UK Week on The Influence of Reggae on UK Rap

THE UK REVOLUTION IS LARGELY OWED TO REGGAE. LEARN YOUR HISTORY HERE! is read and enjoyed by a worldwide audience, and lest we forget our friends across the pond, we say it’s time to pay props to some of the top rappers and musicians from outside the U.S. border.

Kicking off our focus on international Hip-Hop culture is the UK, where we ponder “A UK Revolution” and specifically the influence of reggae, with four of the biggest MCs in the UK – Professor Green, Wretch 32, Sway, Durrty Goodz, and Giggs – along with Austin Daboh, music producer from BBC 1Xtra, and Chantelle Fiddy, a leading UK music journalist: started off by asking Wretch about how much reggae and sound system culture influenced him: “It has been a big influence, as my dad was a reggae DJ. I grew up with it. I can remember waking up to my dad’s music thumping out of the speakers in the early mornings.”

The reggae sound system era of the 70s and 80s, with sound boys such as Tenor Fly, The Ragga Twins, Navigator, and Smiley Culture (R.I.P) helped to pave the way for jungle culture. This would eventually spawn the next wave of MCs in the grime scene.

There were also Hip-Hop sound systems such as Soul II Soul around the same period. This early UK rap scene is where many rappers such as Rodney P and the London Posse and Demon Boyz laid the foundation for the 90s/2000s rappers such as Roots Manuva, Sway, Skinnyman, Lowkey, and Klashnekoff.

When asked Sway about the influence and impact of the London Posse and Demon Boyz on him and the scene in general, he replied; “If it wasn’t for people like them, there wouldn’t be people like me. If it wasn’t for people like me. there wouldn’t be people like Chipmunk…”

However, it is arguably the early sound boys of the UK reggae scene that laid a foundation in London and across the UK, which would eventually transcend into dance music culture via the late 80s and 90s rave scene. This gave birth to jungle, then garage and eventually grime. The Jamaican influence, with the ragga vocal – was an integral part of jungle and the sound clash style of Jamaican dances was evident in early jungle raves and also early grime raves.

The break beat and amen break arrived with hardcore and jungle in the 90s, and when the ragga vocal seeped into jungle, this led to vocal-based jungle, with MCs such as Navigator, Stevie Hyper D (R.I.P.), and The Ragga Twins at the forefront of the scene.

Jungle and drum and bass culture and MCs such as Stevie Hyper D and later Skibadee proved to be influential to both Durrty Goodz and Sway. Goodz explained, “Yeah, man, Hyper D is legendary, along with many others that helped paved the way like Navigator, Ragga Twins, Skibadee, Shabba D, and the many others behind the scene that helped those dons be heard.“

Sway continued, “I was brought up in the drum and bass era, the jungle era – I had a lot of family in the jungle game…I was into Heartless (a UK garage crew), Skibadee  all them guys. Those were the people I was like, ‘whoa – we can actually rap in our [London] accents, and it can sound good.’ My style was kind of like a mesh between the Bone Thugs N Harmony thing going on and also the UK double time thing. It’s been a massive influence to me because I started messing around with drum and bass. I started freestyling over it. It developed my ability to be able to rap fast.”

Austin from 1Xtra talked about the importance and influence of the rave scene to the new generation of artists in this country: “I definitely believe that rave culture has been ingrained back into UK youth culture due to the emergence of electronic genres like dubstep. You have 80s and 90s babies who watched their older brothers and sisters listening to jungle, drum, and bass, UK garage, and it’s now influencing the music they make. The most exciting music at the moment is those [artists] that sound like an audio representation of the melting pot that is British urban culture.”

Chantelle Fiddy gave her standpoint on the influence of reggae and rave culture. “It’s a key influence – you’ll be pushed to find an MC who argues otherwise,” she said. Wiley and Footsie’s dads were in sound systems, and most of these key players grew up on dance music, so it all ends up fitting hand-in-hand.”

It wasn’t until the birth of a UK garage crew called So Solid, however, that emceeing really took its place in the mainstream/ Their presence really made the mainstream stand up and take notice of UK MCs and what could be achieved in the pop charts. They not only were running the mainstream, but held raves and ran their own pirate radio station – Delight FM – which Durrty Goodz was known to frequent.

Giggs talked about who influenced him in U.S. Hip-Hop, such as NWA and Ice Cube, but also the importance of So Solid: “Everything, man! Everything has been a factor. Obviously, I do the rap thing, and I grew up listening to all of those rappers, but really and truly it was breddas like So Solid that did their thing before. That’s got everyone on it trying to take it seriously.” Later in the interview, he continued, “They were pace setters; they put in the work. There are a lot of people who are influenced by them, and they don’t even know it. When you saw them on TV, you thought, ‘I can do that.’”

Sway was also adamant about their influence, stating, “They have a great deal to do with the success of today’s market. They showed that there was a demand out there for British rap.”

Wretch said, “So Solid played a big part in the whole scene. They were the first to do it big. They had the music videos and albums that fans across the UK actually went out and pay money for. I can remember watching them on TV performing at an award show. It was inspirational.”

A variety of artists quickly came through off the back of So Solid, but one MC really stood up and made his voice be heard. That was none other than Dizzee Rascal. Austin from 1xtra aptly summarizes the start of this era: “So Solid, Dizzee, and Wiley were the first set of MCs in the early 2000s that brought a darker garage sound to the masses. I think they played a very important role in the evolution of the scene.”

Check back for more in-depth articles like this one, as celebrates the rap artists and urban music of the UK all this week!