2017 was another strong year for the British rap and grime scenes.
Grime kingpin Wiley dropped arguably his best album yet with Godfather, while we were all blessed by the genre’s new star Stormzy and his faith-inspired debut Gang Signs & Prayer. J Hus introduced rap goons to the Afrobeats side of life on Common Sense, while Nines’ One Foot Out kept it all the way gutter to the top of the charts. And we can’t forget Giggs’ Wamp 2 Dem, a mixtape half-dedicated to the haters who didn’t appreciate (or more like understand) his contributions to Drake’s More Life.
Seminal rap crew London Posse endured much criticism for rhyming in English accents in the ’80s — “it went against the grain and wasn’t accepted,” frontman Rodney P said of the time — but their refusal and proud-to-be-British stance set the blueprint, paving the way for the best of them to formulate what is now one of the world’s brightest musical movements.
With the U.K. quickly climbing up the ranks with their undeniable talent, Billboard compiled a list of the country’s best rhymers who are already tearing up the streets (and charts) in England but also have the potential to pierce hip-hop’s hardened ears in 2018.
Fresh from winning best video for “Hot Property” at last November’s MOBO Awards, Mist is hoping his forthcoming Diamond in the Dirt project keeps his name up in lights. Born and raised in Birmingham, England, this gravel-toned rapper is one of the few non-London artists to have his accented flow break through into the wider music industry. The tag-team of Mist and producer Steel Banglez is proving to be fruitful too, with tracks like “Ain’t the Same” and “Madness” now certified club hits. Be sure to check out the M I S to the T EP for a full introduction.
The 2016 track “They Ain’t 100” confirmed Fredo as a road rap front-runner. North, East, South, West — no matter which part of London you partied in, the trappy banger (worthy of Hot 97 airplay) was guaranteed to turn a club upside down. Despite some time in prison after the track’s release, Fredo has managed to maintain his buzz and is now focused on the prize at hand. Armed with a crystal-clear delivery and pure hustler ambition (see: “Change,” “Like That”), this designer-loving spitter is destined for greatness.
“In every step, I’m just trying to become a better person, a better musician, learn from other musicians — which is crucial — and make the best music possible,” Dave told Complex last year, and he is currently doing the latter with ease. Drake remixing his song “Wanna Know” to one side, Dave is today considered more of a rounded musician than just an MC; he’s a classically trained pianist, which shows, and his songwriting skills are beyond his 19 years (see: EPs Six Paths and Game Over). Having bagged a gong for best newcomer at the recent MOBO Awards, as well as being nominated for the same at the upcoming Brit Awards, it’s safe to say that 2018 — along with the others in this list — belongs to Dave.
4. AJ Tracey
Although the culture is the same, the sounds of grime and U.K. rap are distinctly different. And sometimes you get MCs like AJ Tracey who like to flirt with the two. The West Londoner has been a fixture on London’s underground circuit since 2012, but it wasn’t until he dropped “Naila” in 2015 that his place in the game was truly cemented. AJ’s fifth and most recent EP, Secure the Bag!, has been met with both high praise and chin-stroking — Is he grime? Is he rap? — but one thing’s for certain: He can flow hard on any beat that is thrown at him, showing his lyrical range front and center.
Not3s is more about melody than pensive rhymes, but especially in today’s musical climate, sometimes that’s OK. Currently signed to Relentless/Sony, since blowing up in 2016 with the song “Addison Lee,” the singing rapper has been compared to “Did You See” chart-breaker J Hus. Fair: They both rap and sing and are both heavily influenced by African sounds. But where J Hus is more punchy with it, Not3s has a way of controlling a beat unlike any other in the scene. There’s proof that he can spit, so really, we should all just sit back and watch the kid fly like Aladdin.