• Osa Iluobe

UK Rap Is Big Business

Updated: 2 days ago

UK rap has been making its mark for the past few years. How far can it go?

Credits: @Kmeron (Flickr)

In 2011, the UK rapper, Blade Brown (real name Jonathan Wrate), lamented the fact that, despite his lyrical talent and fan base, he wasn’t cashing out from making rap music. Seemingly frustrated, he opened a song by moaning about how he couldn’t rely on rap music to pay the bills. The rapper’s rationale was fairly straightforward. “I’m on the roads same time on the playlist, [because] if it doesn’t make money then it's [rap] aimless.” Despite some early-day frustration, Blade Brown persisted and has since established himself as one of the most respected and recognisable names amongst the new generation of UK rap fans. The former days of struggling to live off a rap career, one would expect, are over for most UK rap stars - The industry is estimated to be worth more than £5 billion as of 2022. The big business of UK rap is set to only get bigger, and so are its participants.

UK rap as a whole is a cultural phenomenon and a success story that has succeeded in spite of early attempts by the British state to, effectively, ban it. In its early days, UK grime was subject to extreme hostility from the police and government amid claims that grime music was inextricably linked to violence. Violence on the dancefloor and violence on the streets was believed to be connected to such music. As a result, censorship followed. Form 696 was a risk assessment conducted by the Metropolitan police that in-effect banned underground artists from performing at live shows. Radio stations, who, at the time were the gatekeepers to mainstream exposure, shunned playing many upcoming UK rappers. A few exceptions existed, but a well-known UK rapper was an exception, rather than the norm. That is no longer the case. UK rap is now mainstream and its biggest rappers are household names in the UK, and some have a strong fan base across the pond also. But, whether UK rap continues its extraordinary rise depends on factors beyond its vast talent pool.

That’s because the music industry is notoriously cut-throat. Music fans are not like football fans, the latter typically have die-hard loyalty to only one club, whereas music fans typically go between having a favourite artist based on the time, and in some cases, the listener’s mood. The rise of songs that go viral on social media will only intensify competition amongst artists, and having a fan base will become increasingly less significant for maintaining popularity, especially amongst younger listeners who are more likely to follow the artist behind the latest TikTok trend.

And then there’s also the perpetual problem of management. Irrespective of whether an artist chooses to sign a record deal, in order to be serious, having good management is essential. The trouble is, like anything good, good management doesn’t come easy. Many UK rappers, signed and independent, have given unfortunate alibis detailing issues with management. The issue is not unique to UK rap. But, as UK rap continues to grow in popularity, expect it to become more common.

Fans, for their part, needn’t worry. Their favourite UK rappers are more aware than ever of their influence and the potential big pay-outs for creating ‘street anthems’. As the industry grows, so will the fan bases that rappers develop, and therein the money, and venue sizes for live shows. The overall quality of music will also continue to improve. In the face of these prospects, UK rappers selling out larger venues will become more commonplace. This should be celebrated.

Having emerged victorious from struggle, UK rap should be hailed. A growing industry value is just a material manifestation of the talent, quality, and challenges that the genre and its sub-genres have battled to overcome. UK rap is big business. We hope this continues.