Pa Salieu has been releasing music for around three years, and he broke through as recently as January 2020. But already he’s proven himself to be one of the most compelling artists in contemporary UK music, and he’s scooped up shiny music biz accolades including nominations for a BRIT and Ivor Novello award, and the top spot on this year’s BBC Sound Of… poll.
So in celebration of our digital cover story with the adventurously-minded Coventry rapper, we’ve decided to put together a list of his best tunes so far – from his breakout banger Frontline to the Afrobeats-orientated material on his new Afrikan Rebel EP. Get stuck in.
Dem A Lie
One of Salieu’s earlier releases from 2019, Dem A Lie hits out at false narratives that twist the circumstances of his upbringing to paint him and his peers as villains. “All I see is paigons writin’ paragraphs, We only did it ’cause of circumstance,” he raps over menacing production. Injecting a subtle G‑funk flavour with oscillating synths on the chorus, this track was one of the first to introduce Salieu’s flair for incorporating varied and unexpected influences into his unmistakably UK sound. OP
Buss Bars freestyle
This came out in August 2019 and listening back, it’s striking how much Salieu has refined his craft since. But the brief freestyle still feels significant for how he leans into Coventry’s cultural legacy. Rapping over a Toddla T beat which samples The Specials’ ska hit A Message to You Rudy, Salieu pays tribute to his late friend AP, while Neville Staple, formerly of The Specials – who is AP’s grandfather – makes a cameo in the visuals. DR
Pa Salieu claims he knocked out this hard-hitting banger with producer Jevon in around half an hour. And when it dropped at the beginning of 2020, it took Salieu’s career to the next level, also spurring some debate about whether or not his tone and flow were just a bit too similar to J Hus. But Hus quickly cosigned Pa Salieu on Twitter, and Salieu has expressed his own distinctive identity with every release since. DR
My Family ft. Backroad Gee
Raw and aggressive, this collab with London rapper Backroad Gee holds no punches. Once again, Salieu turns to the upbringing for lyrical inspiration, spitting out “In the Midlands streets with my family” on the hook with combative gusto. Gee’s rugged, roaring delivery pushes the track into even moodier territory, as production from The Fanatix twists and winds behind the pair’s vocals. OP
Informa ft. M1llionz
Pa Salieu is proud of being a West Midlands rapper, so it made perfect sense for him to recruit Birmingham drill artist M1llionz for a feature on his Send Them to Coventry mixtape. Informa’s understated, chilly beat is the ideal set-up for M1llionz’s conversational style and steely-eyed lyricism. This one’s also a great example of Pa Salieu’s gift at writing memorable hooks – an essential skill for artists who need to stand out in the UK’s crowded rap scene. DR
Pa Salieu’s Blackness and African roots are a core part of his identity, so it makes sense that he’d celebrate it through his artistry. B***k does much more than simply express pride in his heritage, though. It’s a firm denouncement of racism in the UK, with wonky West African influences peppering both the production and his vocal delivery. The finishing touch is the sample of his auntie, Gambian folk singer Chuche Njie, who closes the track with music direct from Salieu’s spiritual motherland. OP
Glidin’ ft. slowthai
One of Salieu’s catchiest, most radio-friendly tunes. This bass-heavy banger was produced by LiTek and Whyjay – a duo from Manchester’s NQ collective who are behind a lot of Aitch’s tracks. Salieu and slowthai have intense, off-the-wall chemistry in the video which is reminiscent of Busta Rhymes and Ol’ Dirty Bastard on the Woo-Hah!! remix. DR
Style and Fashion
There’s always been a West African influence on Pa Salieu’s vocal style, but for the most part, it’s been in the context of a UK-centric rap sound. But his new Afrikan Rebel EP sees Pa Salieu fully embrace his heritage with both sound and spirit. This lusty highlight has the percussive heft of a Naira Marley anthem, as well as a powerful rhythmic swing which feels inspired by South African dance genres like gqom and amapiano. DR