Why Did The UK Stop Paying Attention To Bristol Urban Music?


In response to our recent documentary on rising stars in the Bristol hip hop scene, Leo Jay Shire wonders when the rest of the country stopped looking to us for cutting edge urban music. And why?

So why does it seem like the only UK rappers on the radio are from London?

Bristol has a long, rich history of creating and influencing the urban music scene. So why does it seem like the only UK rappers on the radio are from London? Why am I still waiting for a hip hop artist from Bristol to sit comfortably next to George Ezra in the UK Top 40? It’s not like the Bristol urban music scene has died down. But outside of the city itself, they don’t get a whole lot of mainstream love.

Let’s go back in time. In the 1990s, when The Galleries were still Bristol’s main shopping centre and Banksy was just beginning to carve a path as the most profitable graffiti artist of all time, Bristol was bubbling with talented young musicians. Portishead, Massive Attack, Tricky, Roni Size, and more, these artists made music that sounded like the city. Trip hop, made iconic by it’s slow, laid back beats, captured the nation with the Bristol sound and put Bristol on the map as a hub of shaping the culture of British music.

Trip hop, made iconic by it’s slow, laid back beats, captured the nation…

Now, two decades on, these artists are still the big names of the Bristol urban music scene. The production of music in Bristol didn’t simply halt at the start of the millennium. Musicians in Bristol are still out there doing their grind, making music. And the music is good. But it isn’t getting the same widespread recognition as the underground Bristol sound was receiving in the 90s

Perhaps it doesn’t help that the likes of Portishead and Massive Attack haven’t dated. Their music is still loved, still played, and still sounds relevant. It still captures the feel of Bristol. Although this is testament to the power Bristol has to leave a cultural impact, their legacy leaves little space for emerging Bristol artists. Trip hop existed within a specific space and time, and it’s not as though musicians in Bristol have spent the last twenty 20 years trying to recreate that sound. Bristol urban music has reacted to its changing environments, a changing world, and with it has created new sounds.

Bristol rules when it comes to the electronic.

Bristol rules when it comes to the electronic. We’ve got successful drum’n’bass producers such as Interface and TC all the way to house legends like Julio Bashmore and guys such as Redlight who like to mix it up. And let’s not forget the South West dubstep producers who helped carry the genre on their backs like Joker and Pinch. Sure, this was a genre that was born in Croydon but it grew in Bristol. Mary Anne Hobbs even dedicated a show to this ‘new Bristol sound’ back in 2008, an attempt to get the mainstream to notice that Bristol is still relevant. Except the success that these artists get doesn’t ever seem tied to Bristol, to being from a certain place in a certain moment, in the same way it was in the 90s.    back in 2008

‘I don’t really know why many [Bristol] artists seem to be ignored and pushed away by the music industry. It annoys me,’ says Finlay Malone, director of the documentary ‘Perceptions of Hip Hop: Is It A Negative Artform?’. In it, he interviews Bristol-based artists Stay Hungry. Their music is a fresh, upbeat, excitable sound, nothing like trip hop. ‘Hip hop is also a lot about the future and progression, so we felt that Stay Hungry were perfect as they still have a bright future.’

But the Bristol rap scene seems to go ignored the most…

But the Bristol rap scene seems to go ignored the most. It’s tough for UK rappers as it is, having to compete with the influx of America hip hop, and outside of London it’s virtually impossible to get the mainstream to listen. Buggsy, one of Bristol’s finest, has collaborated with some of the daddies of UK hip hop, Jehst and Farma G, yet even he doesn’t have the same widespread fanbase of rappers in London.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why that is. Perhaps it’s because Bristol urban artists are living in the shadow of South West singer-songwriters such as George Ezra and Gabrielle Aplin. Perhaps they lack the arrogance to pull on the ears of the UK and demand that it listens. Or perhaps they’re just not that fussed about whether the rest of the UK knows they’re from Bristol or not. The lack of interest from local media might be part of the problem too. ‘If more docs or shows were made about bristol and its up and coming hip hop artists,’ Malone says. ‘More of the artists would get recognised and potentially signed.’

It’s time. It’s time for Bristol’s urban music revolution.

Stay Hungry’s rapper Teez is currently signed to Temple Records, a Bristol-based label focused on young artists. It celebrated its first birthday this year and its artists, though young, are talented. They embody a fresh-faced ambition and are determined to go far. (Stay Hungry’s name being a demonstration of that within itself.) Another group signed to Temple Records is Phresh Boiiz. They’re a rap collective that have the potential to rival rap collectives such as A$AP MOB or Odd Future. Their style is current, they’ve got West Country lilts to their lyrics, and most importantly: they make you want to dance. Their new song, ‘Stand Up’ has a chorus that repeats ‘Stand up, stand up, let’s start a revolution’ like a call to arms. It’s infectious, and it’s fitting.

It’s time. It’s time for Bristol’s urban music revolution. Bristol musicians have never stopped being creators and influencers in the underground music scenes, have never stopped making quality music, and have always had listeners who love them. Now it’s about time they, and the city, got some credit for it.

What’s your favourite Bristol music moment? Did the UK stop caring about what’s happening in the Bristol urban music scene? Do we care whether they care? Do they care whether we care whether they care? Who’s hot right now? Let us know: @rifemag

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