In 2023, we’ve seen UK hip-hop take over like never before. Dave and Central Cee unequivocally secured the song of the summer with their chart-ruling smash “Sprinter”. Equally as impressive, J Hus’s “Who Told You” was hot on its heels, debuting at number two in the charts, while his latest album, Beautiful and Brutal Yard, reached number one. For years it’s felt as though the UK rap scene has had a chip on its shoulder, endlessly looking for approval from those in the US. Whenever an artist has even a sliver of success outside the UK, the immediate question is, “Are they the one who’s going to break America?” We’ve had it with Skepta, Stormzy, Dave and now Central Cee.
Still, UK rap is in the finest position it’s ever been in, and after years and years of ascension through the musical ranks, it’s finally beginning to get the recognition it deserves. Although the door still hasn’t been completely smashed down, the hinges are looking very weak, and below the surface of the mainstream there’s a new crop of talent ready to take the sound to unprecedented and global heights – and leave that door in their wake.
Len, Fimiguerrero, Coults, BXKS, Cal1sto and PIERRE are all major cogs in a bubbling scene full of hungry, fearless, experimental and unapologetically authentic rising talent. These individuals are becoming impossible to ignore, endearing themselves to thousands of fans in an incredibly short span of time and producing viral hits, and some are beginning to escape the bubble of UK hip-hop that many more established artists just haven’t managed to do. Taking inspiration from the likes of hometown heroes Nines and Lancey Foux (a key figure in furthering the UK alternative scene) and trap trailblazers Future and Young Thug, they are producing sounds drawn from an amalgamation of the artists who have defined a generation.
In recent years we’ve seen the Atlanta trap scene and Florida SoundCloud wave thrive through a sense of community and shared support. And a similar sense of togetherness is on display when it comes to these rising stars. “Man like Coults,” BXKS says as she spots her fellow artist perched on the sofa before their shoot. Len pokes fun at Fimiguerrero on his Instagram story for the dollar-bill-printed shirt he’s dressed in, and following the shoot the latter records a TikTok with PIERRE, showing off an unreleased track. Although this emerging scene is in its infancy, there’s a real feeling that these artists are on the cusp of something special.
Born in Nigeria, Fimiguerrero moved to Greenwich, southeast London, when he was three months old. He started recording music in the midst of his teenage years. “I stole a microphone on my 15th birthday, got some headphones from the ICT room, and that’s how I got started,” he tells HUNGER. Despite now traversing a variety of genres and working with US artists and producers like Dom Corleo and BNYX, the artist has always held a strong affinity for UK music. “I love grime and UK drill. Obviously I love American music, but that’s a lot of what I grew up on,” Fimiguerrero continues. “But I just love music. I am music. You know what I’m saying? I want to embody everything.” His most recent project, IMMIGRANT, has quickly become an underground favourite, cementing Fimiguerrero as one of the leading figures in this new UK movement.
“I don’t think the UK has had anything like this before – it’s like a cult,” he says of the scene. “Even with the clothes too. If you go to me or any of these guy’s shows, you’ll see OSBATT or Bami’s jeans [Angeles] – it’s a universe coming together. People overseas might not get it straightaway, but when they do, it really clicks.”
“I’ve been focusing a lot on working with American artists, even a couple of Japanese artists, because I want to stand out and really push myself to the next level,” says north London native Coults. However, despite having more listeners in the US than in the UK, the rapper still holds a strong appreciation for his home country and the scene he’s such a crucial part of. “Obviously, being from London, I’ve got to represent, but I feel like there’s a low ceiling if you just keep it in the UK,” the 22-year-old says. “But the scene here has such a communal vibe. People aren’t afraid to show love, which I think is a rare quality to have in music.”
As a youngster, Coults would listen to classical music and played the piano and cello, all before he reached the age of ten, laying the foundations for his meticulous ear today. “I like music to be very layered, like in an orchestra you have cellos, violins, double basses, all these layers, and that’s how I like my music to sound. I’m trying to push it so much further and really go international with it all.”
“I just wanna inspire kids where I’m from to be different,” says 21-year-old PIERRE, who was born in Birmingham and moved to London at the age of three. “You don’t have to box yourself in and just make drill – I like that too, obviously, but I love to make different shit. Making it overseas is obviously a goal, but at the end of the day I want to inspire people where I’m from to do something.” The artist, known for his mix of heartfelt lyricism alongside futuristic bangers, grew up on the sounds of LUCKI, Future and Section Boyz (now Smoke Boys), to name a few, birthing the versatile style he’s known for today. Earlier this year he released his Questioning Everything EP, which features a selection of intoxicatingly woozy and honest tracks. “Every single word I’m saying is the truth. If you can relate, or even if you don’t, you’ll feel it, and if you wanna get lit, you’ll feel it as well – that’s how I see my music.”
While PIERRE’s main goal is to provide a source of inspiration for the youth, he admits music has been a key outlet for expressing whatever he’s going through when he touches the mic. “I make music for me, and it’s like therapy,” he reveals. “If I’m feeling down, I’ll make a song about it, or if I’m feeling good, I’ll make a song about that. I make vibes for all different occasions.”
Based in Stockwell, southwest London, the artist Len dropped his biggest project to date in July, the highly anticipated LEHGOLAND, an eclectic yet wonderfully outlandish and intoxicating offering. “I feel like it’s exceeded expectations. It’s very polarising and I’ve seen a lot of love and a lot of hate, but all of that attention is a good thing,” says the 23-year-old, who will embark on a UK tour in October. Take one look at the feature list – which includes Lancey Foux, Unknown T and Cruel Santino – and these huge co-signs will tell you all you need to know about Len’s credentials as an artist. “These are people that are really Goats in their field and in their genres, they’re the first names you think of, so getting them on my tape is crazy,” he says. When quizzed about the UK rap scene’s evolution, Len tells me that the togetherness between artists is a crucial factor for its recent rise. “I feel like it’s all very fun right now. Everyone is trying new things and new sounds, and us all being close friends definitely helps,” he says. “It’s easier to be inspired by people that you’re actually around a lot. There are so many people that make very different kinds of music, and it’s beautiful.”
“I started getting into music around the same time I started smoking weed, and I was just freestyling in my friend’s car and they were like, ‘That’s hard,’” Luton-born BXKS says, reminiscing with a smile. The musician has seen a rapid rise in the underground scene thanks to her slick bars and witty punchlines, intertwining traditional UK styles with intriguing boundary pushing instrumentals. “Over the past few years, I just feel like I’ve grown so much as an artist. I’m open to a lot more sounds and I’m excited to show everyone my new shit,” the rapper says.
Throughout her musical journey, BXKS has experimented with drill, grime and video-game and anime aesthetics, and credits one of the OGs as her biggest inspiration. “I listened to a lot of Skepta growing up, and for a while my main goal was just to get a 16 [a verse containing 16 bars] from him,” she recalls. And while BXKS appreciates the spotlight being shone on the popular UK rap scene, she admits the new wave is inherently more interesting to her. “I don’t think the mainstream is [that diverse], but with the newer guys, I definitely don’t think we’re afraid to get weird and try new things.”
“Young Thug, Kanye West and MF Doom all had a massive influence on me growing up – I was someone who always appreciated the classic hip-hop sound, but liked the new trap sound too,” 18-year-old Cal1sto says. The artist was born in London but spent a stint in Canada between the ages of five and ten, before returning to the UK and starting to make music at just 11 years old. Throughout his discography, the rapper has shone a light on life in the streets in the capital and the hustler lifestyle with visceral detail.
“I’d describe my music as a playful insight into life in London in this day and age and the things that are going on that people might not be aware of,” the artist says. Although Cal1sto is excited to see the leaps and bounds made in UK music, he’s just as keen to see how the other creative avenues of the movement intertwine, playing an important role in its growth. “There are a lot of talented people putting music out there, man, but what excites me the most is the crossover between music, fashion, photography and videography,” he continues. “It’s all tied very closely together and everyone’s pushing boundaries, which is dope, and it’s definitely a really exciting time now for everyone.”