Hip-Hop Across the Pond: A Black British Invasion?

The rise of rap-influenced “grime” music proves that these days Brits prefer their hip-hop home-grown.

Dizzee Rascal, Getty Images
Dizzee Rascal, Getty Images

LONDON—In a country where the combined ethnic population represents a tiny 8 percent, young black music fans have rarely been the focus of popular-music marketing.

But these days, black British DJs, label owners, producers and singer/songwriters are being hailed as the voice of the next generation. In fact, it can be argued that young black Brits are running the show in today’s U.K. music business. Their ticket is the hip-hop sub-genre called grime.

Today, you’ll find Dizzee Rascal, Chipmunk, Tinchy Stryder and other grime acts the center of mainstream-media attention. Like American rap moguls from P. Diddy to Damon Dash to Jay-Z, they are ambitious, believe hard work is the route to success. If the prevailing powers that be can’t or won’t help them up the ladder, they will improvise and make their own way there.

“I want to break the world,” U.K. chart-topper Dizzee told the Mirror newspaper. “I definitely want world domination, and America is just another part of the world.”

It has been a long journey to the center of popular music in the U.K. In the 1970s, black Brits had international stars like folkie and Grammy nominee Joan Armatrading, Grammy-winner Billy Ocean, and reggae’s Eddy Grant. There was another black British eruption in the 1990s with R&B stalwarts like Estelle and trip-hop’s experimental fusion by artists such as Tricky and Massive Attack.