Giggs’ Fresh Island Set Cemented Him As the UK’s Most Important Rap Export
Name another rapper with so many bangers that span so many years. I'll wait.
All photos by Laurence Howe
If you go to a Croatian island in the middle of July, you expect to see rows of palm trees gently swaying in the breeze, pastel-coloured skies and those fat, off-silver plates piled high with fresh calamari. What you don't expect, on top of that, are hundreds of sweaty teenagers bouncing up and down on the sand, waving gang signs in the air while screaming "BATMAN! DA-NA-NA-NA-NA!" with such volume and enthusiasm they could probably shift the direction of ocean waves.
But that was the scene at this year's Fresh Island—a grime and hip hop festival on Zrce Beach in Novaljia—when Giggs came out to perform at 6pm, just as the sun was beginning to dip behind the ocean. You'd obviously expect this kind of frenetic energy in London—where you can barely walk the streets without "Whippin' Excursion" permeating the air from rolled down car windows, and where "Talkin' Da Hardest" has been Peckham's anthem for nearly a decade. But there was something different about seeing Giggs spit bars to a heaving miasma of people this far from the capital, not all of them Londoners, and seeing them spit those bars right back.
As anyone with even a surface-level knowledge of Giggs will know, his ascent has been far from easy, or even usual. This isn't for lack of talent, effort or output – he's long cemented himself as a master of all three. As Ryan Bassil put it following the release of last year's Landlord, "He is to south London what JAY-Z was to Brooklyn in the 1990s, Kendrick Lamar to LA in the 2010s, Pimp C and UGK to Houston in the 2000s; from the idioms to the cadence, he is a monument of his area – and wider Britain now, as a whole."
But up until relatively recently, watching him perform has been like the world's longest Easter egg hunt. His straight-talking lyrical emphasis on guns and drugs, as well as a brief stint in jail following an arrest for a crime of which he was acquitted has meant the Metropolitan police have historically attempted to slow him down at every turn—look, we even made a doc on the subject. That said, in the long run, it obviously hasn't worked. The fact that people whose first language isn't even English were shouting the line "Giggs better pop up in your thoughts as an artist" while propelling their limbs in the air at this year's Fresh Island felt like testament to that.
All that said, his tumultuous rise to the top isn't even the most interesting facet of his career. Watching him bound across the stage to a gassed-up crowd still sticky with sunscreen residue and delirious from sun, pool party foam and those neon cocktails you get in jugs, what struck me most was realizing just how many stone-cold bangers this man has racked up over the years. Whether it's the deep, menacing bop of 2008's "Look What the Cat Dragged In" or last year's club staple "Lock Doh" or his now-iconic bar on Drake's "KMT," Giggs has delivered the kind of consistent musical output his less underground contemporaries could only dream of. Honestly, name me another UK rapper with just as many hits that span just as many years. I'll wait. The guy is prolific. He is solid.
Once again, this year's Fresh Island line up was crammed with huge hip-hop names, from Rae Sremmurd to Young Thug and French Montana, pulling in crowds from all over the world. But watching a tsunami of people absolutely lose their shit to tracks that Giggs released on physical CD nearly ten years ago, it was clear a lot of the audience had probably flown in specifically to see him in the flesh. It kind of reminded me of what it must have felt like to witness him play Ayia Napa all those years ago. Except back then, Giggs was still finding his feet in a genre that he had yet to truly pioneer. Today, he's the most important rap export the UK has seen. The unequivocal godfather of UK rap.
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