Hip-hop was born in The Bronx during the late ‘70s, and soon after artists across the pond were experimenting with sequenced sound system music and rhythmic new vocal styles.

Over the last four decades or so, the movements of MC-orientated genres in the UK have been driven by the evolving cultures of West Indian and African diasporas as well as technological developments, shifting trends within club music and a sense of resilience that, at times, has been required to stand tall despite the cynicism of the media or the mainstream music industry. If you want to understand the cultural history of the United Kingdom, then you’re going to need to know about its MCs.

The below article collects the opinions of industry insiders and some of the most knowledgeable music journalists in the UK. There are many great artists (D Double E, for example, or exciting newcomers like Octavian) who haven’t made this list because they’re a one-of-a-kind, or their influence is yet to be seen. Instead it’s a celebration of 25 UK MCs who, at some point, pushed the culture forward and made a lasting impact – whether that’s by developing new flows, popularising innovative production styles or kicking down doors in the industry and forging paths for others to follow.

Illustrations by Serina Kitazono

  • Peter King

    Selected by: Ian McQuaid, A&R, DJ and writer
    Key Track: Me Neat Me Sweet

    While you may not have heard of Peter King, he is one of the most influential MCs in the history of UK music. King was part of Saxon Sound, the legendary '80s reggae sound system that kicked off the careers of MCs such as Smiley Culture and Tippa Irie. King, a key mic man on Saxon, started drawing attention in the early to mid ‘80s for his unusual vocal style – he’d spit syllables out at double the speed of the dancehall drums, creating a machine-gun rattle of consonants. You can hear it on his 1985 track Rewind, Jack It Up. It may not seem like much now, but at the time it was revolutionary. Every single MC who has spat double time on a beat since, from Skibadee to Stormzy, is following in the footsteps of this underrated ‘80s Godfather.

    Peter King’s double-time flow paved the way for…
    Stevie Hyper D
    Lady Leshurr
  • Smiley Culture

    Selected by: Will Ashon, founder of Big Dada and author
    Key Track: Police Officer

    Smiley Culture’s 1984 single Police Officer is a story rhyme telling of a police stop-and-search with a surprise happy ending. It was a Top 20 hit which earned Smiley a spot on Top of the Pops. Building on the innovations of his previous single Cockney Translator, the MC from Stockwell, South London, effortlessly jumped from his own voice (employing the Jamaican patois of sound system culture) and the accent of the police officer in question, demonstrating in the process the Janus-headed nature of the black British experience. Only his own community would understand both sides of the exchange.

    Police Officer was a reggae-rap masterpiece that was musically upbeat while also exposing the issue of police harassment to the wider public. The enduring relevance of the latter message was driven home by Smiley’s tragic passing after police raided his house in 2011 – while an inquest declared the death a suicide, the incident sparked anger and suspicion.

    Smiley Culture’s Anglo-Caribbean accent paved the way for…
    London Possee
    Roots Manuva
    MC Neat
  • Rodney P

    Selected by: Will Ashon, founder of Big Dada and author
    Key Track: How’s Life in London?

    It’s probably fair to say all the various tributaries and streams of British rapping/chatting/toasting/MCing pass through Rodney Panton aka Rodney P. With his group London Posse alongside Bionic, Rodney P was amongst the first generation of UK hip-hop MCs to reject fake American accents. But perhaps more importantly, he also rejected the straight-up reggae chatting of the sound systems. Instead, he opted to rap just like he talked, mixing together Jamaican and London street slang in a way which felt both completely natural and – in terms of recording – completely new.

    What really makes Rodney P stand out, though, is the sense of authority he imparts. He shouldn’t be able to do it – his voice is an alto bark, closer in tone to Kool Keith’s than Chuck D’s. But there’s something about him, a combination of cold fury, rhythmic sure-footedness, humour and pure swagger, which means that when he talks, we always listen. All hail the king.

    Rodney P’s London street vernacular paved the way for…
    Blak Twang
    M.U.D. Family
    Roots Manuva
  • Stevie Hyper D

    Selected by: Ian McQuaid, A&R, DJ and writer
    Key Set: With Nicky Blackmarket @ Roast 1995

    Stevie Hyper D revolutionised the scope of jungle MCing. He was one of the first MCs to take the manic double-time chat popularised by ‘80s dancehall MCs such as Peter King and apply it to jungle, sometimes reducing his bars to a stream of consonants, dun-dun-dun-dun-duning over the beat, literally spitting the James Bond or Batman theme tunes over 170 BPM breaks. He’d switch this up with one liners that were calls to arms – just hearing the hoarse-throated holler of ‘Junglists are you re-e-e-e-ady? Oh lawd have mercy mercy mercy’ across an arena would see a stampede of ravers rush the stage.

    Whilst he was one of the first MCs to sign a record deal, Hyper D’s finest work was never on the tunes he pressed to wax and he died young, passing away from a heart attack in 1998 aged just 30. But his vibe can be picked up on rave tapes, where you can hear him channeling the energy of a thousand dancers, as much of a fan of the tunes as they are, voicing that energy and making it stronger than one man should possibly be able to. A true legend.  

    Stevie Hyper D’s rapid-fire flow paved the way for...
    D Double E
    Dizzee Rascal
  • General Levy

    Selected by: Ian McQuaid, A&R, DJ and writer
    Key Track: Incredible

    General Levy has the strange honour of being equally credited with breaking jungle as he is with killing it. In 1994, he voiced Incredible, quite probably the biggest jungle track ever released. It sounds insane to this day – MBeat’s hyper-speed amen chops underpinning Levy’s wild flow, all bashment aggression shot through with his trademark shrill hiccups. The track smashed it on dubplate, took over the raves and then stormed up the UK charts. It introduced the wider public to London’s raw, evolving jungle scene in all its frantic glory, and cemented Levy’s name as a UK legend.

    A few poorly worded interviews followed where Levy may – or may not – have claimed to have started the entire jungle scene. In the world of MC bragging, such claims are pretty much par-for-the-course, but in the then fiercely contested jungle scene, it led to his being widely ostracised. Now, years later such divisions have been largely forgotten, and Levy’s contribution to UK music, and his unique vocal technique, is acknowledged as crucial.

    General Levy’s explosive bashment delivery paved the way for...
    Ms Dynamite
    Stylo G
    Riko Dan
  • Tricky

    Selected by: Louis Pattison, Red Bull UK Culture Editor
    Key Track: Hell is Round the Corner

    Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye didn’t arrive out of nowhere. For a couple of years prior, you might have heard Bristol native Adrian Thaws lurking in the murk of Massive Attack’s group tracks, occasionally floating to the fore on songs like Karmacoma. But Maxinquaye, when it landed in 1995, still felt like a revelation. This was hip-hop, yes, but not as you’d heard it before. Tricky’s flow was immediately recognisable – a cryptic, sensual mumble – and the music was equally unique. Tracks like Aftermath and Hell Is Round The Corner had a punch-drunk, psychedelic quality, woven from unlikely samples and wreathed in ghostly atmospheres.

    But perhaps Tricky’s most daring contribution concerned identity. Where most rap of the era ran off bold expressions of machismo, Tricky’s music delighted in muddling gender categories. In a photoshoot around Maxinquaye’s release, he and his collaborator and muse Martina Topley-Bird posed in wedding attire – him in a bridal dress, his mouth smudged in lipstick, her in groom’s top hat and tails. On Hell Is Round The Corner, the pair’s voices overlap and intermingle, like lovestruck assassins plotting from their boudoir lair. “We’re hungry, beware of our appetite,” rasps Tricky, “Distant drums bring the news of a kill tonight”.

    Tricky’s sensual, slo-mo rhymes paved the way for...
    FKA twigs
    Kojey Radical
  • Roots Manuva

    Selected by: Angus Batey, freelance journalist
    Key Track: Witness (1 Hope)

    Roots Manuva is true iconoclast, the maker of arguably single greatest Brit-hop anthem of all time and possibly the man who, more than any other artist, kept UK hip-hop’s head above water during its darkest days.

    He emerged in the mid-‘90s, as British rap's second great wave had reached its lowest ebb, and in 1999 his debut album almost single-handedly sustained interest in the music outside a small die-hard fan base. For the 21st century he brought a new sound and clarity; his 2001 track Witness (1 Hope), said to be the loudest 12" single ever pressed, bas(s)ically invented dubstep, and Mr Manuva's inimitable blend of Jamaica-via-Stockwell argot with uniquely inventive worldview made him the UK's biggest rap star. Before garage and grime he showed a generation it was possible to combine absolute individuality with all-round accessibility, and he continues to plough his unique, wobbly furrow to this day. Every emcee who's picked up a mic since Brand New Second Hand dropped in 1999 is in his considerable debt, whether they know it or not.

    Roots Manuva’s distinctly English lyricism paved the way for...
    Dizzee Rascal
    Young Fathers
  • Ms Dynamite

    Selected by: Dan Hancox, author of Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime
    Key Track: Dy-Na-Mi-Tee

    How many MCs can be said to have changed British music from the underground and the mainstream alike? Not many. Ms Dynamite’s 2001 underground UK garage smash Boo! brought a dutty dancehall flavour to a genre that was getting more syrupy by the second, as pop-garage took over the charts. It helped get her signed to major label Polydor, but the tune's more remarkable legacy is that it's such a timeless club banger, still regularly heard on dancefloors across the UK, 17 years later.

    Nonetheless there's a sense that Dynamite is overlooked, like much of UK garage history. Her impact on pop culture in the early 2000s as a confident, articulate, politically sharp MC, making waves for black British culture in a scene dominated by male MCs who kept shooting themselves in the foot (in Neutrino's case, literally), is too easily forgotten. And she has hits for days: from 2002's ragga-garage club track Ramp, to irresistible top 10 singles Dy-Na-Mi-Tee and It Takes More, and 2010's grimy bass banger with DJ Zinc, Wile Out.

    Ms Dynamite’s determination in a male-dominated scene paved the way for…
    Lily Allen
    Stefflon Don
  • Wiley

    Selected by: Tomas Fraser, Coyote Records labelhead, publicist and writer
    Key Track: Wot Do You Call It?

    Grime's self-anointed Godfather, musical heartbeat and proudest, loudest, unapologetically reckless ambassador has arguably done more for the genre than any other. An early mentor to Dizzee Rascal, Wiley was also instrumental in the crossover success of Pay As U Go. And as a founding member of OG grime crew Roll Deep, he also enjoyed a brush with the mainstream via their 2005 debut album In At The Deep End.

    Wiley’s raw and unusually rhythmic eski sound – hence the Eski Boy moniker – is widely considered a foundational cornerstone of grime's sonic make-up, with his early beats still inspiring influential contemporary grime producers as well as experimentalists like Zomby and Kode9. As a lyricist, he remains the genre's most iconic. As comfortable spitting in his kitchen on Instagram as he is in front of thousands on stage, Wiley is grime. And grime is Wiley.

    Wiley's eski formula paved the way for...
    Dizzee Rascal
    Boy Better Know
  • Riko Dan

    Selected by: Dan Hancox, author of Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime
    Key Track: Ice Rink

    A sensational live MC in the dance and on radio sets, Riko's career straddles genres and decades, beginning on London pirate stations in the mid-1990s as a jungle MC. When, 20 years later, the Rebel Sound system won the 2014 Red Bull Culture Clash with a Rihanna dubplate, you couldn't have asked for a better MC to finish off the merkage than Riko. His power is all in his flexible delivery, switching effortlessly between the deep-voiced, patois-heavy style of ragga and an altogether more cockney-sounding grime flow. Menacing and humorous at the same time, Riko has ended rivals' careers for fun, and embodies grime's world-changing fusion of the furious speed of ‘90s ragga jungle, the soundclash energy of Jamaican bashment and a unique and novel new London sound.

    His greatest triumph? Having the best vocal on Ice Rink, possibly Wiley's grimiest ever instrumental. Kano, Dizzee Rascal and Tinchy Stryder vocalled the 2003 classic too, along with four other MCs, but only Riko had the might to dominate the riddim. His latest singles go as hard as he did on Pressure FM, all those years ago.

    Riko Dan’s powerhouse patois paved the way for...
    Killa P
    Lady Chann
    Unknown T
  • Dizzee Rascal

    Selected by: Lily Mercer, Viper Magazine founder and Beats1 host
    Key Track: I Luv U

    While still in his teens Dizzee Rascal pioneered an abrasive, aggressive sound. He entered the music industry in his prime; part enfant terrible, part extraordinary innovator. In 2003 Boy In Da Corner made grime spread further than the E3 postcode Dizzee shared with scene forefathers such as Wiley and Slimzee. Dizzee pushed the sound across continents, earning a Mercury Prize that was followed by platinum plaques.

    Naming an active grime MC who hasn’t been inspired by Dizzee is harder than naming those that have – everyone from Tinie Tempah to Stormzy and Novelist have paid homage to Bow’s finest. Though categorically a grime MC, Boy In Da Corner’s songs aren’t limited to the 140 BPM typically defining the genre. With some of the album’s songs lying closer to rap rhythms – most notably the sophomore single, Fix Up Look Sharp – Boy In Da Corner proudly declared grime’s raw essence while pointing towards genre crossovers in the years to come.

    Dizzee Rascal’s epochal debut album paved the way for...
    Tinie Tempah
  • Mike Skinner

    Selected by: Lily Mercer, Viper Magazine founder and Beats1 host
    Key Track: Has it Come To This?

    You could call him the Martin Parr of music, showcasing the beauty in the mundane. Mike Skinner is the MC who brought suburban working class culture to the forefront. Emerging in the early ‘00s comedown that followed UKG and rave culture, The Streets’ anecdotal songs were unglamorous, self-deprecating and charmingly relatable. Through The Streets’ sound Skinner framed a snapshot of every day life, served up with a cup of tea, two sugars and a Brummie accent. For many, it was the first time hearing a UK voice from outside of London rapping on the radio.

    Always committed to supporting new talent, Skinner has helped launch the careers of Kano, Ghetts and Murkage Dave, also stylistically opening the door for unusual artists like Jimothy Lacoste and more conventional rappers like Professor Green and J Hus, who himself has cited The Streets as a major influence.

    Mike Skinner’s Everyman UKG anthems paved the way for...
    J Hus
  • Skinnyman

    Selected by: Angus Batey, freelance journalist
    Key Track: Fuck the Hook

    His back catalogue looks as thin as his frame, but Skinnyman's legend looms large over the history of UK hip-hop. If he hadn't suffered prolonged, enforced absences at invariably crucial moments, the Leeds-born, London-raised MC could have been the one to change the narrative that he summed up on his only LP, 2004’s Council Estate of Mind. "Nobody in this British rap game is makin' it," he spat on Life In My Rhymes, "Couldn't move their mums off the council estates with it".

    Fifteen years on, and rappers not fit to lace Skinny's boots have turned that truism on its head. Council Estate of Mind, that dazzling debut, is a definitive document of the times in more ways than just that one. Skinny's fearsome freestyle prowess saw him face down Eminem with off-the-top-of-the-head disses during the supposed battle-rapper's first British gig. But his greatest talent is his ability to mine bigger, universal truths out of private and personal moments. He did this throughout an LP that continues to inspire and resonate today.

    Skinnyman’s epic expression of working class life paved the way for…
    Plan B
    Ramson Badbonez
  • Klashnekoff

    Selected by: Angus Batey, freelance journalist
    Key Track: Murda

    By the mid-‘00s, grime had emerged and captured the imagination of those outside British rap who wanted to be up on the next thing. But ‘traditional’ British hip-hop – those artists working with beats and rhymes, in styles all their own but recognisably similar to American rap – had never gone away. Mr K-Lash was the bridge between the two: a voluble, vivid lyricist whose pen-pictures of his Hackney neighbourhood were both a counterpoint to – and, likely, an inspiration for – many of the grime MCs making their name across east London and beyond.

    Klash's early releases were hailed as instant classics, but were eclipsed in 2007 when he teamed up with Nottingham beatmaker Joe Buhdha for the classic album Lionheart: Tussle with the Beast. Klashnekoff came along at exactly the right time for music, but was arguably too far ahead of the game to become the big name his talent truly merited.

    Klashnekoff’s stone cold lyricism paved the way for…
    Wretch 32
  • Lethal Bizzle

    Selected by: Dan Hancox, author of Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime
    Key Track: Pow

    An innovator since his teenage days at the forefront of More Fire Crew, Lethal Bizzle – back then, just Lethal B – has always been ahead of changing trends in music, and technology. More Fire’s grimy UK garage anthem, Oi, launched him into the charts at number 7 when he was still only 18. When garage collapsed amidst bad publicity and acrimony over the next year or two, Bizzle reinvented himself as a solo artist, bridging divides between rival crews in 2004 with one of the most important grime tracks of all time: Pow! (Forward). An anomaly in grime's early days, Pow hit the top ten after laying waste to London's clubs – acquiring the status of legend, it was so riotous it was even banned by numerous anxious club-owners.

    When grime hit the doldrums Bizzle kept breaking new ground, touring rock festivals and collaborating with indie acts in the mid-‘00s and then cultivating a whole new fanbase through social media, launching his brand and label Dench. More than any other MC, he’s used technology to find self-sufficiency and success, and bypassing industry gatekeepers.

    Lethal Bizzle’s unrelenting energy paved the way for…
    Tempa T
    P Money
  • Lisa Mercedez

    Selected by: Tracy Kawalik, freelance journalist
    Key Track: Buss It

    Although she’s enjoyed a belated boost in hype recently, Lisa Mercedez is not new to this. The Jamaica-born, London-bred MC joined Stylo G’s Warning Crew as the sole female member back in 2005, and she quickly proved herself as a formidable player and a fierce force on the mic.

    Over the years, Mercedez’ prowess has earned her collaborations with the likes of Beenie Man, Stefflon Don and Plan B. She’s proven her ability to tear apart any beat with a distinctive dancehall flavour, whether that’s by taking on Headie One’s drill anthem Know Better or spitting bashment bars over vintage Preditah grime production. Lisa Mercedez’ determination – as well as her versatility and eagerness to flip the classic dancehall sound – laid the foundations for female artists to flourish in the contemporary UK dancehall scene.

    Lisa Mercedez’ UK dancehall flavour paved the way for…
    Alicai Harley
    Trillary Banks
  • Kano

    Selected by: Jesse Bernard, Contributing Editor at Trench
    Key Track: Ps and Qs

    Kano has been there at many pivotal moments in UK rap history, making his presence felt and known. As a teenager, he electrified Jammer’s basement in the classic Lord of the Mics clash versus Wiley. It still remains one of grime’s most important moments, because student became master right in front of our faces.

    Kano’s clear delivery and enunciation, coupled with his sharp stops and razor-edge wordplay, shone brightest on his 2005 debut album, Home Sweet Home. He encouraged MCs to experiment beyond 140 BPM, and showed that it was possible to branch out into rock on tracks like Typical Me. With each album that followed, Kano continued to push the boundaries of what he considered grime to be and yet, because of this, he had lost much of the flare that had garnered so much attention. But 2016’s Made in the Manor saw Kano make an anthemic return to grime with Three Wheelups and New Banger, and to this day he’s still able to deliver that razor-sharp wit and emotive lyricism.

    Kano's incisive delivery and perceptive writing paved the way for...
    Little Simz
    Elf Kid
    Oscar #Worldpeace
  • Giggs

    Selected by: Jasmine Dotiwala, broadcaster and industry veteran
    Key Track: Talking Da Hardest

    Talking Da Hardest was the national anthem for young people. Back then I was heading up the MTV Base and Dance channels and you didn't tend to get loads of excitement there around British artists. But suddenly Giggs came along and everyone was buzzing about him – my interns, the streets. He came had that distinct, throaty, deep, monotone, gravely voice that encompasses Jamaican slanguage and the cockney, street vibe perfectly. It was like the guru descending from above. Suddenly, record labels were chasing to sign him.

    His 2009 track The Last Straw disses me and the head of Radio 1Xtra at the time, Ray Paul, because we had a misunderstanding when we first met – the video is quite hilarious! I explained to him that we wanted to support him but we needed clean versions of his songs, and he thought we were blackballing him (years later, he came up to me and apologised). The police would stop him performing live with Form 696, but he had the tenacity to keep it going and build his fanbase. He turned his negative, challenging reputation into something positive and completely led the direction of UK road rap. Those kind of road lyrics didn’t happen as much back then, when record labels held the purse strings and opened doors for acts. But Giggs has also been openly vulnerable, and I think that’s part of the reason why all these young, black male acts now just feel comfortable being themselves lyrically.

    Giggs’ steely-eyed delivery paved the way for…
  • Akala

    Selected by: Jasmine Dotiwala, broadcaster and industry veteran
    Key Track: Roll Wid Us

    Akala has never relented, he’s never compromised and he’s chosen his own path. He’s merged music with text and theatre with his Hip-Hop Shakespeare company. He's released books. He's hosted TV shows. He's written a graphic novel. His poetry and his novel are now on screen. And he's never had the major label deal or the major marketing budget. This has all been built independently alongside a young black woman who has been his manager for all these years.

    Before Akala, artists like Roots Manuva and Rodney P did also dabble in political lyrics, but Akala took it to a different level. He managed to spread his message beyond just the world of music, the black community or hip-hop culture. Artists like AJ Tracey and Dave and so many more are happy to be political now. I wonder if someone like JME would've sat down with Jeremy Corbyn if he wasn't seeing the Akala generation before him being so outspoken about politics.

    Akala’s socio-political messaging paved the way for…
  • JME

    Selected by: Grant Brydon, Editor at Clash, Push and RWD
    Key Track: Serious

    Driven by curiosity and independence, Tottenham’s JME has been known to cast Dumbledore-approved disarming charms on tracks with Giggs, and trade albums for shiny Charizard cards. While finishing his degree in 3D Digital Design, in 2006 he put out his first mixtape Boy Better Know Vol.1 – which developed into a t-shirt line when met with demand at Chantelle Fiddy’s Straight Outta Bethnal nights, and later a crew and label with the help of his brother Skepta. JME would shortly be handling design, marketing and distribution for many of his peers, as well as producing his own music on programmes like Fruity Loops and Playstation’s Music 2000. 

    JME's crystal clear lyrics combine humour, business acumen and general life advice, with references to everything from video games, veganism, married life and his abstinence from drugs and alcohol. He opened the floodgates for those who don’t fit into grime’s alpha male stereotype, to access the sound through a relatable role model. Music has allowed JME to be autonomous; a champion for individuality and a figurehead for integrity. We can all learn something from him, as a musician and businessman, but also as an open-minded human being.

    JME’s tireless DIY ethic paved the way for...
    Big Zuu
    Kojey Radical
  • Little Simz

    Selected by: Jesse Bernard, Contributing Editor at Trench
    Key Track: Dead Body

    Little Simz’ steady rise as an independent, uncompromising artist has made the North Londoner one of leading voices in UK rap, picking up cosigns from the likes of Kano, Wretch 32 and Kendrick Lamar along the way. Her effortless barrage of flows combined with incisive writing makes her one of the most dynamic MCs in the UK, and her production is also something to be reckoned with. On any given day, she could spit grime or soulful rap – and that kind of dexterity doesn’t come around all too often.

    Her influence on the scene is clear – beyond her output as an artist, she has also curated her own festival Welcome To Wonderland at the Roundhouse the past two years, which has given a platform for up-and-coming names like Junglepussy and Rapsody. In an industry that often isn’t kind to unconventional female artists, Simz has proudly stuck to her vision, defying expectations and creating her own space.

    Little Simz’ uncompromised vision paved the way for…
    Lex Amor
  • Skepta

    Selected by: Dan Hancox, author of Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime
    Key Track: That’s Not Me

    What to say about an MC so brimming with swaggering confidence that he called his debut album Greatest Hits? Skepta has been running rings around the grime scene since before he'd even picked up a mic, on 2003's DTI and Private Caller instrumentals. Once he started MC-ing a year or so later, he was immediately dispatching rivals and ending careers with a crystal-clear flow and brutal efficiency.

    After dallying with electro-pop, Rolex Sweeps, Timmy Mallet, a porn music video and US-style rap, the prodigal son famously returned home, ditched his designer labels and donned the superhero costume of a black tracksuit. The culmination of this profound journey of self-rediscovery, his 2014 and 2015 singles – That's Not Me and Shutdown – almost single-handedly re-launched grime into the pop mainstream. Skepta became a Mercury-winning global celebrity, and his self-belief rubbed off on a whole new generation of MCs, stretching from road rap, to grime, to Afroswing.

    Skepta’s swaggering comeback paved the way for…
    Smoke Boyz
  • Lady Leshurr

    Selected by: Richard Stacey, freelance journalist
    Key Track: Queens Speech Ep. 4

    When Lady Leshurr finally broke through in 2015 with Queens Speech 4 it felt like a relief. By then, she'd been putting out music with that same energy for at least six years, and eyewitness reports claim she'd been a serious problem at hometown ciphers for at least five years before that. Her talent was always beyond doubt – so natural she sounds like she was born spitting dynamite – and her work ethic was formidable. But she never seemed to get the push she deserved from an industry too dull to understand an intelligent woman with a Birmingham accent.

    Success demanded not only all that musical skill but a year out plotting strategy, figuring out how to build her own industry almost from scratch. Lady Leshurr embraced a generation experiencing music primarily through YouTube, and she brought a much-needed dose of humour to the UK rap scene. Her dogged persistence is inspirational; that she did it smirking and smiling and cracking jokes makes it sweeter still.

    Lady Leshurr’s YouTube-friendly charisma paved the way for…
    Jimothy Lacoste
    Big Shaq
    Nadia Rose
  • LD

    Selected by: Ciaran Thapar: journalist and youth worker
    Key Track: Live Corn

    “Bare man wanna rap drill, better call me dad,” LD raps on his recent track Detention. Like Wiley declaring himself the Godfather of grime years ago, the elusive UK drill MC’s self-proclaimed authority on London’s most hyped new rap genre is entirely justified. There is no outfit who has carried the UK drill sound further than pioneering Brixton Hill crew 67 and their masked frontman. LD is arguably the most skilled and distinctive rapper in the drill game, and the senior overseer of the genre’s youthful explosion as a voice of London’s angry, often unheard populace.

    First gaining wider recognition for his booming flows and lyrical realism amongst rap-heads on YouTube in 2014 with his now-legendary track Live Corn (“In my opinion, to this day, nobody in drill has topped Live Corn” he told me in a recent interview) LD and his fellow 67 members are responsible for long list of street anthems such as Take It There, WAPS and Let’s Lurk. Judging from his eclectic slew of recent releases, ranging from Edgware Road with K-Trap, to Stepped In with Dizzee Rascal and a version of Alicai Harley’s summer friendly track Gold, it’s difficult to see how LD’s throne will be toppled anytime soon.

    LD’s leading role in UK drill paved the way for…
    Headie One
    Unknown T
  • J Hus

    Selected by: Ian McQuaid, A&R, DJ and writer
    Key Track: Did You See

    J Hus has the strongest claim to pioneering the current UK Afrobeats/rap hybrid. His 2015 breakout track Dem Boy Paigon was a road map to London’s new sound, with Hus appropriating bars from all his influences – Stormzy, JME, TLC, Beenie Man, 50 Cent and more, given a new twist by Hus’s embracing of his Gambian accent. Across a series of YouTube freestyles (most notably his Bl@ckbox appearance), Hus demonstrated that he was a seriously lyrical rapper. But it was when he started flinging in his innate sense of melody, born from a love of late '90s r'n'b records, that he really changed the game. On singles such as Did U See, he dominated both the charts and the clubs with a lethal combination of quotable bars and ear-worm melodies. There have been many, many acts rush in following Hus’s success, but he still remains the leader.

    J Hus’ blend of rap and Afrobeats paved the way for…
    Lotto Boyzz

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