This Year, All Bets Are On The Women Of UK Rap 👑

Words: Yemi Abiade

Just a couple of weeks into 2022, the writing is on the wall that this year will be one for the books. Already, we’ve marvelled (and particularly frothed at the mouth) over the potential return of J Hus, the rise of young Liverpool MC HAZEY—who’s reimagined how the streets view German footballer Sami Khedira—and the rebranding of the former Halfcast Podcast after fears it was a wrap.

But perhaps the real joy of the year, so far, has come from Tiffany Calver’s BBC Radio 1Xtra x Abbey Road cypher, a showcase of the current and promising crop of UK rappers who brought their A-game to the dance. Among stars such as BackRoad Gee, Knucks and Jords, immediate praise fell to the feet of the women of the cypher. Over the instrumentals of Headie One and Drake’s “Only You” and Giggs and Dubz’s “Pain Is The Essence”, Trillary Banks, Cristale, ShaSimone and Miss LaFamilia stole the show, bringing an energy and lyrical finesse that impressed artists and fans alike. Cue YouTube comments to the effect of ‘the ladies went crazy!’ and ‘the women bodied the men!’—an accurate account of what went down.

Just like that, as the UK scene continues to write new chapters, it feels like a shift is coming, and it’s heading towards the direction of the women. A new era seems to be among us, in which a group of determined rhymers are putting the scene on notice to their powers in abundance. This country, historically, has been blessed with a legion of women emcees who redefined the confines of rap—from Ms Dynamite’s skippy garage flows meshed with soulful singing, to Nolay’s intensity and Lady Leshurr’s playfulness—spitters who, without their work in shattering the perception of the ‘female MC’, might not have made things like the Abbey Road cypher possible. That foundation feeds into the here and now and rarely has a legion of talent been as evident as the present day, across UK rap, grime and drill.

For clearer assessment of their recent ascent, let’s start with the impact of Little Simz. From her humble origins dropping tracks on SoundCloud, the North Londoner has become transcendent, morphing into a globally recognised star off the strength of her pen, reaching a zenith with the 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Through Simz, we have seen a prototype of success for the ladies without compromise and with full artistic integrity. Following her path are the likes of ENNY, who in her tribute to ‘Peng Black Girls’ introduced us to a nimble, focused lyricist that could go toe to toe with anyone. Add Lex Amor, Lava La Rue, Deyah, John Glacier, BXKS, Dreya Mac, FLOHIO and R.A.E to the mix, and you have a set of rappers with an “alternative” slant who are packed with substance, individualism and measured approaches to their music.

Meanwhile, the likes of Trillary Banks, ShaSimone, Ms Banks, Miss LaFamilia, Shaybo, Tia Carys, Lavida Loca, SB, Cristale and Ivorian Doll have subverted their alluring presentations with serious wordplay and lyrical ability to the point where their bars are just as much a star attraction as the visuals behind them. In a world where women have generally pivoted to a sexual packaging in order to be seen and heard as musicians, these rappers are proving that’s not all they offer. On another patch of the field are Teezandos and FFSYTHO who, in the drill and grime milieus, have been consistent highlights over the last year.

This is a cohort of women who aren’t afraid to pull punches, who bring the white-hot fervour of a cypher to the charts and to the stage. It is no longer ‘being able to stand toe to toe with the men’ as has often been the debate with women—a played-out discussion from the predominantly male gaze that only serves to hinder women due to its framing—they stand alone as epic spitters in their own right, the way it should have always been. While the industry still has a lot to do to accommodate women behind the scenes—Music Business Worldwide reported the average gender pay gap across the three major music labels (Universal, Sony and Warner) was 28.2% in 2021—the proliferation of woman rappers is an encouraging step that will hopefully improve their position in the industry at large.

Still very young, these artists are only getting started and setting the bar incredibly high. It only makes the scene more competitive and greater as an entity, as the Abbey Road cypher effortlessly revealed. How far can they go is up to them, but the scene will be there for the journey.

Posted on January 25, 2022