Another twelve months has passed and, with it, another incredible year for UK music is at an end. A year in which the new generation made themselves known, and the veterans showed they still had gas in their respective tanks. Needless to say, everybody came to play in 2017, with blockbuster singles and albums darting left, right and centre. Especially from the artists of tomorrow. As last year's list shows, new artists paved the way for themselves in big ways, and this year promises more of the same. We always strive for balance with our selections, incorporating emcees who have been toiling in the underground for the longest, and those who have appeared from out of the blue, across grime, UK rap, and its various strains. All of these artists have got the keys to stardom, and will only make the UK's music scene that much stronger for their presence. Scroll down to check out our hot tips for 2018.
Representing the East Midlands city of Leicester, Trillary Banks is the only female voice in rap (of note) to rise up from her ends. Famed for her strong but effortlessly sultry style and flow, Banks' sound is a tightly-woven mix of Caribbean influences with UK hood colloquialisms, which makes for an interesting listen. Formerly known as Pinky Go Getta, Trillary has been compared to fellow patois-loving rhymer Stefflon Don—which is no bad thing. But with underground hits like "Come Over Mi Yard" and the Inch-featuring "Pepper & Spice", she's on a mission to make that a thing of the past. —Joseph 'JP' Patterson
Easily one of the most ferocious MCs to touch the game of late, it's still staggering to think that Yizzy has only just turned 18 because his music displays a talent beyond his years. Kicking off 2017 with the This Is Life EP, the Lewisham don wowed us with memorably unorthodox flows and snappy hooks, and he made his powers known further in the creative visuals for "Mr. Kray" and "Do You Wanna". Yizzy is everything you want from a grime MC: bars, personality, reload-ready, plus he's an extremely intelligent young man whose hard-hitting lyrics cut deep, with a relentless energy that's a not-so-gentle reminder of grime's early days, geared towards the present day.
Meshing a range of sounds and styles into a fresh package, Octavian's "Party Here" is currently passing the taste test on every corner. With Drake seemingly continuing his role as informal A&R of British music, Octavian has been in line for subtle shout-outs since the turn of the year. For the sake of future reference, it's worth noting the chatter around Octavian had already been present for some time, but a recent re-release of the single has no doubt helped the track reach a more adequate number of ears this time around. Evaluating last year's Essie World mixtape, it's a rough, splintered template of the artist's palette, meaning Octavian could go off in a number of directions from this point on. Watch him closely. —Tobi Oke
West London rapper, producer and singer Jevon was the star of NEW GEN—2017's UK rap and grime compilation from XL—which saw him produce the bulk of the project as well as lending some riffs, runs, and rhymes of his own to the set. It also led to him being the executive producer for Nines' chart-bothering album, One Foot Out, on the same label. As comfortable on grime ("Bipolar") as he is on boom-bap ("Off My Chest"), Jevon has shown a few times over that he's the globe-worthy triple threat we can be proud to call our own. —Joseph 'JP' Patterson
Rapper/producer Knucks caught our attention a couple years back with celebratory anthem "21 Candles", and in fact, very nearly made last year's version of this list. Opting to wait and watch a little while longer, we're now in no doubt that it's the right time for Knucks to fully take the stage. Displaying a penchant for detail and flair rarely seen in artists at his stage of development, Knucks crafts laid-back rhymes over smooth, self-produced tracks laced with cinematic excerpts or melodic soul samples. On the track "Breakfast With Tiffany", he tells us: "I just tell my story and I hope it rhymes." Well, so far, so good. —Tobi Oke
Alternative British rap is making bigger waves by the minute, and Benny Mails is easily one of its freshest faces. Heavily influenced by hip-hop greats like Nas, and the various funk and jazz records that would echo through his household growing up, the fashion-forward London spitter combines both for a sonic palette that is bumping and tranquil in equal measure. Lyrically, he speaks to growing up in the UK capital and rejecting the vices that can envelope his generation. Lowkey dropping the amazing Aware mixtape at the tail end of 2017, it was a brief but weighty venture into Benny's world which, with impeccable lyrics and soundscapes, will only get larger.
An increasingly popular name in the world of alternative UK rap, Jeshi marked 2017 with the tracks "Dancing In Headlights" and "Alone In Palm Springs", and concluded the year with the thoughtful and hard-hitting The World's Spinning Too Fast EP. A brief but dreamy collection, the eight-track mixtape featured production from Lauren Auder, Jorrdee, Mura Masa, Reign Supreme, Tev'n, Pearl De Luna and more. Apart from showing the remarkable progression Jeshi's made since his 2016 debut Pussy Palace, the new mixtape hints at what could be an exciting and fruitful 12 months for the East Londoner. —James Keith
At the tail end of last year, rapidly rising rapper Nafe Smallz dropped the video for "Gucci"; slick and highly-polished, the visuals marked a significant milestone for the Luton native. The track took stock of his journey so far, with searing honesty, whilst casting his gaze into the future. What does that future hold? Well, his new mixtape Movie Music (which features "Gucci" and is available for pre-order here) drops January 19 and, as the UK rap scene scrambles to tap him up for features, we'll be seeing a lot more of Nafe Smallz this year. —James Keith
Yung Fume has been grinding for a few years now, laying solid foundations via street favourite mixtapes like the Noughts & Crosses series. While a fourth volume may be on its way, that's not even the most exciting news the rapper has: this year will see the release of Level Up, a collaborative project with Atlanta hit-maker Zaytoven. After catching the superstar producer's attention with his melodious take on the UK rap sound, Fume flew out to ATL to link up and create the EP. With this kind of creative firepower in his corner, it would be hard for Yung Fume not to win in 2018. —James Keith
19-year-old Ezro has accomplished a lot in a short space of time. The rapper and producer from Lewisham is one sixth of the shelly Vision Crew, providing the musical backbone and crafting everything from pensive, cloudy instrumentals to new-age grime bangers. You name it, young Ezro can and has done it, and he is making it a mission not to be boxed into a particular sound. His criminally underrated Ghost In The Blue LP invited us into his vivid world of life in London, with weighted introspection and bars aplenty. Flexing his visual chops to the fullest also, he was all over your screens last year with a number of videos that placed him in his element. Tracks like "Wealth", "These Days" and "Do It" are ideal introductions for the less woke, and 2018 should promise more for the Blue Borough's unsung hero. —Yemi Abiade
Lightz is a funny one. The 13-year-old emcee from East London is yet to release an official track, so his placing in this list if purely off the back of viral freestyles but, clearly, he has great potential. Currently under the tutelage of Ruff Sqwad's Slix and Prince Rapid, Lightz has lit up social media with said freestyles, bringing many—myself included—back to the first time Wiley introduced his protégé, Ice Kid, to us over a decade ago. The grime scene was built on hunger, and Lightz seems to have plenty of it. —Joseph 'JP' Patterson
Hailing for Hackney, 23 Unofficial is the overnight star that has made a mark on the scene in just over a year. Having only started to take music seriously at the end of 2016, he made a splash in 2017 with the smooth and slick "Ain't Bothered", along with "Can't Tell Me" and the Not3s-assisted "Naughty". "Ain't Bothered" in particular has captured the public imagination—especially in the dance—and has set him up nicely for more greatness this year. There's a cheekiness to 23's bars and flows, as he brags and boasts with super-dope melodies over smooth, chilled vibes courtesy of N2theA. The young rapper is moving on up, one step at a time. —Yemi Abiade
For several reasons, it appears 2018 will be a year of transcendence for the UK's growing drill scene, and Harlem Spartans rapper Loski is at the forefront of those looking to capitalise. Armed with a string of releases and accompanying visuals, for well over a year, Loski has been racking up views in the millions. 2016 track "Hazards" served as Loski's solo breakout, introducing listeners to his playful, sing-song flow, littered with confident teenage brags and he has since followed this with consistent and timely releases. With the recent scrapping of the racist and invasive Form 696—a blockade that intermittently held back the growth of London's grassroots rap scene—there finally appears to be light at the end of the tunnel for the UK's drillers. Expect to see Loski all 2018. —Tobi Oke