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Central Cee performs in Madrid

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5 International Hip-Hop Scenes To Watch Now

Acts around the globe are shifting away from imitating American artists, creating an audible international shift toward sounds that are truer to location. Read on for five countries with distinct hip-hop scenes worth checking out.

GRAMMYs/Dec 12, 2023 - 02:16 pm

Fifty years since the recognized beginning of hip-hop culture in the United States, its beats, rhymes and life have been inspiring artists and doing serious business around the world. These days, though, there’s an audible international shift away from imitating American acts and producing sounds that are truer to location.

"Overall, we’re definitely seeing the decline of the dominance of rap music on a global scale," notes Nima Etminan, COO of Empire. Headquartered in San Francisco, Empire is included among
Billboard’s 2023 International Power Players and has offices in New York, London, South Africa and Nigeria. An experienced A&R executive, Etminan is originally from Germany and frequently works from each base to scout and sign talent.

What
is working, Etminan has noticed, are emergent international styles that may count rap music and hip-hop culture as ingredients or influences. Artists around the globe are breaking new sonic ground, whether it’s Puerto Rico’s Bad Bunny rapping and singing, or the hip-hop appeal of the corridos by Mexico’s Peso Pluma.

"I think that the essence of African American culture when it comes to talking and dressing and stuff is definitely still there, but it’s just less because [America has] less global influence," he says. " Now everybody kind of has their own local scenes that are bigger. So the American stuff still plays into it, but just on a much smaller scale because they have their own heroes and their own superstars who are big that they are looking up to."

With all that in mind, GRAMMY.com asked Etminan and other global music minds to recommend international rap scenes that are worth watching now.

Brazil

In November, Brazilian hip-hop artists made a big impression at the 2023 Latin GRAMMYs. Planet Hemp and Criolo were the first to win the inaugural award for Best Portuguese-Language Urban Performance with their song "Distopia." They were nominated alongside three other Brazilian rap acts worth watching: Luccas Carlos, Dallas and Filipe Ret.

Empire, which is both a record label and distributor, just hired its first employee in Brazil. The company has good reason to watch and invest in this region.

"I think Brazil is one of the fastest rising areas," says Etminan. "I think as far as their own sound and culture that’s really big but hasn’t exploded outside of that yet, and hasn’t had mainstream success yet, it’s probably Brazil."

Read more: A Timeline Of Brazilian Hip-Hop: From The Ruas To The Red Carpet

France

French rap music may not be on the radar of the average American fan, but France is the second largest market in the world for hip-hop — behind only the United States.

"Take a look at the country's Top Spotify lists and it's strongly dominated by domestic artists in the genre who come from Paris, Marseille and from various regions across the country," notes Alexandra Greenberg, the U.S. consultant for CNM (Centre national de la musique), France’s national music office. "The country also has Les Flammes, an international awards show celebrating rap going into its second year this coming April."

Paris-based hip-hop journalist and author Epée Hervé Dingong suggests becoming acquainted with the likes of Ninho, an MC of Congolese descent influenced by American Southern rappers, who recently collaborated with Lil Baby. Dingong also pointed to Booba, who has had three NO. 1 albums and eight other Top 10 releases in France since his 2002 debut.

"Booba is not new," says Dingong, who is working on a book chronicling the history of the hip-hop mixtape, "but he is still the king." 

Nigeria

The world’s embrace of Afrobeats originated with Nigerian artist Fela Kuti, who was likened to be the James Brown of Africa. Current Nigerian superstars who are poised to eclipse that success internationally, like Burna Boy and Olamide, have grown up under the influence of the Kuti family (including Fela’s recording artist sons, Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti) and the allure of American rap.

Ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy introduced a new category of Best African Music Performance, reflecting the continent’s current breakthroughs in the North American music business. And a remix of "Sittin’ on Top of the World" by Burna Boy featuring 21 Savage is one of the nominees for Best Melodic Rap Performance in 2024. Fellow nominees in the category are "Attention" by Doja Cat, "Spin Bout U" from Drake & 21 Savage, "All My Life" by Lil Durk feat. J. Cole, and SZA's "Low."

Though these artists are beloved around the world, the worsening economic climate in Nigeria has made it challenging for them to succeed at home, explains Etminan.

"The inflation in Nigeria was so crazy this year," he says, "and the Nigerian currency lost so much of its value, so a lot of the money these artists were making was devalued at the same time. So that’s stuff that plays into [their ability to work at home and] that’s really tough. And that’s outside of anyone’s control, you know?"

Read more: 2024 GRAMMYs: How The New Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Category Is A Massive Win For The World

South Africa

A&R executives like Etminan are still heavily focused on the talent and potential in South Africa, though the man who was arguably the biggest star in the South African scene with the most international appeal lost his life in 2023. AKA, an MC who was the top-selling South African hip-hop artist of all time, was shot and killed in Durban in February when his career was still on the rise. He was 35.

Presently, South Africa gets the most attention globally for amapiano, which takes influence more from house music and the more local kwaito music from the Nineties, but there is a growing cooperation and
collaboration with the South African rap world. Like most specifically rap scenes, South Africa’s is male-dominated, but a notable exception is Nadia Nakai, an Artist Of The Decade nominee at the South African Hip-Hop Awards and reality star in the Netflix series Young, Famous & African. Nakai and her contemporaries reflect an aspirational lifestyle in their music.

England

"The UK market for a long time was very tough," says Etminan, adding that the market is small, saturated, and generally concentrated around London. "Especially when it comes to hip-hop, a huge percentage of the Black population in the UK is centered around London and once you leave London it’s very white."

Hip-hop with an English accent may not have had as much success catching on internationally as other UK-bred styles like drum & bass and grime have, but a current set of stars are demanding the world’s attention.

"I think Central Cee is probably a perfect example of what can happen," Etminan adds. "Everybody loves Central Cee and I don’t know if part of it is his look — he’s very racially ambiguous, he’s good looking, girls love him. He makes music that obviously has a UK accent and stuff like that, but it’s very adaptable and catchy. I feel like Central Cee is probably the one that I hear played the most from people that just listen to regular American rap music [in England]."

Central Cee won two 2022 MOBO Awards for Best Male Act and Video Of The Year for his song "Doja," which was directed by Cole Bennett, the popular Chicago video director from Lyrical Lemonade. He celebrated his 25th birthday in 2023 with the release of Split Decision, a joint project with Mercury Prize-winning English rapper Dave, also 25 and a still-rising star who appeared on the UK series "Top Boy" (which became a US hit for Netflix). Cee is also bridging countries with collaborations such as "Eurovision," a song and video featuring rappers and producers from France, Spain, Italy and across the United Kingdom. 

Luckily, YouTube offers a free passport to experiencing the creativity from these scenes and artists as well as music from all across the planet. A true benefit of the streaming age is that hip-hop fans of any age who appreciate originality, flow and bumping beats can learn about how an American-bred art form has inspired the world.

6 Highlights From "A GRAMMY Salute To 50 Years Of Hip-Hop": Performances From DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Queen Latifah, Common & More

Usher Collaborator Pheelz Talks New EP
Pheelz

Photo: Williams Peters

interview

Meet Usher Collaborator Pheelz, The Nigerian Producer & Singer Who Wants You To 'Pheelz Good'

After working with Usher on two tracks for his latest album, 'Coming Home,' Lagos' Pheelz is looking inward. His new EP, 'Pheelz Good II' drops May 10 and promises to be an embrace of the artist's unabashed self.

GRAMMYs/May 9, 2024 - 01:15 pm

If you were online during the summer of 2022, chances are you’ve heard Pheelz’s viral hit single "Finesse." The swanky Afro-fusion track (featuring fellow Nigerian artist Bnxn) ushered in a world of crossover success for Pheelz, who began his career as a producer for the likes of Omah Lay, Davido, and Fireboy DML.

Born Phillip Kayode Moses, Pheelz’s religious upbringing in Lagos state contributed to his development as a musician. He manned the choir at his father’s church while actively working on his solo music. Those solo efforts garnered praise from his peers and music executives, culminating in Pheelz's debut EP in 2021. Hear Me Out saw Pheelz fully embrace his talent as a vocalist, songwriter, and producer. 

"I feel important, like I’m just molding clay, and I have control over each decision," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com about creating his own music. 

2022 saw the release of the first two tapes in his Pheelz Good trilogy: Pheelz Good I and Pheelz Good (Triibe Tape), which was almost entirely self-produced. The 29-year-old's consistency has paid off: he produced and sang on Usher’s "Ruin," the lead single from his latest album Coming Home, and also produced the album's title track featuring Burna Boy. But Pheelz isn't only about racking up big-name collaborators; the self-proclaimed African rockstar's forthcoming projects will center on profound vulnerability and interpersonal honesty. First up: Pheelz Good II EP, out May 10, followed by a studio album in late summer.

Both releases will see the multi-hyphenate "being unapologetically myself," Pheelz tells GRAMMY.com. "It will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. And it’s going to be me embracing my "crayge" [crazy rage]...being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me."

Ahead of his new project, Pheelz spoke with GRAMMY.com about his transition from producer artist, designing all his own 3D cover art, his rockstar aesthetic, and what listeners can expect from Pheelz Good II.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What sparked your transition from singing in church to realizing your passion for creating music?

For me, it wasn’t really a transition. I just always loved making music so for me I felt like it was just wherever I go to make music, that’s where I wanna be. I would be in church and I was the choirmaster at some point in my life, so I would write songs for Sunday service as well. And then I would go to school as well and write in school, and people heard me and they would love it. And I would want to do more of that as well. 

A friend of my dad played some of my records for the biggest producers in Nigeria back then and took me on as an intern in his studio. I guess that’s the transition from church music into the industry. My brothers and sisters were in the choir, but that came with the job of being the children of the pastor, I guess. None of them really did music like me; I’m the only one who took music as a career and pursued it.

You made a name for yourself as a producer before ever releasing your music, earning Producer Of The Year at Nigeria’s Headies Awards numerous times. What finally pushed you to get into the booth?

I’ve always wanted to get into the booth. The reason why I actually started producing was to produce beats for songs that I had written. I’ve always been in the booth, but always had something holding me back. Like a kind of subconscious feeling over what my childhood has been. I wasn’t really outspoken as a child growing up, so I wouldn’t want people to really hear me and would shy away from the camera in a sense. I think that stuck with me and held me back. 

But then COVID happened and then I caught COVID and I’m like Oh my god and like that [snaps fingers] What I am doing? Why am I not going full steam? Like why do I have all this amazing awesomeness inside of me and no one gets to it because I’m scared of this or that?

There was this phrase that kept ringing in my head: You have to die empty. You can’t leave this earth with all of this gift that God has given you; you have to make sure you empty yourself. And since then, it’s just been back-to-back, which just gave me the courage.  

How did you react to " Finesse" in former President Barack Obama’s annual summer playlist in 2022?

Bro, I reacted crazy but my dad went bananas. [Laughs.] I was really grateful for that moment, but just watching my dad react like that to that experience was the highlight of that moment for me. He's such a fan of Barack Obama and to see that his son’s music is on the playlist, it just made his whole month. Literally. He still talks about it to this day. 

Experiences like that just make me feel very grateful to be here. Life has really been a movie, just watching a movie and just watching God work and being grateful for everything.

At first he [my dad] [didn’t support my career] because every parent wants their child to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer. But when he saw the hunger [I have], and I was stubborn with [wanting] to do music, he just had to let me do it. And now he’s my number one fan. 

Your latest single, "Go Low" arrived just in time for festival season. What was it like exploring the live elements of your art at SXSW and your headlining show in London at the end of April?

I have always wanted to perform live. I’ve always loved performing; Pheelz on stage is the best Pheelz. Coming from church every Sunday, I would perform, lead prayers and worship, so I’ve always wanted to experience that again.

Having to perform live with my band around the world is incredible man. And I’ll forever raise the flag of amazing Afro live music because there’s a difference, you know? [Laughs.] There are so many elements and so many rhythms and so many grooves

I’ve noticed that much of your recent cover art for your singles and EPs is animated or digitally crafted. What’s the significance, if any, of this stylistic choice?

It still goes back to my childhood because I wasn’t expressive as a child; I wouldn’t really talk or say how I felt. I’d rather write about it, write a song about it, write a poem about it, or draw about it. I’d draw this mask and then put how I’m feeling into that character, so if I was angry, the mask would be raging and just angry.

The angry ones were the best ones, so that stuck with me even after I started coming out of my shell and talking and being expressive; that act of drawing a mask still stuck with me. And then I got into 3D, and I made a 3D version of the mask and I made a 3D character of the mask. So I made that the main character, and then I just started making my lyric videos, again post-COVID, and making them [lyric videos] to the characters and making the actual video mine as well.

In the future, I’m gonna get into fashion with the characters, I’m gonna get into animation and cartoons and video games, but I just wanna take it one step at a time with the music first. So, in all of my lyric videos, you get to experience the characters. There’s a fight [scene] among them in one of the lyric videos called "Ewele"; there is the lover boy in the lyric video for "Stand by You"; there are the bad boys in the lyric video for "Balling." They all have their own different characters so hopefully in the near future, I will get to make a feature film with them and just tell their story [and] build a world with them. I make sure I put extra energy into that, make most of them myself so the imprint of my energy is gonna be on it as well because it’s very important to me.

You and Usher have a lengthy working relationship. You first performed together in 2022 at the Global Citizen Festival, then produced/co-wrote "Coming Home" and "Ruin." Take us through the journey of how you two began collaborating.

It started through a meeting with [Epic Records CEO] L.A. Reid; he was telling me about the album that they were working on for Usher and I’m like, "Get me into the studio and lemme see what I can cook up." And they got me into the studio, [with Warner Records A&R] Marc Byers, and I wrote and produced "Coming Home." I already had "Ruin" a year before that. 

["Ruin"] was inspired by a breakup I just went through. Some of the greatest art comes from pain, I guess. That record was gonna be for my album but after I came home I saw how L.A. Reid and Usher reacted and how they loved it. I told them, "I have this other song, and I think you guys would like it for this album." And I played "Ruin," and the rest was history.

Before your upcoming EP, you’ve worked with Pharrell Williams, Kail Uchis, and the Chainsmokers in the studio. What do you consider when selecting potential collaborators?

To be honest, I did not look for these collabs. It was like life just brought them my way, because for me I’m open to any experience. I’m open to life; I do it the best I can at any moment, you understand? 

Having worked with Pharrell now, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and the Chainsmokers, I’m still shocked at the fact that this is happening. But ultimately, I am grateful for the fact that this is happening. I am proud of myself as well for how far I’ve come. Someone like Timbaland — they are literally the reason why I started producing music; I would literally copy their beats, and try to sound like them growing up. 

[Now] I have them in the same room talking, and we’re teaching and learning, making music and feeding off of each others’ energy. It’s a dream come true, literally.

What's it like working with am electro-pop group like the Chainsmokers? How’d you keep your musical authenticity on "PTSD"?

That experiment ["PTSD"] was actually something I would play with back home. But the crazy thing is, it’s gonna be on the album now, not the EP. I would play it back home, like just trying to get the EDM and Afrohouse world to connect, cause I get in my Albert Einstein bag sometimes and just try and experiment. So when I met the Chainsmokers and like. "Okay, this is an opportunity to actually do it now," and we had a very lengthy conversation. 

We bonded first as friends before we went into the studio. We had an amazing conversation talking about music, [them] talking about pop and electronic music, and me talking about African music. So it was just a bunch of producers geeking out on what they love to do. And then we just talk through how we think the sound would be like really technical terms. Then we get into the studio and just bang it out. Hopefully, we get to make some more music because I think we can create something for the world together.

I’ve noticed you dress a bit eccentrically. Have you always had this aesthetic?

I’ve always dabbled in fashion. Even growing up, I would sketch for my sister and make this little clothing, so like I would kick up my uniform as well, make it baggy, make it flare pants, make it fly. 

I think that stuck with me until now, trying different things with fashion. And now I have like stylists I can talk to and throw ideas off of and create something together. So yeah, I want to get into the fashion space and see what the world has in store for me. 

What can fans expect as you’re putting the finishing touches on your upcoming EP Pheelz Good II and your album?

Pheelz Good II, [will be] a close to the Pheelz Good trilogy of Pheelz Good I, Pheelz Good Triibe Tape and Pheelz Good II. The album is going to be me being unapologetically myself still. But it will also be me being as vulnerable as I can be. 

It’s going to be me embracing my crayge [crazy rage]. Like just embracing me unapologetically and being me, being myself, and allowing my people to gravitate towards me, you get me. But I’m working on some really amazing music that I am so proud of. I’m so proud of the EP and the album.

Mr. Eazi’s Gallery: How The Afrobeats Star Brought His Long-Awaited Album To Life With African Art

Jennifer Lopez and Zendaya pose for a photo together at the 2024 Met Gala
Jennifer Lopez and Zendaya attend The 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

list

2024 Met Gala Red Carpet: Music Icons & Celebrities Charm In The "Garden of Time" Including Bad Bunny, Zendaya, Doja Cat & More

From groundbreaking florals to silhouettes in black and piles of tulle, discover all of the spell-binding looks worn by music icons on the Met Gala red carpet in celebration of "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion."

GRAMMYs/May 6, 2024 - 10:52 pm

This year's Met Gala invited guests to step into the enchanting "Garden of Time" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where fashion meets fantasy. Celebrating the Met's exhibit "Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion," the first Monday in May saw stars transform the red carpet into a vibrant display of sartorial storytelling. The theme showcased a collection too delicate to wear but alive with the stories of fashion's past.

From co-chairs Zendaya and Bad Bunny to Tyla and Jennifer Lopez, see how music icons and film stars embodied this year's theme with spectacular flair. The gala not only highlighted the sensory and emotional richness of fashion but also set the stage for a night of memorable styles — groundbreaking florals, tiered tulle and all. 

Explore the full spectrum of this year's enchanting looks from fashion's grandest night in the showcase below.

Bad Bunny

Bad Bunny at the 2024 Met Gala

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez at the 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Zendaya

Zendaya at the 2024 Met Gala

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Tyla

Tyla at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Glover

Donald Glover at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Stray Kids

K-pop group Stray Kids at the 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah at the 2024 Met Gala

John Shearer/WireImage/Getty Images

Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Christian Cowan and Sam Smith

Christian Cowan and Sam Smith at the 2024 Met Gala

Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Jack Harlow

Jack Harlow at the 2024 Met Gala

Marleen Moise/Getty Images

Teyana Taylor

Teyana Taylor at the 2024 Met Gala

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande at the 2024 Met Gala

Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Rosalía

Rosalia attends the 2024 Met Gala

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Laufey

Laufey at the 2024 Met Gala

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Shakira

Shakira at the 2024 Met Gala

John Shearer/WireImage

Doja Cat

Doja Cat attends the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

FKA Twigs, Stella McCartney, Ed Sheeran & Cara Delevingne

FKA Twigs and Ed Sheeran on the 2024 Met Gala red carpet

John Shearer/WireImage

Lana Del Ray

Lana Del Ray at the 2024 Met Gala

Kevin Mazur/MG24/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Karol G

Karol G at the 2024 Met Gala

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X at the 2024 Met Gala

John Shearer/WireImage

Charli XCX

Charli XCX at the 2024 Met Gala

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Cardi B

Cardi B at the 2024 Met Gala

Gotham/Getty Images

Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa at the 2024 Met Gala

Gotham/Getty Images

Lizzo

Lizzo at the 2024 Met Gala

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Eryka Badu

Eryka Badu at the 2024 Met Gala
Digga D Performs At The Royal Albert Hall
Digga D performs at Royal Albert Hall in London

Photo: Joseph Okpako/WireImage/GettyImages

feature

UK Drill Is An International Sensation. Will It Be Censored To Death?

UK drill is on the cusp of international popularity, quickly becoming the dominant form of drill. But with mounting censorship in its home country, what does the future of the genre look like?

GRAMMYs/Feb 29, 2024 - 07:26 pm

Popular British rapper Digga D was just 18 years old when police first attempted to control his creative output. 

A 2018 criminal behavior order controlled where the artist could go and who he could meet, as well as what he could say in his lyrics. It also meant that within 24 hours of releasing a new song, Digga D had to submit the lyrics to the police – if the court found that his lyrics incited violence or mentioned certain areas of London, he could be found in violation of his parole. 

Digga D is one of the most prominent artists in UK drill — a raw, energetic form of drill with dark instrumentals and tresillo hi-hat patterns popularized by young artists like Central Cee, Digga D, and Unknown T. Originating in the early 2010s and popularizing towards the end of the decade, UK drill is a cultural phenomenon and wildly popular among young people throughout the United Kingdom and beyond.

In many ways, the future looks bright — the biggest UK drill artists are on the cusp of becoming not only huge in their own country but bona fide international stars with recognition from London to Lagos, Brixton to Brooklyn. However, UK authorities have been trying to censor drill artists, with restrictions on their abilities to make and perform music, so what’s the real future for the movement?

From underground to the top of the charts: UK drill's eruption in popularity

UK drill has steadily become one of the more popular genres of music among young people in its namesake country. Popularized on social media and YouTube, UK drill is resonant for the ways it discusses issues such as life on the streets to financial struggles. It's also translating to significant ticket sales and charting hits.

Ticketing marketplace viagogo noted a shift in demand for UK drill artists over the past year, telling GRAMMY.com that when tickets for Digga D’s Royal Albert Hall show went on sale  — he became the youngest rapper ever to headline the famous London venue — his page views on the platform spiked five times higher than average. 

Digga D has over 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify, with his most popular track getting over 110 million streams. His contemporary Central Cee, whose music is a mix of UK drill, trap, and more traditional British rap, has over 26 million monthly listeners on the platform; his track with rapper Dave, "Sprinter", became the longest-reigning rap track in UK chart history with ten weeks at No. 1. It’s amassed over half a billion Spotify streams. 

Since 2022, fans from 50 countries have bought tickets to Central Cee’s shows on viagogo, with most of them coming from Canada and the US. Music Week reported that, per the Official Charts Company, he was the biggest breakthrough artist in the UK for 2021.

Cee featured on a remix of Ed Sheeran’s "Bad Habits," which was engineered by Fumez the Engineer and featured Tion Wayne; the song remained at No. 1 on the UK Singles Chart for eight weeks. 

Fumez has had a huge impact on UK drill, and British rap more generally. The audio engineer helped to launch the rap platform Pressplay Media in 2012 at the age of 18, before moving to Link Up TV and then returning to Pressplay when he began his "Plugged In" freestyle series in 2020. 

Just as grime gradually became more mainstream, UK drill is following a similar path. Collaborations between UK drill artists and huge names in UK rap like Stormzy and Dave have increased its popularity and widespread appeal, as do projects worked on together by UK drill artists and American artists. In 2018, Skengdo x AM released "Pitbulls" with Chicago drill icon Chief Keef, for example, while Brooklyn drill pioneer Pop Smoke worked closely with UK producer 808Melo.

AS UK drill spreads across borders, it's criminalized at home

While UK drill has spread around the world, it originated in the multicultural south London district of Brixton, an area of the city with high levels of deprivation. While it’s influenced by the aesthetics of Chicago drill, UK drill has significant stylistic differences.  

Whereas Chicago drill is heavily influenced by trap, UK drill is in some ways an offshoot of road rap, a British equivalent to gangsta rap. Drill artist Loski’s father is a member of road rap group PDC, and big names in road rap like Giggs and Nines have collaborated with drill artists too. 

However, it has influence from British genres like grime and UK garage too — influential grime MC Jammer even said that, without grime, there wouldn’t be any drill, while drill producer Mazza said that drill and grime have a similar energy and raw feel. Drill’s tempo is similar to that of grime, while the use of 808s and fast-tempo snares is ubiquitous in both genres. 

However, it’s not all success and star-studded collaborations. Although the censorship of UK drill music is similar to the ways grime was criminalized and censored in the 2000s. However, it seems policing of UK drill has gone further.

UK drill faces a battle as it’s being censored by the UK authorities. High-profile politicians such as former Home Secretary Amber Rudd and journalists including Ben Ellery have linked drill to criminal behavior. Project Alpha, a London Metropolitan Police taskforce, was developed to gather intelligence from social media to prevent gang-related crime. Their efforts include monitoring music videos released by drill artists.

Hundreds of drill music videos have been taken down from YouTube as a result, including "Next Up" by CGM featuring Digga D. At the time of its removal in 2018, the song had received over 11 million views.

The same year Digga D was placed under a criminal behavior order, Skengdo and AM were subject to a gang injunction by the police, which prevented them from entering certain areas and from performing music that the police said was inciting violence. In 2019, the duo were both given a suspended jail sentence for breaching the injunction, with the court finding evidence that drill music can, and was, encouraging violence. 

And Digga himself was charged with "being concerned in the supply of cannabis" after police raided his London home this February. The raid was said to have taken place in the early hours of the morning, when the rapper was in the middle of an Instagram Live. 

Fumez describes drill as "freedom of speech and creative art." He tells GRAMMY.com "sometimes more gets said than needed, but everyone has their own story and their own background and their own form of expression."

In November 2021, Fumez’s first-ever headline show in London was canceled 20 minutes before doors opened after police imposed a Section 60 order on the area. The order gives police stop and search powers. 

Meanwhile, rap duo Krept & Konan released a short film called Ban Drill in 2019 and began a petition asking the police to stop criminalizing the genre. Diane Abbott, then of the UK Labour Party, invited Skengdo x AM and Krept & Konan to the Houses of Parliament to address lawmakers about censorship that same year. 

"Britain has a history of vilifying its young people all the way back to the teddy boys back in the ‘50s. So when things have been implemented to try and stop grime, for example, or sound system culture and things like that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, people pivot and find a way around it," explains Dr. Monique Charles, a British cultural socialist, theorist and methodologist and assistant professor at Chapman University in California. 

These circumnavigating measures may include releasing a film (like Krept & Konan), or as Skengdo, AM, and Drillminster did in 2019, teaming up to release a video, "The Media." Drillminster even ran to be mayor of London in 2021. At his Royal Albert Hall performance, Digga D referenced his troubles with the law more than once, and was "detained" onstage.

Fighting back might be as simple as continuing to make music, even if it's just freestyling between friends rather than releasing music online.

"People always need an outlet — a place to blow off steam. People want to come together, they want to be in a space, enjoying music at the same time," Charles adds. 

This sort of censorship isn’t unique to the UK, either. In the United States, advocates including the Recording Academy are addressing the issue of artists’ lyrics being used against them. The Restoring Artistic Protection (RAP) Act was first introduced in 2022 and was reintroduced to Congress last April. At present, it has been enacted in two states: California and Louisiana.

Despite efforts to tamp it down, UK drill dominates internationally 

Many UK drill artists are second or third-generation immigrants from Africa, and UK drill beats often have a structure that’s influenced by African music. Unknown T is of Ugandan and Congolese descent, Headie One and LD are of Ghanaian origin, and Tion Wayne’s parents came from Nigeria. 

"One of the unique things about me as an artist is the intersection of my UK upbringing and my Nigerian heritage, and this is prominent throughout my music," says Dr. Adaku Agwunobi, an academic at the University of Oxford who also has a music career under the name Dr Adaku.

Her music spans a number of genres from Afrobeats to highlife to drill — something she thought would be a "seamless way to highlight the essence of my upbringing and heritage."

Perhaps in part because of its varied influences, UK drill is fast becoming one of the most dominant forms of drill internationally. Dr Adaku explains that she sees fusions of drill growing across the world — particularly in Nigeria, with some Nigerian artists starting to become popular in the UK too. She cites Psycho YP and Odumodublvck from Nigeria, as well as Ghana’s Asakaa Boys and FL EX from Egypt. 

In 2017, actor, comedian and rapper Michael Dapaah (a.k.a. Big Shaq) released "Man’s Not Hot" which sampled a drill instrumental used on 67 featuring Giggs' "Let’s Lurk." It soon became a viral success both in the UK and overseas — whereas UK drill before this was largely a success at home, "Man’s Not Hot" took it worldwide. 

Dapaah says he visited and performed in countries that previously had little awareness of UK rap or drill, and "Man’s Not Hot" became their introduction to the UK scene. The track has almost 300 million streams on Spotify; beyond London, the cities listening to the track the most are in Australia or Belgium. 

Dr. Charles says that UK drill is also on the rise in the U.S. — something that Dapaah has definitely been a factor in. A year after the release of "Man’s Not Hot," Dapaah was making YouTube videos with Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, and Malcolm Lee. 

"I've had a couple of students who were asking me if I knew what various slang terms were. There are some pockets in L.A. and on the East Coast with an interest because our diction, the way we phrase things, and the way we ride over the beat are phenomenal to Americans," she says.

Despite challenges, UK drill is growing — and its male dominance is being confronted

Drill is often associated with young men and hyper-masculinity, but female artists such as Shaybo, TeeZandos, Ivorian Doll, and Abigail Asante are also making their mark on the genre. Asante says that she became a musician "by accident" after writing lyrics over an R&B instrumental and creating the track "The Situation" with Ivorian Doll. The track trended on YouTube and Twitter, and kickstarted their careers. 

"The moment you hear drill you automatically affiliate it with gangs, violence, drugs, and weapons," she says. "I wanted to change that, be unique, and have my own spin on that narrative."

The pair became the first UK drill duo to get over three million views and streams — something Asante credits to their audience being 70 percent female. The group also discusses female empowerment and confidence to "challenge a very male-dominated genre and prove that girls are just as talented."

Asante, however, has said that she’s decided to "hang my boots" with drill, moving onto genres like Afroswing and Afrobeats. "I think drill is wearing out and people are getting bored of it – I’m most definitely bored of drill, it’s too repetitive and being known as a ‘drill rapper’ doesn’t allow my versatility as an artist."

That said, she says that drill beats have a "contagious, unique, upbeat sound that automatically gets people dancing," while it’s also a way for people to express themselves and their personal experiences. 

Fumez admits that he doesn’t think about the future of drill too much, or look too far into the future. He suggests that it might get a new name, and points out similarities between drill, garage, and grime, and says that the international appeal of drill — with even huge stars like Drake getting involved —  "brings longevity."

Dr. Charles believes that UK drill will become the dominant form of drill, though with influence from other scenes, and will continue to grow and expand. New generations of listeners will gravitate to UK drill's DIY ethos and put their own tweaks on it.

"I think one of the reasons why it will continue to grow and continue to expand is because the UK’s major cities are diverse places and because of British history, international connections, people migrating, moving around," she says. "Music travels with people, music migrates with people."

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Singer Tyla with her GRAMMY Award 2024
Tyla with her golden gramophone

Photo: Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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South African Singer Tyla Won The Inaugural Best African Music Performance Category At The 2024 GRAMMYs. What Does It Mean For African Music On The Global Stage?

While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, Tyla’s win reflects how Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent. Is "Water" what African music needs to blossom?

GRAMMYs/Feb 12, 2024 - 10:43 pm

As the first recipient of the inaugural Best African Music Performance GRAMMY Award, South African songstress Tyla has officially etched her name into history. At the 2024 GRAMMYs, the 22-year-old's amapiano-infused Afro pop hit "Water" beat out several long-established names in African music.

While Tyla's success on Music's Biggest Night stresses the Recording Academy's continued efforts to showcase diverse African music, her victory is more of a one-armed hug rather than a full, legs-off-the-ground embrace of African music. 

This is chiefly because "Water" was successful and marketable for its use of Western pop influences. While Afrobeats and amapiano are certainly crossing over in America, bestowing a golden gramophone upon an artist whose work reflects familiar sounds is a curious step forward for African music. Still, Tyla's win may foster a greater embrace of the African sound, and the virality and pervasiveness of "Water" propelled the Johannesburg-born singer/songwriter to unheard of heights. 

"Water" hit No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Afrobeats Songs and Hip-Hop/R&B charts, and became the first African song to enter the Billboard Hot 100 since 1968. The track peaked at No. 7, making Tyla the highest-charting African female solo musician in Billboard history. The "Water" dance challenge on TikTok further pushed the track into the global sphere, and the song has been featured in over 1.5 million videos.

The widespread appeal of "Water" is a culmination of elements, notably a fusion of Western pop with subtler amapiano influences. The song melds sleek American R&B and pop compositions with the log drums and piano trails synonymous with the South African amapiano genre. 

Read more: 10 African GRAMMY Winners Through The Years: From Miriam Makeba To Angélique Kidjo & Burna Boy

Indeed, most musical genres (regardless of continent of origin) draw inspiration from and contribute back to each other. The resulting music transcends regional boundaries and appeals globally — and Tyla's "Water" is proof of this resonance. Yet it also reflects how a major Western influence is often necessary for African music to transcend the continent. 

The Recording Academy's new Category was designed to highlight "strong elements of African cultural significance," said Shawn Thwaites, Recording Academy Awards Project Manager and author of the Category. In describing eligibility for the Best African Music Performance Category, Thwaites noted that songs must feature "a stylistic intention, song structure, lyrical content and/or musical representation found in Africa and the African diaspora." 

Still, when it comes to recognizing lesser known genres — from South Africa's gqom to Tanzania’s singeli and Ghana’s asakaa — the global audience still has a long way to go.

"We need to go deeper and in more detail within different genres of music. We know there are multiple different types of music — hundreds of genres, in fact — coming from Africa and from all 54 countries on the continent," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. told GRAMMY.com after his three trips to the vibrant continent. "I'd love to see us be able to honor even more music from Africa and other areas of the world."

Thwaites hopes that celebrating the diversity of African music will also lead to greater cultural exchange. Eventually, this could lead to "more collaborations between artists of different genres and more artist relations between labels and executives in America," he said. 

But for this progression to happen correctly, there has to be a cultural education about the music within the continent and it's something Ghazi Shami, CEO/Founder of Empire Records, Distribution and Publishing — who consulted with the Recording Academy on the new Category — is looking forward to watching develop. 

"I think we'll see expanded categories in African music in the years to come, but this is a great start toward recognizing the merits and impact of African music," he told GRAMMY.com prior to the ceremony. 

Tyla's GRAMMY win is an exceptional achievement — particularly so for a young African woman. Popular African music has often been skewed towards male artists. At the 2023 GRAMMYs, Tems became the only female solo artist currently living in Nigeria to win a GRAMMY. (Sade, who was born in Nigeria, has won four GRAMMYs but lives in the U.K.)

A similar trend is observed in South Africa, where Miriam Makeba was both Africa's first GRAMMY winner and the country's solo female vocalist to win prior to Tyla. 

Tyla's win is a beacon to other young female performers in Africa — including fellow Category nominee Ayra Starr and singer/songwriter and producer Bloody Civilian — proving that female artists can and will be recognized, regardless of their country of origin. It also demonstrates how the distance between African artists and international prestige has been shortened, thus furthering the likelihood of artistic innovation.

Her win is also notable in a Category stacked with Nigerian artists. Of the five nominated works, "Water" is the only one not created by an artist of Nigerian descent or currently living in Nigeria. (Though South African producer Musa Keys is featured on Davido's nominated "UNAVAILABLE.") Although South Africa has a lengthy history at the GRAMMY Awards, Tyla is proof the world is listening to what her country has to offer. 

While her fellow nominees — Starr, Burna Boy, Davido, ASAKE & Olamide  — and artists such as Wizkid have also shouldered the responsibility for the globalization of popular African music, there is still a long road ahead. 

Tyla’s win holds significant promise for African music as pop music. While "Water" certainly has noticeable South African elements, its Western appeal may partially lay in its use of familiar sounds. For Africa to truly win, the world has to embrace African music for what it is, and not for what it's trying to be. 

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