Rap in the UK started in the early 80s, not too far from the birth of Hip Hop when, in an attempt to garner a wider audience, rappers there would rap in an American accent. Thus, it could be said that actual UK rap didn’t really begin until the London Posse emerged in the mid eighties, as the group decided to rhyme in their own voices. Since then, it has gone through many iterations and influences. Now, it’s solidified itself as a major part of the Hip Hop cannon. Here are 23 male rappers that are essential to pay attention to in the contemporary rap scene across the pond.
There is no modern UK rap without Skepta’s influence. This is not limited to his delivery and tone, but extends out to his style. The tracksuit has become a uniform within the space and Skepta cemented the Nike version for UK and US audiences in his video for his iconic single “Shutdown.”
It’s safe to say that he’s become internationally certified. Even if you haven’t heard his solo music — which is unlikely — you’ve probably heard his hook on ASAP Rocky’s “Praise the Lord (Da Shine).” His distinct, hard-edged baritone has arguably become the sound that first led many to become obsessed with British flows.
Giggs is the OG. He is a grime god who has become a UK rap mainstay and has a level of bass in his voice that cannot be duplicated. Giggs went worldwide in 2017 when he had standout verses on two songs on Drake’s More Life. The legendary video of him bringing Drake out at the Reading and Leeds Festival will forever live in UK rap lore.
Many people’s first awareness of any level of street rap overseas existing came from Giggs’ surge in the late 2000s. He’s come as far as anyone in the genre has, even getting name dropped by JAY-Z on his “God Did” verse, where Hov went as far as to say Giggs reminded him of himself.
There’s a vulnerability in Stormzy’s delivery that has brought him into the musical consciousness well beyond just the UK. While he can flex with the best of them on a classic track like “Vossi Bop,” his real super power lies within the complicated dynamics of expressing love on a track like “Hide & Seek.”
Stormzy’s flow is also marked by his ability to use space well. Many rappers will try to jam as many bars and flows into an instrumental as possible, but Stormzy continually tries to let his words breathe. It doesn’t work for everyone, but he’s got a deft hand at letting the space allow listeners to feel his emotions.
Nines is defined by his lack of care for hit singles and development of his core fanbase. A street-certified storyteller like him is hard to come by. He can just as easily relay a woman’s fall into addiction on “Yay” as he can outline his intricate business decisions and how they created enemies on “Clout.”
Nines’ flow is the epitome of unforced. He raps like he’s the quiet mob boss in the back of the Italian restaurant who only speaks when it’s absolutely necessary, imparting wisdom upon the youth who are coming up under him.
5. Tiny Boost
This Peckham-bred rapper had a dynamic career revitalization in 2018 and has been on a dropping spree ever since. This all happened after a conviction for firearms possession in 2009, which would land him in 10 different prisons over almost the course of a full decade.
Boost’s ability to remain relevant in his early aughts under the tutelage of Giggs as well as during his post-prison run has been remarkable. Hearing him and Giggs trade flows in a spiritual way on 2022’s “The Family” is the purest example of a full circle moment. The two deepest voices in UK rap sound like sonic brothers.
6. Abra Cadabra
One of the most distinct melodic rappers lands on this list. For US listeners, a good parallel to Cadabra’s magical sound would be Yung Bleu or NoCap. The street crooner has lyricism that paints vivid pictures of his thought processes.
Don’t get it confused though, Abra Cadabra is also a dynamic drill rapper who can talk street moves with an added element of playfulness. On a standout track like “On Deck” you can find yourself equal parts head nodding and breaking out in a dance to get sturdy.
7. Central Cee
“Doja” peaked on the Billboard US Hot R&B/Hip Hop songs chart at 36. If you don’t know who Central Cee is by now, he is the clearest choice for a gateway into UK rap for US audiences. The West London standout has albums under his belt that can compete with — if not surpass entirely — any drill release.
Cench’s “On The Radar” freestyle with Drake brought him up to a whole new level of rap relevance. He stood toe to toe with many people’s GOAT and proved that the pressure of that spotlight only increased his ability to shine through.
While many may know Dave from his standout collaborative mixtape with Central Cee that resulted in their hit single “Sprinter,” the rap star has a storied history in the genre that can match just about anyone. His standout 2019 debut studio album, Psychodrama, documented a therapeutic journey on wax in a deeply cinematic way before Kendrick Lamar ever dropped Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers.
Dave’s lore also goes way back to early SBTV freestyles that show off his elastic yet rooted flows, delivering on both sizzle and substance. He was also the first UK rapper to get a Drake remix on his 2016 standout single “Wanna Know.”
There is no one in the UK rap scene who can claim they have more consistent quality releases than Knucks. He burst onto the scene with the Nas-inspired Killmatic, which displayed his ability to hold his own with classic boom bap textures. Over time, he incorporated elements of jazz and drill into his instrumentals and flows.
Then, in 2022 his ability culminated in his opus Alpha Place, which precisely combined all three of his styles and essentially formed a new one: jazz boom bap drill. When you listen to songs back to back like “Alpha House,” “Nice & Good” and “Hide & Seek,” it’s hard to not consider Knucks the top tier of UK rap.
If you haven’t heard Avelino’s impeccable 2023 album, GOD SAVE THE STREETS, you’re missing out on an impeccable project. The red-dreaded Tottenham-bred spitter mixes a barrage of hype-fueled slaps with an incisive group of self-reflective and composed musings.
Since his debut mixtape in 2013, there hasn’t been any sign of letting up for Avelino, as he’s seemingly made it through the music game with impeccable patience. He is a shining example of putting work into your craft until it is your time to glimmer.
A drill sensei serves as the next entry who shows all the swagger and vigor that the subgenre possesses in his hard-hitting style. Much like someone as The Weeknd, at first, K-Trap released no pictures of himself and just relied on his music and mystique to build an audience. His delivery was menacing enough to do just that. Something he’s become known for is not only his solo tapes, which have garnered heavy appeal, but his explosive dual tapes with artists like Blade Brown and Headie One.
12. Headie One
Headie One and Drake’s drill collaboration, “Only You (Freestyle)” is pretty much inescapable. Being the first artist to get Drake on a UK drill collab and make it such a lavish showcase of flow is quite an accomplishment. The MC has the perfect nonchalant demeanor to do just that.
Headie has also released impeccable bodies of work like Strength To Strength with K-Trap, which pulsates through car speakers with vivacity, and GANG where he seamlessly collaborated with house-laden producers and artists like FKA Twigs and Sampha.
If you don’t know him from his raps, you probably know him as the actor who plays Sully on “Top Boy.” That said, he is one of the most prolific artists to ever exist in UK Hip Hop. Kano’s flow is as elastic as they come due to his ability to craft rhymes in danceable as well as boom bap pockets. It’s safe to say he is to British rap what Big Daddy Kane is to NY rap. He has as much slick charisma as he does definitive skill.
14. Che Lingo
This South London rapper navigates a plethora of styles. You could hear him spitting on a triumphant banger on one track and a sleek Afrobeat ballad with lyrical sneakiness on the very next track. On a slap like “My Block,” he looks back on his upbringing with enthusiasm mixed with restraint. As a self-proclaimed anime fanatic, the rapper fuses his music at times with worlds of animated wonder.
15. J Hus
J Hus is both an accomplished rapper as well as co-genre creator as he is credited with being a part of what made the genre Afroswing. The sound fuses Hip Hop and grime with dancehall and Afrobeats. He is a man made of rhythm. Hus somehow makes something totally inventive and contemporary also feel classic. This is partially due to the maturity in his tone even when his lyricism remains full of youthful exuberance.
16. Pa Salieu
Though incarceration has unfortunately delayed some of his true potential, Salieu is one of the most promising and prolific rappers in the UK. His intensity and rhetoric cuts through beats like a knife. Listening to a song like “My Family” without making a stank face seems impossible. His debut album, Send Them To Coventry has a stunning blend of darkness and buoyancy. He’s also delivered some impeccable features, none better than “blessing me” by Mura Masa and “Glidin’” by slowthai.
Previously known as Chipmunk, this Tottenham-bred rapper has a career that is one for the record books. In the game since the 2000s, Chip has always dabbled between a pop and a street sound. When he’s linked with fellow rappers like Skepta and Young Adz, he’s had decisive and slick flows, but when collaborating with the likes of Ella Mai and Chris Brown, Chip is part rapper and part crooner.
While he is a mainstream leaning rapper with hits galore, Chip is not one to be played with when it comes to beef on wax. He has held his own in rap back and forths with Tinie Tempah, Bugzy Malone, Yungen and even rap legend Stormzy.
As a member of the legendary grime collective The Movement, this emcee got his start aligned with Devlin, Wretch 32, Scorcher, Mercston, Lightning and DJ Unique. That said, he has had the steepest career trajectory of the whole crew since.
Ghetts’ career wins have been quite spaced out over a 15-year span in the game. He has adapted as the UK sound has changed without losing the purity of his core original grime center. From trading grime bars with Kano to going toe to toe with Skepta, it seems like Ghetts will never go out of style.
19. AJ Tracey
One of the most legendary verses ever is by Brixton-born emcee AJ Tracey on his collaborative song with Dave “Thiago Silva.” From the words “AJ from the l-l x Santan/ Man’s got style on the riddim like Gangnam/ Two young bruddas tryna eat off of music/ But we used to eat off of pebs and the sand bags” on, Tracey slides on the beat like a surfer catching a crazy wave in high tide.
He has had a dynamic slew of songs and verses that have continually kept his name relevant. Caught a bit between two eras of grime and drill, Tracey has maneuvered smoothly within both sounds. From the shifty dance move-inducing “Ladbroke Grove” to the track “Bringing It Back” going toe to toe with Digga D, there is no weakness in his arsenal.
20. Potter Payper
The grit in Potter Payper’s voice cannot be duplicated. His life of many difficulties, including a few different jail bids, has resulted in pain-riddled storytelling that you can’t turn your ears off from.
The Essex-bred emcee delivers his best songs when they have a cinematic effect. He consistently elaborates on his decision-making on wax with an angel and devil on his shoulders. This continual struggle and reflection makes him a generational rapper.
21. Digga D
This is UK drill’s golden child. While other superstars in the genre have more universal appeal, Digga D is both expansive and inherently local. His street reverence and distinct Ladbroke Grove aesthetic elevate him above your average spitter in the subgenre.
Digga’s menacing presence is cool with very little effort. The explicitness of his expressions have landed him in trouble with the law and have made him a target of censorship. Yet, his dark compositions have still shown through it all.
22. Dizzee Rascal
Dizzee is one of the quickest spitting emcees to ever live, yet it would be a crime to let that outshine his range. He even forayed into electro pop and earned himself multiple hit singles. That said, when he is on a grime beat, he is at his most pure and enjoyable. His classic album Boy in da Corner should never go unacknowledged. Its success was earth shattering for the genre at the time and could still be considered one of grime’s best albums ever made.
23. Krept & Konan
This duo couldn’t go without acknowledgement. Their prominence from the 2010s to today is reminiscent of prominent US pairs in their golden era as they bounced off of one another lyrically like The Clipse. They brought street prominence to radio-worthy sounds, catapulting them to top tier distinction in UK rap. This makes any Krept & Konan album a journey because you never know exactly where the vibe is going to take you.