Why YouTube Music Could Be A Good Thing For UK Rap

Words: Aaron Bishop

As YouTube takes its place in the streaming war alongside Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more, the responses towards this new development have been mixed at best. In regards to the underground music scene here in England, it presents an opportunity for more music to reach those coveted chart positions which have the potential to shed more light on up-and-coming artists, while also providing a platform for more established names to crossover into mainstream territory. As of July 6, the UK Singles Chart will now officially count video plays towards artists’ streaming figures. Specifically, 100 streams through a subscription service (i.e. paid/premium accounts like YouTube Music) will count as one sale, while 600 “free” streams will equate to one sale. While musicians like Ed Sheeran and Jess Glynne’s places at the top of the food chain is unlikely to be threatened, these changes will allow more musicians deeper underground to infiltrate the charts as their music is largely consumed via YouTube.

Without a doubt, the UK rap scene is in the best place it’s ever been, with YouTube playing a pivotal role in its development up until this point. Due to restrictions such as Form 696 (a pedantic and overscrupulous document that made it difficult for artists of colour to perform at nightclubs), artists had to find ways outside of the live arena to make a name for themselves and reach their audiences. YouTube provided an avenue to do just that, allowing a direct pathway between rappers and their fans at the simple click of a button. Through this, the scene has developed and grown through well-loved channels and has produced a plethora of acts over the years that may not have got the shine or the opportunities they have now, if it not for the ease of use and scope that YouTube has.

But while the introduction of video plays to the UK charts is undoubtedly a good thing, there a still things that need to be done to improve the service offered. Similarly to the Form 696-restricted artists, the Metropolitan Police have more recently been asking YouTube to take down a number of videos from UK drill artists, in response to the number of murders of and by young people in London this year. While the cause of this is up for debate, musically at least, YouTube originally served as a platform for people to voice their views and reach a wider audience, and whether you like the music or not, censorship doesn’t solve the problem. Grime was painted with a similar brush in its early days but is now one of the most celebrated genres in British music, so instead of trying to drown out these voices, YouTube should return to its roots, ignore outside influences and be the innovative hub where people can go to be heard.

In recent years, we’ve seen an influx of artists breaking through off the back of one hit, and while some have gone on to become real gems, others have come and gone, or have not been prepared for the scrutiny and attention that comes from having your whole life changed from a single song. What has also started to happen is people are seeing the success of others and copying their sound or blueprint, rather than bringing something new or different to the table. Instead of working hard over time, gaining a fanbase and growing into the spotlight, they would rather chase what they perceive to be quick success with no long-term plan of what they’re going to do once they get into those positions.

This is where a sense of quality control is needed by the perceived gatekeepers of the scene. Looking across the pond to America, it’s normal for new acts to spring up from nowhere with a hit song, especially in this internet age, but it’s important to remember that America is bigger than the UK, meaning that those songs have a lot more competition to be heard by the masses, than songs over here do. Not to mention the rap scene Stateside is already established with over 40 years of history behind it, while ours is still relatively young. Having a catchy single may be good for the moment but when those trends and musical fads fade away, we’re left with rappers who are unable to live up to the hype or expectation, as the scene becomes more and more diluted with mediocrity and people doing variations on what’s already been done.

YouTube’s entrance into the streaming game allows for an opportunity to further build on the work that’s already been put in thus far, and provides greater chances to those deserving of them to change their lives. To do this though calls for major tastemakers to use their power and platforms to push these artists and to conduct some quality control in terms of the music that is being pushed out. That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for catchy songs, or songs in a particular/similar style, because otherwise we may not have discovered the brilliance that is Not3s or songs that go off in clubs like “Jumanji” or “Lyca”. But YouTube Music is an opportunity to enrich the state of the scene, and to uplift those that are helping it to move forward. We have the artists—with the likes of Mist, Loski, Headie One and more having already released top-tier projects this year—but now it’s time to take things to another level, and the introduction of YouTube Music may just be the catalyst to facilitate that growth.

Posted on July 13, 2018