What's the one thing you remember from last year's Brit Awards? The talking point that had tweeters thumbing opinions and newspapers churning out copy? It certainly wasn't the non-event of Ed Sheeran winning best album... The undisputed highlight of The Brits 2015 was Kanye taking the stage with enough grime MCs to pack Jammer's basement 40 times over. Social media spent hours raging back and forth over the event; was it amazing to see all of our artists jumping on stage at such an established event, or was it insulting that the only way UK urban talent could get a look-in was when an American guest gave them the nod (but not a single verse on the mic)? The debate became the news story, and was eventually immortalized by both Skepta on the breakdown of "Shutdown" and Stormzy in the opening bars of "Shut Up".
You'd think the 2015 Brits would've taught the organisers a simple lesson: UK street sounds = ratings. But no. Instead, it's time to go through all the debate about urban music's place in the industry for the millionth time, because once again, The Brit Awards—and by proxy, the British Phonographic Industry—have completely parred off the UK urban scene. People get really nervous about accusations of racism (institutional or otherwise), so I'll just lay out the bald facts and let you draw your own conclusions. This year, the nomination list for Best British Male Solo Artist, Best British Female Solo Artist, Best British Group, British Album Of The Year, British Breakthrough Act, British Single Of The Year and British Producer Of The Year fail to feature one single black person. There's literally more black people in the UK who voted for UKIP than there are black people nominated for a Brit.
There's literally more black people in the UK who voted for UKIP than there are black people nominated for a Brit.
Yeah, yeah, it's understandable—because where could they find any urban artists worthy of the nomination? Except, the grime scene spent 2015 producing so many bangers that Stormzy ended the year by slapping an X Factor winner out of the Xmas top 10. Lady Leshurr has had millions of plays on "Queen's Speech 4"—definitely enough for a Breakthrough nomination—and Krept & Konan had the all-time highest-charting UK rap album with The Long Way Home. You don't want to support grime? Well, on the poppier side of things, Tinie Tempah scored two number ones in 2015 with consecutive singles, which is double the amount of number ones One Direction enjoyed last year. And still, Tinie gets nothing.
Then you look at the category for Best British Solo Female, and things get bizarre. Now, I won't front: I love Amy Winehouse, but she's been dead for almost half-a-decade. Whoever put this list together is genuinely more comfortable nominating a dead white person than any living black one. Why stop at Amy? Why not just give the lot to John Lennon and, I dunno, Elgar? Who even makes this madness up? So, once again, it looks like the only way UK urban talent will be represented at The Brits is if an American comes in and sorts it all out. Perhaps if Drake—nominated for Best International Male—shows up to perform, then a UK artist might even get to spit some bars! Imagine that! And should Drake actually win International Male, ideally he'd just hand the damn thing over to Skepta and drop the mic. But, seeing as they're almost definitely gonna give it to Bieber (fair enough tbf), that's pretty much a non-starter.
To be honest, the problem here isn't grime—or UK rap—or UK urban music in general. The problem here lies solely with The Brits. There was once a time when The Brit Awards had genuine reach and power. If they gave a leg up to an artist, it could literally make a career. That power hasn't completely evaporated, but it is dwindling, with viewing figures dropping in 2014 despite live streaming. Half the kids in the UK don't give a shit about The Brits anymore—a fair amount won't have a clue what it is, and the ceremony is giving them less and less reason to change that.
Unless the mad old relics on the judging panels can start to acknowledge the depth, appeal, and longevity of the UK's various urban offshoots, they are forcing their event into irrelevance. Like so many other parts of the UK music industry, they have long been in need of an overhaul, and, ironically, this comes at a time when the British Phonographic Industry are claiming they want to push The Brits brand out more into the world. It's sheer stupidity that in the year global media are more interested in grime than ever before, The Brits have completely ignored it. If they stick to this dead end attitude, it's only a matter of time until the people start ignoring them back.