There are lots of fantastic things about being part of music scene that exists on the margins. The sense of belonging to "one big family"; the chance to get up close, personal and probably smashed with your favourite artists; the overwhelming smugness you feel when your mate asks you what's playing on your stereo and it's some obscure 12" you ordered from Japan (yes, we're all dicks). That said, isolation is not always the best incubator for high art. UK hip-hop, probably the most maligned of the "urban" genres, provides us with a stark example.
With its lack of external criticism, some artists have been able to get away with all sorts of patently unacceptable stuff: skeletal musicianship, questionable politics, and an inexplicable over-reliance on cock jokes. Despite a roster of breakout artists grafting hard against the trend, this rock-bed of sub-par spitting seems to have kept the scene in a state of indefinite adolescence—at least, until now. In the last few years, UK hip-hop has undergone somewhat of a transformation. Those rappers who were responsible for reinvigorating the scene in the noughties have shed their pubescent acne, come down off their benders, and started questioning their culture.
Elsewhere, numerous young artists—raised on a diet of Odd Future-born nihilism and the glorious resurgence of grime—are dismantling the stubborn boundaries between urban genres, and redefining what it means to be a UK MC. Basically, it's all got a lot less embarrassing for everyone. If you like your bangers served with substance, here are ten tracks that demonstrate how far the scene has come of late.