On paper, this year has been so smothered in shit that we should just scrub it from the calendar and pretend it never happened. Saying that, if you focus solely on the music and ignore everything else, it's actually been a stand out. Grime and UK rap emerged triumphant, from Dizzee Rascal's sold out arena show of Boy in Da Corner to Skepta's Mercury Prize win for Konnichiwa – both of which will hang on the gilded golden walls of music history. But while the veterans are finally getting some much-deserved pie and cream, what about the new generation of talent? Who are the names we will be getting misty-eyed about in a decade? Where are the youngers? Enter: New Gen.
New Gen is best described as a movement, and it was first launched in 2015 by XL Recordings' Caroline SM (of GRM Daily fame) with a single purpose: to champion some of the best unsung talent in the UK. Starting life as live music event, New Gen has grown steadily to become more like a way of life for the artists involved. Following the first live show – which featured Bonkaz, Avelino, Renz, TE dness and Clipstar – the movement went online with a resident show on Radar Radio, which also adopted their core principles through bigging up the best, untapped talent.
It was only a matter of time before New Gen needed something that would mark this moment in time, sparking the birth of their first compilation album (check out the first track and video from it, "Ring the Alarm", below). "Aside from Run the Road and Split Mics, this hasn't really been done before, and they were ten years ago," Caroline tells me. But she's quick to point out that it's not all about grime. "When you listen to the album, the sounds are so broad. People are just obsessed with grime, which was great to push us through the door. Now we've had that moment, let's look at what else is going on."
So if it's not genre that ties all the artists together, what is it? "It's not like there were certain artists who were 'New Gen', it's just that there were some whose mentalities' we aligned with and they were the people who were around us," Caroline says. "We're the first group of internet kids to have done something like this. This hasn't happened before in the UK."
Live events have long been a platform for emerging artists and acts to find a name and a following for themselves. However, given the relative ease that comes with creating a live music event, it means that it can be difficult to find one of real quality that will see artists grow. "We tried everything we could to make it separate from what already existed out there and we wanted to put value back into the way people consumed this type of music," Caroline tells me, adding: "With this album, we wanted to snapshot a moment in history." With that in mind, let's go ahead and meet the artists...
Earlier this year, we tried to get Charlie Sloth to name the greatest ever 'Fire In the Booth'. He couldn't decide because it's a borderline impossible task, but he did namecheck Wretch 32 and Avelino's joint effort as containing some of "hardest" verses to bless the booth. It's easy to see why – Avelino's rap style is intricate and rich and unique and he is at least partly responsible for why people won't shut up about Tottenham right now.
As anyone who has seen a Disney film will know, "Abracadabra" is a word used to perform magic, usually to conjure something as if from nowhere. It is also historically believed to have healing powers when inscribed on an amulet. Now, I'm not saying that North London MC Abra Cadabra is a wizard or anything, but his pounding delivery can take a function from "might go when I've finished this one" to "GO OOOOFFFFF!!!" in under fifteen seconds, which is as close as you can get to true magic without Derren Brown explaining it with maths afterwards.
Ray BLK has the kind of silky smooth R&B tones that slide through your headphones and wriggle their way into the depths of your soul. "5050", arguably her biggest track to date, is a slow and soulful ode to Black British girlhood with a captivating video to match. Caroline also hints that Ray BLK will be rapping on the upcoming New Gen album, which means we've probably just glimpsed the outer layers of her talent because she is a clearly musical onion.
Bonkaz name has become synonymous with New Gen ever since his 2015 grime anthem "We Run the Block" coursed through the veins of the UK underground with rowdy bars like "Free up the mandem, beat up the Feds". His recent mixtape, Fuck Fame, sees him spread his wings even wider, revealing himself as one of the most versatile MCs in the game.
Noisey dot com's Paul Gibbins wrote that AJ Tracey "could spit his shopping list and I'd still be bussing gunfingers in the rave." It's hard to disagree with that deduction, but instead of listening to him spit a shopping list, why don't you listen to last year's Alex Moran EP, which includes "Bare Girls (ft. Jammz)" AKA the greatest ever summer banger that grime has ever blessed us with, even though it was released in the depths of winter.
If you've never heard of Te dness, then please drop your things, stop whatever you're doing, and witness the lyrical bonfire that is his sixth mixtape (yes, sixth, he's been around for time) Not Much Longer. This year, he found himself supporting Stormzy, opening for Future and somehow transforming Jamie XX's "Good Times" into an introspective, down-tempo jam.
J Warner has spent the past few months unleashing the kind of soulful, piano-laced R&B jams that will make you want to run yourself a hot bubble bath, get out the scented candles, close your eyes and drift off into dreamy oblivion. He started his career with huge mainstream names like JLS and Tinie Tempah, but long before that, he grew up singing verses in church – and boy you can tell.
"Fuck. It just hit me. We shut down the Tate. Damn, I need to bell my mum", Kojey tweeted last October after his video for "Open Head" premiered at a Tate Britain exhibition centred around the idea of 'power'. When it comes to spoken word performance, very few artists in the UK have a ferocity quite like Kojey. Even fewer are able to produce bold and captivating visuals like you see on "Gallons" or "Footsteps". This guy is one of those real multidisciplinary visionary types that would turn you green with envy if you weren't too busy being deeply impressed.
It's hard to describe Tiggs da Author because his sound is sprinkled in so many different flavours that he defies labels. But if we have to use actual words to explain it, the 25-year-old Tanzanian singer expertly swims his way between pop, soul, reggae, grime and blues, and he's also collaborated with all your faves, from Lady Leshurr to Yungen and Sway.
Oi! What do you get when you mix Chicago Drill, British slang and London road politics? You get Brixton crew 67, made up of rappers Dimzy, Monkey, SJ, ASAP, LD, and Liquez. The group's third mixtape, Let's Lurk, was a snapshot into their deep, murky and eclectic vision and, according to Caroline, "What they created [for the New Gen album] is slightly left of what they're used to making."
I had no idea the world needed a gender-flipped, London version of Rae Sremmurd's "No Type" until Stefflon Don came along and delivered just that. She also channels some serious "Monster" vibes on a Section Boyz' "Lock Arff" rework, released a flip of Rihanna's "Work" with Sneakbo, and lent her Jamaican lilt to Jeremih's mixtape Late Nights: Europe. It's not hyperbolic to say she's kinda like Nicki Minaj, if Minaj had started her life in Birmingham and was well into UK rap.
Caroline cites Renz as being the executive producer on the New Gen album for his "ability to see the bigger picture and find and match the perfect ingredients." Aside from all that wizardry though, he's also just a really sick producer, rapper, singer, general human being, and his track "Bankroll" is best heard sliding out your bedroom window, wrapped in weed smoke, pissing off the neighbours.
WSTRN arrived on the scene in 2015 with their underground slammer "In2", which was so very large their label had to rip down 43 combined YouTube and Soundcloud rips before releasing the track officially. Comprised of cousins Haile and Akelle, as well as Louis Rei, they told Noisey in an interview last year that their name means "anything you want it to mean. As long as it's positive vibrations." Which, handily, is exactly what their polished perpetual summertime anthems bring to anything within a 25-mile radius.
Yxng Bane's debut EP Full Moon blends Afrobeats, rap, trap and R&B together like one of those cocktail mixtures you can buy in a bag, only not gross. Tackling gritty themes with eerie production like East London's own House of Balloons run through a Chris Brown filter, Full Moon is one of the most dark and seductive releases to come out of the UK this year. And yeah, his bars can body you harder than the Batman character he takes his name from.
Dotty's heartfelt delivery and introspective approach to lyricism leans more towards the boom bap sound of rap. He recently appeared on Bonkaz' "Summertime" which has more vibes than a secondary school music room, and he's only just getting started.
Is it rap? Is it R&B? Who the fuck cares, because UK artist A2 transitions so seamlessly between the two that all you'll hear are some very sweet sounding bars. He's released four EPs, he's got a debut album Blue on the way (which he promises will be "the best music I've made") and everything he has ever produced is colder than a slush puppy made by Eskimos in an igloo in the Arctic.
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The New Gen album will be released 25th November on XL Recordings.