UK Hiphop: The Pioneers

Yemi Abiade delivers a brief history lesson, as we revisit the UK's Hip Hop Pioneers.


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A crowd react to Naira Marley at his London live show by Laura BrosnanTRENCH

They say you have to know where you came from to know where you're going. 

Crowd during Unknown T's headline show (2019) by Laura BrosnanTRENCH

This is true of UK hip-hop, where the tales of its earliest pioneers are crucial to our understanding of how the genre has moved British culture for decades.

When hip-hop reached these shores from New York in the 1980s, records such as Dizzy Heights’ “Christmas Rapping”, Bo Kool’s “Money (No Love)” and Derek B’s “Bad Young Brother” became vital entry points for fans and commentators to peep this brand-new musical movement. 

Then, London Posse arrived. Fusing ragga and dancehall influences with British accents and references, the South London group was integral to creating a wholly unique British rap sound, far divorced from the States.

Lest we forget the Clapham-bred duo Cookie Crew, the first all-female UK hip-hop act to get signed to a major. 

A crowd react to Naira Marley at his London live show by Laura BrosnanTRENCH

While all these artists were redefining the genre at home, others were flying the flag closer to rap’s Mecca. 

Slick Rick, born in Mitcham and moving to New York as a pre-teen, is one of the most celebrated MCs in the game, dropping his classic debut album, The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, in ‘88 alongside anthemic songs such as “Children’s Story” and “La Di Da Di”.

Meanwhile, Battersea-born Monie Love made a splash in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with her effervescent raps and affiliation with the Native Tongues, which housed acts like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifah.

Then there was MF DOOM (R.I.P), the Hounslow-born rhymesmith who moulded underground rap in his own mask-covered image throughout the last two decades, influencing today’s generation of spitters both at home and abroad.

Moving into the 2000s, acts such as Skinnyman, Blak Twang and Estelle helped push things forward in their own, unique ways too.

A crowd react to Naira Marley at his London live show by Laura BrosnanTRENCH

Now, with the proliferation of UK rap in the present day, gratitude must fall at the feet of those who paved the way, those who crafted this thing we love. 

An Image of Glowing Purple Sparkles on Rocks by Jonny LewTRENCH

One time for the pioneers!

Gunfinger salute in a crowd by Laura BrosnanTRENCH

This digital work has been produced in collaboration with PRS Foundation and POWER UP. The article first featured in TRENCH x Union Black's Chapter One: Game Changers zine.

Credits: Story

Words by Yemi Abiade
Photography by  Laura Brosnan [Frank Archives]
Videos by Derek B, London Posse, Cookie Crew, Slick Rick, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, MF Doom, Blak Twang 
Commissioned by

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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