From The Bronx To London, Hip-Hop And Its Impact On Culture
11 Aug 2023
Words by Plamedi
Hip-Hop and its influence on British culture knows no bounds, From Skepta, Massive Attack, Rodney P, and Stormzy. Therefore, as Hip-Hop enters its 50th year, we at Mixtape Madness deem it fitting to celebrate its impact on the UK.
You cannot talk about hip-hop’s influence anywhere, without covering its origin story in the Bronx. So, let’s take it back to 73’. Picture this: You are a Bronx native who has been invited to a calm back-to-school party. You’ve heard of a DJ who has been making waves in your area called DJ Kool Herc (Clive Campbell), but you want to see what he’s about. The motive starts livening up and Herc pulls out his turntables and plays your favourite funk tracks (which was all the rave at the time). But what happens next is what births the culture that has changed the lives of many generations to come.
Herc decides to extend the beat breaks for breakdancers to well, dance in the break and emcees to start spitting bars. This one-block party sparked a greater-than-life movement. That started to make serious strides within the mainstream with the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rappers Delight’ reaching third on the British charts in 1979. From there on outwards, the rest was history. 2Pac, Biggie, NWA, Kanye West, and Snoop Dogg are only a few that established hip-hop’s domination in the states. However, its impact here in the UK cannot be understated.
The Rise of British Hip-Hop
At first, British emcees and producers faced an uphill battle to step away from the great shadow cast upon them by the states. In the early 80s, Britain’s hip-hop scene was not recognised by major labels and radio stations, alike, due to the sheer number of emcees rapping with inauthentic American accents.
This stood as an issue for a little while, until a few pioneers of the British scene stepped forward and put our small island on the map. Rodney P, Derek B and Cookie Crew embraced their native accents and started speaking about their British experience. For instance, Derek B’s track ‘Goodgroove’ from his 1988 album ‘Bullet from a Gun’ (No relation to Skepta’s album) reached top-20 on the British charts, which was unheard of at the time for British hip-hop. Or even, London Posse which even received love, over in the states with their album ‘Gangster Chronicle’.
Now-defunct magazine, Hip-Hop Connection were very straight-up with their praise: “Gangster Chronicle” puts you inside a world – just as, say, “Illmatic” does. It’s a world so distinctive in its language and sound that it goes beyond anything you could deliberately conjure up as a concept – this is no through-narrative hip-hop era about life in Battersea circa 1990. It’s something infinitely more evocative.”
‘Gangster Chronicle’ being mentioned in the same breath as Nas, shows that maybe the album didn’t receive the flowers it deserved. Moving into the 90s, the genre began to rapidly expand into multiple sub-genres all over the country. Grime, Garage, Afroswing, Trip-hop and Drill are only a few of the wide variety that have graced British listeners over the past 50 years.
The Dizzee Rascal-led grime movement of the early 2000s helped place black voices at the forefront of global conversations. With Dizzee’s debut album ‘Boy In Da Corner’ winning the coveted Mercury Prize in 2003. This further solidified British hip-hop’s spot in the mainstream as prior to his win, the award was dominated by rock acts. Hip-hop in Britain could no longer be dismissed as just a passing fad. Now fast forward a couple of decades we’ve seen the likes of Kano, Little Simz, Skepta and Dave going on to win the award.
There are many similarities between the British and American black experience. Hip-hop is a great place to witness the many common tropes. Its ability to be utilised as a means of protest holds so much importance. Britain and America’s experience with police brutality and wealth inequalities are well-chronicled but form the setting for many of rap’s best anti-establishment tracks. The first track that comes to mind is ‘F*ck The Police’ by NWA which was an anthem being blasted out of jukeboxes and Chevrolet Impala’s across LA, or ‘Pain is the essence’ by Giggs capturing South London’s essence.
Professor at Georgia State University, Layli Phillips explains: “Hip Hop is an oppositional cultural realm rooted in the socio-political and historical experiences and consciousness of economically disadvantaged urban black youth of the late 20th century.”
Hip-Hop’s ability to create change.
To challenge the status quo, to create change and flip the standing narrative on its head. Over the years, the culture has stood strong in the midst of countless societal inequalities and censorship efforts. The 2020 ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests or the 2011 London riots in protest to the unjust murder of Mark Duggan. Wretch 32’s track ‘Open Conversation & Mark Duggan’ is a great example of how powerful introspective bars can shed light on a larger issue at hand.
“Brother Mark never made it to custody.
I see his kids now and again.
I give them every cent that I’ve got up in my pocket.
But it isn’t enough.”‘Open Conversation & Mark Duggan’ – single by Wretch 32
Or let’s talk about the Cambridge Stormzy Scholarship, which enables black youths from low-income areas to have their tuition and living fees paid for. Launched in 2018 and still in operation this was and still is absolutely massive for the community.
Stormzy rise to the pinnacle of British hip-hop and impact on culture has been nothing short of remarkable. From being brought out alongside the rest of the grime scene by Kanye West for his ‘All day’ performance at the Brits which invertedly birthed two of the scenes most iconic tracks ‘Shut up’ and ‘Shutdown’ by Skepta. His voice has been felt by the masses.
Sarah Jones Labour MP for Croydon Central, explains how rappers can positively influence the youth: “The best way to show them that they can achieve is for them to see people like Stormzy who come from the same part of town, who have the same lived experience, and made it.”
Impact on fashion.
British hip-hop has undeniably made a significant impact on the fashion world, notably within the British streetwear scene. For example, Central Cee’s recent appearance as the face of Jacquemus’ Winter Campaign highlights the seamless connection between UK hip-hop and style. Similarly, the genre’s collaborative essence shines through partnerships like the Nike x Skepta collection, where streetwear and hip-hop effortlessly merge.
Furthermore, the 2021 collaboration between Dave and Trapstar underscored the influence of beloved emcees on the culture. Dave’s album “We’re All Alone in This Together” served as the inspiration for the collaboration, epitomising British hip-hop’s ability to transcend musical boundaries and shape fashion trends.