Looking at the charts is never a good way of understanding what is going on in music but over the past twelve months the UK top 40 has shown a definite shift in the success of UK grime and rap.
Just last week Skepta became the latest name to crash his way into the charts with the single 'Bad Boy'. He follows the likes of Tinchy Stryder, Chipmunk, Ironik and Wiley in a list of London rappers and MC's achieving mainstream success and acknowledgement. What is intriguing however is the means by which they are crossing over from the underground to the commercial radio stations and television music channels. The key appears to be in sampling a well known song and using it as a hook in your own. Practically everyone is doing it from the top to the bottom and it's paying dividends as more and more names go from cult to household status.
Sample culture in hip-hop is nothing new however when you consider that everyone from N-Dubz to Dizzee Rascal have had huge hits backed up by well known samples you begin to suspect that a formula has been found and is now being exploited. What is confusing is that none of these samples are from interesting, credible or even untapped sources. No, we're talking about Elton John, Underworld and even the Andrew Oldham Orchestra blasting out of teenagers mobile phones here. Take the aforementioned Skepta and 'Bad Boy'. Using the hook from 'Born Slippy' it tells the tale of how Skepta is a bad boyfriend, regularly failing to compliment his girlfriend. The official video has been viewed over a million times on YouTube and entered the charts at number twenty five despite a lack of radio play or national advertising.
The success of artists like Skepta and N-Dubz makes for a refreshing change from the processed and packaged acts they share chart space with but you have to wonder why someone young in 2010 wants to sample INXS like Professor Green has done on 'I Need You Tonight' or Elton John's 'Tiny Dancer' as featured on last year's number one smash from Chipmunk and DJ Ironik. Perhaps it makes a single stand out on a radio play list and it almost certainly appeals to major label bosses looking to smooth the edges of grime for mass consumption but it feels like originality is being lost in the process. Even Dizzee Rascal, a man who needs no tricks to have a hit, is guilty, using 90's rave anthem 'Dirty Cash' on his single, err.. 'Dirtee Cash'.
There are parallels in America too, only instead of decade old trance and Mum friendly names from the eighties it's names like Vampire Weekend and Santigold being used to great effect. Drake, a Lil' Wayne protoge and former actor, rose to prominence by releasing a mixtape including him rapping over Lykke Li's 'Little Bit' whilst Kid Cudi recently added his own verses to Vampire Weekends 'Ottoman'. This could well be a move to appeal to blog reading, alternative music fans but it certainly seems better than Tinchy Stryder sampling Olive's 'You're Not Alone'. Moreover, US stars have recently had big British success using samples of alternative acts via Chiddy Bangs 'Opposite Of Adults' (sample= MGMT 'Kids') and Jason Derulo who took Imogen Heap's 2005 track 'Hide and Seek' and turned it into a smooth R'n'B hit. These two examples show that you don't need to wait until Magic FM have played something before you can use it.
There is hope however. Tinie Tempah, himself a recent chart topper, uses an M.I.A vocal hook on his track 'I'm Hot' – a highlight from his 2009 mixtape. Hopefully more will follow his lead or even better, start creating things of their own. Until then all we can do is watch on at what is dredged up from the riverbed of the past.
Friday, April 2
. Friday, April 2