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Is 2019 the Year of British Hip-Hop?

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Is 2019 the Year of British Hip-Hop?

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“Overwhelmingly powerful…unlike anything released this year.” 

“The kind of record that comes along only rarely.” 

“The best rap record of the year.”  

These are just a few of the many enthusiastic reactions for the two universally acclaimed albums currently atop review aggregator Metacritic’s list of the most well-reviewed projects of 2019. The Rotten Tomatoes-esque site takes every reliable review for each album into account, and the thorough analysis of every critical opinion has reached a consensus: British hip-hop is dominating the year.  

The first and second most-acclaimed albums of the 2019 (per Metacritic, as of April 4) are Dave’s PSYCHODRAMA and Little Simz’ GREY AREA, both hard-hitting British rap records that innovate beyond any American releases this year.  

Most in the U.S., however, remain largely unaware of the burgeoning UK hip-hop scene. The average American probably wouldn’t be able to name a single British rap artist—currently, the most well-known rapper that hails from the UK is 21 Savage, and his English lineage was only revealed after an ICE arrest. The fact that 21 hadn’t originally claimed his British heritage is likely a result of the lack of “street cred” that Britain possesses in the States. Look no further than the memes that circulated after 21 Savage’s arrest; most mock the rapper using well-worn British stereotypes. Simply put, rap buffs in the U.S. generally don’t think Britain is “hip-hop” enough.  

The aforementioned projects atop Metacritic’s aggregate rankings demonstrate just how incorrect this statement is. As many reading this article may be unaware of the masterful projects released by Dave and Little Simz this year, we at The Comet would like to put a spotlight on the two best albums of 2019 (so far).  

Many consider Dave’s PSYCHODRAMA to be the first true UK rap masterpiece, but even this high praise actually may be underrating the album’s true acclaim; in actuality, it’s so good that it may belong with the great American rap albums of the decade. Incredibly, PSYCHODRAMA is currently the most well-reviewed hip-hop album of all time (per Metacritic), and its intricate, autobiographical themes and subject matter are worthy of a classic-caliber project.  

These themes are what sets Dave apart from his contemporaries; framed as a therapy session, Dave touches on a variety of heavy topics, including race (“Black”), depression (“Psycho”), and domestic violence (“Lesley”). “Lesley” in particular is a masterclass in hip-hop storytelling; without spoiling anything, Dave weaves a heartbreaking tale of a woman (the titular Lesley) whose abusive relationships lead to a sorrowful downfall full of twists and turns. Although the track is fictional, Dave’s vivid lyrical imagery infuses a stunning realism into the song’s events and successfully furthers its message of domestic abuse awareness.  

While this 11-minute cut is a clear standout, PSYCHODRAMA is full of autobiographical narratives; from Dave’s brother’s imprisonment on “Drama” to the visceral depiction of his hometown on “Streatham,” Dave pours his heart out to his therapist both literally and figuratively (“to my fans…you’re my drug, the instrumental, my therapist”). On PSYCHODRAMA, Dave manages to perfectly blend beautiful soundscapes (characterized by Dave’s signature piano melodies), powerful messaging, and impeccable wordplay to create possibly British hip-hop’s magnum opus. 

It’s only fitting that Dave’s only current competition for 2019’s album of the year is another Brit—female M.C. Little Simz is #2 on Metacritic’s list, but many argue that her project (GREY AREA) is even more powerful than PSYCHODRAMA. Although many haven’t heard of her, her co-signs from legends such as Kendrick Lamar (“she might be the illest doing it right now”) and Lauryn Hill demand immediate respect, and GREY AREA unquestionably proves that she is worthy of all of her praise.  

Simz wastes no time demonstrating her lyrical abilities on the concise 35-minute project; she comes right out of the gate delivering unapologetically braggadocious, feminist bars on tracks “Offence” and “Boss” and never diverges from her awe-inspiring pace. This is most evident on the opening verse of “Venom”, which is perhaps the best verse of the album. Everything about this track is absolutely brilliant, a ridiculous barrage of lyrical gems and insane flow that showcases Simz’ unbelievable rapping ability.  

Simz isn’t just a soulless, calculating wordsmith à la Pusha T, however. The four-track sequence of “Pressure,” “Therapy,” “Sherbet Sunset,” and “Flowers” is some of the most emotionally raw and powerful music of the year, as she details failed relationships, insecurities, and the death of one of her closest friends. From its first half, Yeezusesque flexes of confidence to its tragic second act, GREY AREA is a glimpse at a future star in the making. 

Americans tend to be very nationalistic in what they consume—think of all of the people that prefer the U.S. adaptation of The Office to its British original. However, while American hip-hop has had a very shaky start to 2019, Britain is in the middle of a hip-hop renaissance, with Dave and Little Simz as its Da Vinci and Michelangelo. So give England a chance; 21 Savage isn’t the only British rapper worth your time. 

Jakob Decker, Staff

You just read my bio

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Is 2019 the Year of British Hip-Hop?