Over the past few months, a bunch of Noisey staff, journalists, artists and friends of Noisey who know their music have sat together to bash out a list of the greatest UK MC talent of all time. We're sharing the results of those chats in a top 30 countdown this week, running through the pioneers, grafters and the odd enigma who've pushed the limits of British skills on the mic. We're not just commending great MCs in the traditional sense – lyrical flow, wordplay, freestyle skills – but bigging up those who've created a legacy, stamped in a cultural mark or paved the way for the new breed.
Of the names on this list, you'd do well to find another British MC who avoids expectation as deftly as Jamie Adenuga. As a founding member of BBK he's got a controlling stake in the single most important label and crew in grime. And as such, while his older brother might make more headlines while his sister beams her radio show out around the world, his significance as the genre's most acerbic and innovative player should not be underestimated.
Coming through on pirate radio, where he performed nearly every week at its heady peak, his gift as an MC is a fierce blend of wit and provocation. From shooting for fake Gs on "Punch in the Face" to taking down industry wankers on "Integrity," his bars are as searing as they are laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Outside of his music, he pulls off the rare trick of cultivating a public-facing persona without indulging celebrity. Put it this way: we all know that JME is vegan, that he loves Pokemon, and that he didn't enjoy Jurassic World, yet paradoxically interviews with the man are rarer than Shining Mewtwos. This contradiction speaks of someone wholly in control of their own narrative and destiny. Uninterested in playing the games of PRs, magazines and labels, he reigns supreme over his unique personal brand, using Twitter to vocalise his hot takes on e-cigarettes, and snag rare Pokemon swaps. Treating them mean to keep them keen works wonders when you've got the bars to match.
When Kano hopped on Fire in the Booth last year he spat flames until Charlie Sloth turned purple in the face, smashing the explosion sample with the ferocity of a clerk hitting the panic button during a robbery. Over eight minutes of unfiltered, dynamic freestyling in countless different flows done in one take, Kano is the Muhammad Ali of the mic – ducking and punching, staking out his territory in as respectful a manner as possible while categorically bodying the competition.
Cutting his teeth in NASTY Crew – forging grime's rebellious foundations alongside Ruff Sqwad and Pay As You Go Cartel by freestyling over garage beats – Kano has gone on work to with everyone from Craig David to Damon Albarn, Kate Nash to Vybz Kartel. In all instances Kano's strived for the unconventional from the very beginning – adamant on doing his thing, not veering into pop when the mainstream pricked up its ears in the early 00s, and operating beyond the one-liners that tend to occupy grime's biggest hits (not that he isn't perfectly capable of knocking those out of the park too, like Babe Ruth in Adidas sliders). His bars ricochet from the personal to the political to the straight-up cheeky, but even the more unabashed hype tracks like "New Banger" are laced with vivid poetry. His rhymes and rhythms are unrelenting, and his razor-sharp, tenacious flow has consistently redefined the parameters of what it means to be an MC.
Even after a foray into acting and a six-year break from music, Kano's 2016 comeback Made In the Manor came loaded with expectation but nothing to prove. If he matched London Town, that would've been one thing, but Kano created a whole new level for himself and punched through it with the energy of a man consistently going into a battle he's long since won.