The story of Giggs in 10 essential tracks
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The rap scene kingpin has a catalogue that stretches from street hits to the UK's unofficial national anthem.
Disarmingly soft-spoken in person, Giggs was raised in one of London’s toughest neighbourhoods and grew to become perhaps the most respected figure working in UK rap today.
One of only a handful of artists who’ve made the US-centric hip-hop industry pay serious attention to the UK's homegrown talent, Giggs is a prolific recording artist, live performer and all-round cultural icon.
His success has helped create an audience for many of the young rappers coming up now -- anyone who’s blown up off a YouTube freestyle, or word-of-mouth mixtapes that light up the streets, is standing on the shoulders of a true giant of British music.
Here are 10 songs that trace the Big Bad rapper’s career to date.
1. Up In The Shoobz (w/ OTB & SN1)
Giggs’ first appearance in a music video was all the way back in 2006, with his crew SN1 and Walworth Road affiliates OTB. Ostensibly a party track, the lyrics’ mix of slick braggadocio with an upbeat bounce owes something to 50 Cent -- who was himself busy conquering the globe with a similar crossover style -- but the orchestral beat from Roll Deep’s Danny Weed roots it firmly in the UK.
2. Talking Da Hardest
You’ll be hard pressed to find a ‘90s baby who doesn’t know at least some of the lyrics to this bonafide UK classic. Recorded over a beat Dr Dre made for Atlanta rapper Stat Quo, this throwaway mixtape freestyle (from 2007’s Ard Bodied) picked up momentum with a budget video posted on YouTube. After a few months it was everywhere – from the streets to student halls, with Giggs in high demand for PAs at clubs up and down the country. The first UK rap song to blow up online, Talking Da Hardest is a cultural milestone and possibly still the catchiest UK rap tune ever released.
Off the back of a string of underground anthems, Giggs decided to move from hosted mixtapes to recording his debut album -- dramatically increasing his video budget at the same time. That didn’t mean substituting the grit and grime of Peckham for the glitz and glamour of Canary Wharf, though. Released independently in 2008, Walk In Da Park presented only a slightly more finessed version of his mixtape sound and was packed with tracks -- like the adlib-referencing Uummm!!! -- that his longtime listeners loved.
4. Slow Songs (feat. Mike Skinner)
Initially intended to be a solo track, Mike Skinner aka The Streets was so impressed by Giggs’ verses over his beat that he asked to jump on it too. The result is an introspective single that’s reminiscent of early hits like Pain Is The Essence. Giggs has said it’s the song that got him a record deal and radio play after he was unofficially banned from the airwaves -- and it showed another side of the rapper to listeners who’d only heard Talking Da Hardest.
5. Don’t Go There (feat. BoB)
Flying out to Atlanta for the BET awards (where he won the title of Best Hip-Hop Act: UK) Giggs hooked up with hotly tipped Georgia rapper BoB. While Giggs has said he wouldn’t have picked it personally for a single release and video, the transatlantic link-up was popular and foreshadowed the inroads Giggs would make stateside in the years to come.
6. Man Don't Care (w/ JME)
Giggs has always had a keen eye for a good collaboration – whether it’s his early work with rappers as diverse as Akala and Blade Brown, bringing in local legends like Fix Dot’M, or reaching out to MCs he respects in the grime scene. He’d already worked with one Adenuga brother as early as 2009 and this track was even more of a success, cementing his popularity across UK genres.
7. Lets Lurk (w/ 67)
Another canny collaboration, this time with the leaders of the UK drill scene, 67. Lets Lurk reminded everyone that Giggs was the architect of the emboldened UK rap scene, but also one of its biggest players. Even though there was now a whole generation of rappers who’d grown up on his music, he wasn’t retiring any time soon. In fact his biggest career move to date was still to come…
8. KMT (w/ Drake)
The following year Giggs shot to worldwide attention with two features on Drake’s 2017 mixtape More Life – a release which broke streaming records in every genre. The Peckham rapper was global now, and would seal that status in summer 2018 with a headline performance alongside Drake at Wireless Festival. And while the Canadian star has endorsed plenty of other UK rappers since, mostly on social media, only J Hus and Skepta have been given a comparable platform.
9. The Essence
In 2017, for the Wamp 2 Dem mixtape, Giggs leveraged his international status to pull in collaborations with the likes of 2 Chainz, Young Thug, and Popcaan and placed them alongside tracks with British legends like the Newham Generals and newcomer Dave. He also brought in big name American producers like Zaytoven and London on da Track, in contrast with the predominantly UK credits list of 2016’s Landlord. In some ways though, it brought his sound full circle. The Essence -- which wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place on Walk in Da Park -- was made by Cool & Dre, producers of The Game and 50 Cent's Hate It or Love It, as well as tracks for southern rap legends like Juvenile, who Giggs strongly admires.
10. You Ain't
Giggs’ most recent album ties together the various strands that have defined the latter stages of his career -- with rumbling, brooding beats that nod to UK drill but are also heavily indebted to his '90s southern rap heroes. Over these instrumentals, Giggs’ flows are sparse – testament to the pinpoint timing of an artist who can make a dancefloor erupt with just his ad-libs. Menacing, bass heavy and club-ready, Big Bad was built to be performed live, crowned by a sell-out UK tour.
Now watch Giggs telling his story in his own words, in conversation with Hattie Collins:
A Conversation With Giggs