As with any culture, hip hop is a never ending sequence of trends, collisions of taste, the push and pull of commercialism and a shifting appetite for exotic new sounds. So why does UK hip hop continue to occupy such a lonely, unloved place in its history, particularly when you consider our flair for taking black American music forms, giving them a twist, then selling them back stylishly repackaged? And it’s not as if UK hip hop culture doesn’t have deep roots to back it up!    


Almost as soon as ‘Rappers Delight’ hit our shores in September 1979 hip hop was embraced, the four elements impacting just as much on the inner city boroughs of London, Manchester and Bristol as they did in the crumbling urban ghettos of America. The only difference was that whereas the gangs of the Bronx projects excelled at honing their MC and DJ skills, those stalking the streets of Hackney, Brixton, Battersea, Hulme and St Pauls poured their abundant energy into graffiti and breakdancing.


Bizarrely, it was the pantomime villain of punk Malcolm Mclaren who inadvertently set the wheels in motion for a homegrown generation of would be rappers and turntablists. The video for ‘Buffalo Gals’ introduced monochrome, small town Britain to the technicolour wonders of New York hip hop, and brought scratching into our living rooms for the first time. Entrepreneur Morgan Khan then provided all the inspiration any potential rapper or DJ could ever wish for by releasing the latest, import only, American tracks every couple of months on his largely forgotten yet hugely influential Street Sounds Electro series.


After a number of false starts that included a disappointing Street Sounds UK edition, some embarrassing novelties and far too many shoddy records in fake American accents, the face of UK hip hop only changed for good with the arrival of ultra-serious crews like The Ruthless Rap Assassins, the London Posse, Hijack, Katch 22 and the Demon Boyz. Intent on representing their own lives rather than the American fantasy of guns, bitches and bling, they finally bought a uniquely British edge to their art.


Actively working against the grain, one way or another they all went some way to inventing a wholly British rap language where ragamuffin hyper flow and an innate sound system sensibility melded effortlessly with London or regional street talk. In fact, what becomes immediately apparent when scouring this playlist is the sheer diversity on offer. From reggae to street soul; from hints of jazz to any number of dance orientated offshoots; by running through their complex melting pot of influences, British crews offered nothing less than a taster course in black music history.


How ironic then that just as UK hip hop began to hit its stride in the late eighties and early nineties, the embryonic scene was decimated by Chicago house and all that followed. British rappers who might once have gravitated towards hip hop dived head first into UK rave culture and the subsequent minefield of electronic dance music sub genres. Naturally there were a persistent few, most notably Roots Manuva, who continued the fine art but as soon as UK garage and grime appeared it was obvious UK hip hop had become surplus to requirements and it’s hardly been heard from since.


01 TROUBLE ‘I Get Hype (Justice)’ (A Side May 1988)

02 HIJACK ‘Style Wars’ (A Side June 1988)

03 OVERLORD X ‘Rough In Hackney’ (Weapon Is My Lyric LP January 1989)

04 DEMON BOYZ ‘Vibes (Vocal)’ (Recognition LP August 1989)

05 MC DUKE ‘The Alternative Argument’ (Organised Rhyme LP November 1989)

06 MC MELL ‘O’ ‘Open Up Your Mind’ (Thoughts Released LP May 1990)

07 RUTHLESS RAP ASSASSINS ‘Justice (Just Us)’ (Killer Album LP June 1990)

08 LONDON POSSE ‘Gangster Chronicle’ (Gangster Chronicles LP July 1990)

09 KATCH 22 ‘Who’s Business’ (Diary Of A Blackman LP July 1991)

10 SON OF NOISE ‘Son Of Noise’ (A Side May 1991)

11 BLACK RADICAL MK 2 ‘Witch Hunt’ (The Undiluted Truth LP June 1991)

12 CAVEMAN ‘I’m Ready’ (Positive Reaction LP October 1991)

13 GUNSHOT ‘World War 3’ (Patriot Games LP February 1993)

14 BLADE ‘Start The Revolution’ (The Lion Goes From Strength To Strength LP August 1993)

15 FIRST DOWN ‘Mad Dogs And Englishmen’ (World Service LP June 1994)

16 BLAK TWANG ‘Dettwork Southeast’ (Dettwork Southeast LP April 1996)

17 THE BROTHERHOOD ‘Punk Funk’ (Elementalz LP June 1996)

18 BRAINTAX ‘Future Years’ (Future Years EP August 1997)

19 LEWIS PARKER ‘A Thousand Fragments’ (Masquerades & Silhouettes LP May 1998)

20 ROOTS MANUVA ‘Motion 5000’ (Brand New Second Hand LP March 1999)