keys and India Arie, who were all fresh to this millennium. Leaving just Rihanna who crept in around 2005 and is arguably more pop orientated despite working with a number of Hip-Hop artists. Forget about the last 5 years. Scary.

So…erm… where did all the female singers go?

Have the ladies mentioned above dominated the industry so heavily that others couldn’t break through? Have the trends and changes in music over the last decade meant that the art and technical ability in singing doesn’t count for much anymore? Maybe reality music shows killed the creative skill of artists being able to carve out their own vocal style?

Remember when you heard ‘Fallin’ by Alicia Keys back in 2001? Her vocal was so raw that you could connect and you knew she’d be around for a long time coming. How many female singers have you heard that have put themselves across in that way since?

Alicia Keys

Even if there are talented female singers out there looking for exposure, most have to juggle with the idea of jeopardising their own vocal ability in favour of featuring on a record produced in a way that reflects a current trend. Think about the dominating dance phase we’re going through.

In fact, this also coincides with the fact that producers and production teams are now getting as much recognition as artists themselves. Though for some producers this recognition is overdue, it’s also a glowing example of how the industry has changed. Are all the great singers being overshadowed by the production around them? We’re all able to hear but how many of us are willing to listen?

So, the next time a heartfelt harmony or ambitious melisma catches your attention, take note. We need to support gifted female vocalists before they all fade out.

The Hard Sell – Go Out And Buy Records!

If you haven’t seen Kanye in the news this week, you’re probably in a coma.

In which case we hope you’ve hooked up to our RSS feed ‘cos you’ll need to catch up on this.

Kanye West My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Cover

Through the waves of Yeezy’s Tweets and sound offs this week, you will have seen that he’s stated that new album ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ will feature 5 different album covers. What’s more, West has suggested that the George Condo demonic creation you see to your right has been deemed too controversial by Def Jam and retail outlets. It remains to be seen as to whether this will be one of the five final covers, but what our diamond fanged friend has managed to do is create an incredible hype leading up to it’s November 22nd release.

With CD sales continuing to fall amidst the boom of the download, record labels and artists are struggling to find ways to make physical sales a profitable avenue for revenue. This has led to a host of labels releasing ‘deluxe’, second editions or re-issues of albums in order to break even or take advantage of a record’s popularity. Something I like to call the 2.0 tactic.

This can be a damn annoyance to a fan who eagerly anticipates an album, goes out and buys it on the day of it’s release and then watches on as it’s re-released three months later with more tracks and more content. It also means that the quality of music on the initial release isn’t as good as it SHOULD have been, but that’s a whole other article.

However, there is some good news for the fans. With artists needing to sell, some are breaking the mould and thinking of creative goods that make it that little bit more tempting to part with your cash.

Check some recent examples below, and in the words of Will Smith, ‘Don’t download, go out and BUY the record’.

Freeway and Jake One – The Stimulus Package

Freeway and Jake One

One of the most creative CD packages Hip-Hop has ever seen. The financial risk at putting out a record like this is huge. So credit to Freeway, Jake and Rhymesayers for making this possible.

It features a folded set of @Phillyfreezer and @JakeUno notes and a wallet design which holds the CD , PLUS an exclusive ‘credit card’ which features a download code enabling you to download the instrumentals to every track.

Eminem – Relapse Deluxe Limited Edition

Relapse Deluxe

After a five year hiatus, Em’ returned in December 09 with Relapse. Fans were given the chance to buy this Deluxe Limited Edition copy for around $130.00. The package included a signed cover print, a Relapse pill bottle with pills, 12″ vinyl and extra downloadable tracks.

That’s what’s poppin’.

Lady GaGa – The Fame Monster / WTF HAIR Edition.

Fame Monster


Lost count of the amount of versions that was released of this album, i’m gonna guess a solid 5. Gaga went all out with the exclusive content and if you copped the ‘Super Deluxe’ CD, you even got a lock of her hair. Sick or siiiick? The USB stick release featured track remixes, art content and a bunch of videos.


Justin Bieber – My World 2.0 (Golden Ticket)

Justin Bieber Golden Ticket

The world’s most loved and hated teenager gave fans a chance to get a once in a lifetime backyard Bieber gig if they found a golden ticket in the second part of his debut release. Though this Willy Wonka game has been played out before , none have created as much buzz as this. Bieber fever swept through hormonal girls who rushed out to buy the album and Usher must have seen a handsome sum drop into his bank.



Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy

Tinie Tempah Lanyard

Earlier this month, Tinie Tempah debuted at Number 1 in the U.K album charts with ‘Disc-Overy’. One format in which it was released was on a lanyard, which held a unique code allowing fans to download a letter from Tinie and various social networking badges and backgrounds. It was sold on stalls at his shows and in high street retailers, with the price falling somewhere between a download and a CD.

So where does the future lie for the physical release? I guess it’s in the hands of the fans, ish.

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