9 UK artists who are changing the sound of rap

There’s a fresh wave of alternative artists creating new styles, with Britain’s grassroots hip-hop scene brimming with mavericks and eccentrics.

Taken from the new print issue of THE FACE. Get your copy here.

Think all UK rappers sound the same? Listen closer. The DIY radio show Victory Lap has revived the grime cypher format for a new generation of chillers and skaters. In London, Black nightlife collectives are putting alternative hits on the dancefloor. And in Manchester, rappers are pairing poetry with the dark, haunting sonics of the local experimental scene. To celebrate the variety that the underground has to offer, here are nine rappers finding success on their own terms.


Jawnino wears jacket C.P. COMPANY, hoodie and hat (worn underneath) talent's own and glasses LOUIS VUITTON

I’m comfortable being a bit of an outsider,” Jawnino says with a grin, baring his jewelled grill. You can see things from a different perspective.” Since 2019, the MC from East Putney, South London, has been unleashing his oddball energy in cyphers broadcast by NTS and Bristol’s Noods Radio. He rolls with the collective Negropop Yakuza, a crew of rowdy misfits who christened their strange style grime 2.0”, a tongue-in-cheek taunt aimed at old-headed purists who have a hard time accepting change.

Over his solo tracks’ synthy neon beats, Jawnino draws inspiration from his illicit adventures: the ecstasy of squat raves playing jungle, the late-night missions to abandoned warehouses, the drug-facilitated koans on the way home from a lounge party somewhere in Paris.

After reading a behavioural science book while travelling Europe, Jawnino developed something he calls The 40 Theory”. The book claimed our brains perceive millions of bits of information a second, but our conscious minds can only receive 40 bits of information per second. Therefore, Jawnino has concluded, we all have our [own] reality”.

Hence the title of this forthcoming EP 40, which will be released via respected New York label True Panther Sounds. There’s everything in it: rap, grime, drum n’ bass, dance, some drill,” he says. It’s not just my 40, it’s a culmination of the people I met, sharing their 40 with me.” Still confused? Just take the pill and open your eyes. EH


AntsLive wears top and trousers FERRAGAMO, bracelet BUNNEY and rings talent's own

A vested heartthrob riding horseback in the Italian Alps. A suitor strapped onto a plane soaring through the blue skies. To the world watching on their TikTok screens, he’s AntsLive, a superhero primed to be the Number One Candidate. Handsome and shrewd, he has a million-dollar smile to match.

The scenes described above, from last year’s video for his speaker-blasting single Number One Candidate, set the gold standard for the 24-year-old’s slick and surreal visual output. For his Ooh La La video, Ants and his grandfather” venture on a picturesque double date in Paris. In the recent clip for Cutlery, Ants is filmed, on grainy CCTV footage, spitting in a barbershop, down the pub and outside Buckingham Palace.

I’m really just being myself,” he says. Living through my music. No one can do that for me.”

For 2024, Ants has even bolder cinematic ambitions. I’m gonna take the vision further,” the suave rapper declares. Less than a year since breaking through with Number One Candidate, the North Londoner already earned two MOBO nominations, for Best Newcomer and Best Video of the Year. Better believe he’s ready for the red carpet. EH

Chy Cartier

Chy wears coat BOTTEGA VENETA and rings SHAWN LEANE and MI MANERA

With pressure comes diamonds and, for Chy Cartier, it’s in her name to shine. The first half of the 19-year-old’s name is short for China, her real first name, while Cartier references diamonds from Sierra Leone – a nod to her heritage. The jewellery theme shone bright in the North Londoner’s breakout single, last year’s Bossed Up: it became unofficially known by fans as Van Cleef after a snippet of Chy repping the luxury jewellery brand went viral on TikTok before she’d even dropped the song.

When Bossed Up was officially released at the end of 2023, Chy had the likes of Cench, Simz and Unknown T co-signing her in the comments, while FACE cover star Young Adz personally requested that DJ Target play it on his 1Xtra show.

On her previous freestyles in 2022, Chy had massacred drill beats while ballied-up. With her face now revealed, she raps about her come up, and how she’s graduated from canned beef to lavish 12 oz. surf and turfs – a novice to a self-proclaimed starlet. I made my first song at 14 and I knew, deep down, it was meant to be,” she says. I want to be a household name.”

But it’s a diverse array of vocal deliveries that really make Chy Cartier a breath of fresh air in the UK scene. On Bossed Up, you’ll hear skippy, grime‑y acrobatics within her vicious drill bark fitting into the many pockets of the dynamic, piano-led beat. I wanted to show people in my generation that, despite the cards you’re dealt in life, you can push through and follow your heart.” EH

Brian Nasty

Brian wears jacket FINLAY WEST, tops MIU MIU, trousers LOEWE and jewellery talent's own

Brian Nasty doesn’t just rap. The 25-year-old sings, plays keys, drums, paints, draws, skates, models and plays chess. Raised in Enfield, North London, at school he was one of those kids who got in with every crowd. So as an artist, he never wanted to be pigeonholed in one genre or scene. His 2023 EP Growing Pains, for example, was a breezy blend of hip-hop, highlife, neo-soul and indie-pop. I can chill with the rappers, because they’re all my friends. And I can chill with all the indie dudes and the pop girlies – they’re all my friends, too,” he says. The Nasty part of his name is, clearly, a joke.

Like a lot of alternative musicians of his generation, Brian was an Odd Future nerd. I saw myself in them,” he remembers of the LA collective, who defied rap clichés and kicked down doors in the music industry in the early 2010s. “[They were] skaters, alternative Black kids. They definitely influenced me, because of the colourful, bright vibrancy of it all, and the doing-it-with-your-friends aspect of it.” Fast forward to the 2020s and Brian and his friends – some of whom met at an Odd Future show in London – are running Victory Lap.

Brian’s next project will be genreless, leaning into live instrumentation and vulnerable lyricism. People want to see someone like me, from ends, doing what I do, with my perspective. That’s never been on the highest level [in the UK] before. But people are hungry for that.” DR


Jadasea wears jackets, shirt, trousers, tie and shoes GIVENCHY and jewellery HEIDI AGBOWU

Humble and mercurial, Jack D’Cruz, aka Jadasea, is the afro- haired stoners’ poet, chronicling the streets of Peckham over hazy boom-bap beats and strange electronica. He’s part of a transatlantic dream team (and blunt) rotation of street-smart wordsmiths cultivating their community through hip-hop. In London, Jada counts King Krule and John Glacier as close collaborators. In the US, he’s hooked up with Earl Sweatshirt, Mike and the dentally-impaired Ratking alumni Wiki. It just happens that my friendship group is a global one,” says Jada with a shrug. We all do cool shit.”

Despite carrying himself with the tranquil presence of a monk, the 28-year-old has big ambitions for UK rap. It was 50 years of hip-hop last year, [but] for the UK scene, it’s less than that.

Giggs was one of the first ones to break doors down for us [in Peckham]. We’ve come a long way.” He’s determined that 2024 will be his most prolific year yet – at THE FACE’s shoot he’s a little bleary-eyed, having been cooking in the studio til 5am. I’m tryna flood this year,” he says. I’m not good at much else so it’s either this or it’s a long day.” EH


Len wears jacket, trousers and shoes PRADA

Len was never a party guy until he saw his music go off on the dancefloor. Now the 24-year-old rapper runs his own club night, SSS, which is part of a thriving ecosystem along with London events such as PlayPiem and Must Dance (the surprise guest at the last SSS event at Brixton Jamm? Chy Cartier). This is a perfect time for UK nightlife,” says Len. People are stepping out and it’s a lot of Black people who are creating their own lanes.”

Growing up in Stockwell, southwest London, in the mid-2010s, Len’s local rap heroes were the pioneering drill crews 67 (from nearby Brixton) and Harlem Spartans, whose members went to his secondary school in Kennington. But rather than surfing the drill wave, Len started developing his own distinctive style, which he simply describes as sexy superstar shit”.

On 2023 mixtape Lehgoland, Len breathlessly raps about sex and fashion over high-tempo grime beats, pulsating Jersey club kick drums, glitchy computer-game synths and the occasional throb of amapiano. I want my [music] to make people feel fly. To make you feel like a bad bitch, make you feel like that guy. To make you feel like you can walk into any room, shades on, and just do whatever you want.” DR


TaliaBle wears jacket Y/PROJECT, jacket (worn underneath) CARHARTT WIP and balaclava talent's own

TaliaBle admits that her mind can be a messy place. But the self-proclaimed dysfunctional” rapper finds clarity when she channels her confusion and rage into hip-hop. Being overwhelmed – [that’s] how I write. That’s why I read a lot of surrealist poetry, because it’s chaotic,” says the 24-year-old, citing the influence of French writer André Breton. Walls can be melting, or glass can be feathers.”

The artist from Tottenham, North London, started writing poetry about mental health, social injustice and the Black experience while studying Fashion Communication Promotions at Central Saint Martins, where she also developed her own vivid visual language. Since graduating in 2020, she’s directed videos for Nia Archives, Obongjayar and Cruel Santino. She also took a job at music broadcasting platform Keep Hush, where she’d film countless grime sets, an observer’s role which sparked her desire to get on the mic.

It was there that she met Karl Brinaj, the doorman at Keep Hush’s venue, who’s also a producer with a background in hardcore punk bands. After recognising the moshpit-inducing potential in TaliaBle, Karl helped craft her abrasive sound. It brought out a side in me I didn’t know that I had,” she says of their collaborative relationship. I didn’t start making music as a hardcore punk artist. But I’d say now that I’m definitely a punk rapper.” DR


Renzniro wears jacket STONE ISLAND and ring talent's own

RenzNiro has found who he is in Manchester’s underground scene, collaborating with northern artists such as Space Afrika and Rainy Miller, whose smoke-grey soundscapes push your imagination into the abyss of post-industrial landscapes. His latest album KWE! tells a story of homecoming, as he returns to Ghana, the homeland he left when he was five and replaced with the grey dull skies” of England.

Alongside rapping and creating his own experimental instrumental music, the 23-year-old also makes visual art under his birth name, Papa Nii Akushey Quaye. And through his art and music, RenzNiro is finally starting to feel optimistic about his future. Last year gave me confirmation [that] I’m in the right place and what I’m doing is meant for me.”

His main motivation, though, is to broaden the range of West African diasporic creative expression through his work. I’ve always felt the love, being part of that community. I’m also comfy in my own lane with art,” he says. I don’t think it’s something that can be categorised, to be honest. If you like it, you got great taste. If not, that’s cool – there’s still plenty of time!” EH


BXKS wears jacket OLLY SHINDER, necklace SWAROVSKI and hat talent's own

BXKS is proud of the alternative UK rap scene right now. Not only because of its musical variety, but also because of the drip. I feel like this era, in this part of music that we’re in, we all just happen to dress well,” she says. You’re never gonna see me leave my house and not have a good fit on. Fashion is really important.”

The Luton-raised, Northampton-based rapper arrives at THE FACE shoot dressed in an oversized jacket, jeans and a fitted cap, pointing out that she would fit right in as a grime MC from one of Simon Wheatley’s acclaimed mid-’00s photographs. It’s probably inaccurate to categorise BXKS as a grime artist, though – on recent releases she’s rapped over a house beat and a poignant Radiohead sample. Still, she can flow like one; the art of the grime cypher comes naturally to her.

It was only last year that BXKS first grabbed the mic at a cypher, during a Boiler Room broadcast hosted by Unknown T. She was up straight after grime legend D Double E, and wasn’t the slightest bit intimated. A cypher is war. So as much as I haven’t got war with anyone, that’s how I see it when I go into it. Especially because I’m a woman. I’m not gonna be timid,” BXKS says. I’m also five-foot-two. So I have no choice but to push through, take the mic and go all guns blazing.” DR


HAIR Stefan Jemeel MAKE-UP Sakura Kanaoka MOVEMENT DIRECTOR Joe Grey Adams PRODUCER Katherine Bampton DIGI OP Neil Bennett PHOTOGRAPHER ASSISTANT Yiling Zhao STYLING ASSISTANTS Kit Rimmer, Elliott Bulman and Toma Briot MAKE-UP ASSISTANT Soraya Phipps

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