The evolution of the Black British Sound

The MOBOs awards have come and gone, meaning one thing…Award season has finally kicked off. I feel this is the perfect time to reflect on what I call the ‘Black Sound’. Considering how interesting it is a time for music, we should go back to understand where we’re headed. We have come a long way from our roots.

I’m a 90’s baby, and although I’m knowledgeable more on the 2000’s, I still look back in the archives and appreciate the music that made my era iconic. In order to fully appreciate what was then and how it is now, we should go back a little more.

Black music, I feel, in the UK really came alive in the 80’s. Soul was all the talk. We heralded the artistry of Sade as she carried out her dominance. Her 1984 debut album went to #2 in the UK, won her a BRIT award for Best Album and her subsequent tour was the beginning of her international acclaim. Tim Westwood had cracked mainstream radio and was determined to broadcast the best in ‘urban music’ to the masses. Soul II Soul had massive breakthrough R&B hits “Keep on Movin'” and “Back to Life” in 1989. Considered to have opened the door to the mainstream for black British R&B and Soul artists. They got nominated for Soul Train awards, BRIT awards and even won a couple Grammys.

The 90’s were a strong continuation on the foundation of the 80’s. Omar, Sade and Soul II Soul’s careers really took off. Not only that but Black music within the UK is finally getting mainstream appeal. R&B took centre stage. We could see an array of Black artists being awarded BRIT awards for their quality art including Seal and Gabrielle doing the double in ’94 and ’97. Kanya King had launched the MOBO Awards in 1996 which grew to be the premier music award show which celebrated those who created Black. It shone a light on the up-coming like Shola Ama and recognised the hard work of big names like Beverly Knight.

The turn of the century I feel is where Rap rose in prominence. Hail Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Lethal Bizzle in being some of the frontrunners in the inception of Grime music. The tenacity of the art form attracted the youth, the forgotten and the whole underground. Mainstream media attention followed and the 2002 and 2003 Mercury Prizes for Ms Dynamite and Dizzee Rascal meant people were now standing up. Let’s not forget R&B now. Lemar? Craig David? Estelle? Our artists were cracking the mainstream and making waves in the States. If 22 Brit award and 6 Grammy award nominations are nothing to go by on how greatly R&B had developed, then I don’t know what will.

So here we are, at the end of the sixth year into the decade. British music has taken a move completely against the status quo. The rise of the independents has shown the mass that you don’t need a major label to ‘make noise’. Skepta followed in Dizzee’s footsteps 13 years later in winning a Mercury Prize. Krept & Konan cracked the top 20 charts with the mixtape ‘Young Kingz’ and Stormzy peaked at #8 with his single ‘Shut Up’. All of this was done with no major label backing. Couple this with Grime once again returning to the forefront and subsequently the new style of ‘Trap’ evolving from the underground. The likes of Section Boyz, 67 and Harlem Spartans have truly captured the minds of the youth in an N.W.A-esque fashion. Rap has truly stolen the show.

Now this, this is the sound of Black Britain.

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