South London’s Kenny Allstar has gone far beyond being just a radio host/DJ; in fact, his self-appointed title of “voice of the streets” is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mad About Bars, Kenny’s YouTube freestyle series with Mixtape Madness, has become an essential stopping point for both rising artists and voracious fans alike. The fourth series was one of its biggest yet, with appearances from K-Trap, OFB, Sam Wise, Izzie Gibbs, Belly Squad, Smoke Boys, Digga D and countless others, with an incendiary conclusion from 67.
To wrap up what has been a phenomenal year for both Kenny and the rap game as a whole, we tapped up the ubiquitous 1Xtra host to help us look back at the last 10 years in UK rap. We also caught up with him to hear his thoughts on 2019’s highs and lows as well as his predictions for the future and what he has in store for his fans. So, with just a week and a bit to go before New Year’s Eve, get yourself powered up with this comprehensive selection of the decade’s best street heaters.
Tell us about the exclusive mix you’ve made for us.
So initially, I was going to focus on road rap tracks that defined the decade. But then I thought, let’s broaden it out a bit to UK rap tracks that defined my personal journey; a bit of trap and drill, with a fair bit of Afro-influenced bangers as well.
What is about UK rap music, in particular, that drew you in and made you want to push it so hard like you do?
In all honesty, it’s all I’ve ever known. From being young when all my guys wanted to step out on summer holiday motives, head out to Hyde Park or go partying in the night, I was super obsessed with capturing content from the rap talent around me. I launched my own YouTube channel, Kenz TV, whilst DJing on pirate radio on the weekends, and I did all of that whilst I was in Year 11, juggling my GCSEs. The first piece of music I ever spent money on was Giggs’ Walk In Da Park album—me and my school friend literally went halves on it in HMV [laughs]. At that point, I instantly knew this love for UK rap was more than just a hobby.
You’ve been one of the main champions of UK drill in recent years, and a lot of its success has been down to you spreading the sound via your radio shows. How has the journey been for you?
It’s a bittersweet one for me. On the one hand, all I ever wanted to do was use my voice to give those a platform who would never imagine having one in the first place, and I think I achieve that every Friday night being on the BBC playing the music I do. On the other hand, I’ve endured so many obstacles doing this that people don’t get to see: criticisms from parts of the media, brands being afraid to put me or some of the artists I play on campaigns, or venues trying to stop me from playing UK rap. Even still, I try and weather the storm because I do know these are the hurdles that make a creative legendary at what they do. I intend to keep going. I know there’s more places I can take this, and even if for whatever reason I don’t take it there, two, three, four more DJs might be inspired by my journey and that alone is a blessing to me.
Although they’re from the same family, there are clear distinctions between rappers like Giggs and UK drill artists like S1. Give those who don’t know a full breakdown between the two.
This question gets asked so much nowadays and it’s understandable as there are quite a few subgenres of UK rap nowadays. My favourite analogy to break this down is “sound groups.” Let’s say there are four major groups: ‘the wave’, Afro-influenced, UK drill and rap. There are distinct differences in each group, which are usually based on the production, content of lyrics, and sometimes the vocal mixes. In my opinion, an artist like Giggs would be put in the ‘rap’ group; he’s not defined under one particular sound, he’s very versatile, but the one consistency is he will be rapping! An artist like S1, even though he’s jumped on different types of rap records, his sound has been locked into ‘drill’ for a long time—it’s what consumers are used to hearing him on.
Being on the frontline of both scenes, what’s the reception to drill really been like from the older guys in road rap?
From what I can gauge, the OGs are happy that the younger rappers are taking it to heights they weren’t able to. With age comes wisdom.
What was going through your mind during the clamp down on drill for the whole of 2018?
I saw it coming. To be honest, it happens every decade—it’s like a routine check. In the early 2000s, it was So Solid Crew getting shut down and dragged through the tabloids, then on the brink of 2010, it was Giggs going through it, not even being allowed to perform his own headline show. And now it’s drill’s turn.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for UK rap?
Bigger and better. The continued chart success, outrageous streaming/YouTube numbers and huge venue sell-outs—it’s a living testament that there’s actually no ceiling. I’m just gassed to be a part of this revolution.
And who are some of the artists we should be watching out for in 2020, and why?
A few artists I’ve been listening to recently, in no particular order...
Teeway: His storytelling on drill beats is crazy!
M1llionz: Coming out of North West Birmingham, I haven’t been wowed with such an approach to UK drill since Headie One.
Lavida Loca: Just take in the passion in her rhymes... She reminds me of a new wave NoLay; raw and real.
Shaybo: Confident in her raps and a really dope performer.
Frosty: I don’t think he knows how sick he actually is. He has an effortless approach to his bars and flows, done in a way that only he can perform them.
Darkoo: She’s a star in every sense of the word. Darkoo makes contagious, feel-good music that we’re gonna need a lot of in 2020.
These are six of many more names that will have a big 2020.
1. Yungen f/ Sneakbo - Ain’t On Nuttin (Remix) w/ Stormzy, Bashy, Angel, Benny Banks, Ghetts, Cashh
2. K Koke - Ain’t On Nuttin
3. Naira Marley f/ Lumi - Praise & Worship
4. Naira Marley - Marry Juana
5. Sneakbo f/ Timbo - I Need Her
6. Sneakbo f// Sona - Hurt Nobody
7. Sneakbo f/ Afro B - Stay Winning
8. Dun D - Bad Man
9. Skrapz - One More Chance
10. Nines - CR
11. Nines Ft. J Hus - High Roller
12. J Hus f/ MoStack - Mash Up
13. J Hus f/ MoStack & Mist - Fisherman
14. J Hus - Dem Boy Paigon
15. J Hus - Calling Me
16. J Hus - Want From Me
17. Kojo Funds - Want From Me
18. Kojo Funds - My 9ine
19. Geko - Baba
20. Geko - Baba (Remix) f/ Moelogo & Timbo
21. Moelogo - The Baddest (Remix) f/ Giggs
22. MoStack Ft. Moelogo - Murder
23. MoStack - Let It Ring
24. WSTRN - Social
25. Belly Squad - Banana (Remix) f/ Abra Cadabra, Young T & Bugsey, Timbo & Showkey
26. NSG - Love & Affection
27. NSG - Yo Darlin
28. Tion Wayne f/ Afro B - Doing OK
29. Tion Wayne f/ Afro B - Can’t Go Broke
30. Mist - Madness
31. Mist - Ain’t The Same
32. Mist - Hot Property
33. Mist - Screw & Brew
34. Smoke Boyz - Lock Arf
35. Grizzy & MDargg - Look Like You
36. J Spades - Nobody
37. Dimzy - 44s In A 4 Door
38. Reeko Squeeze - Banter
39. 67 - Skengman
40. 150 - 4 Door Truck
41. Loski & Mizormac - DJ Khaled
42. Dimzy & Mischief - Illegal
43. AJ Tracey - Packages
44. Skengdo x AM - Mad About Bars
45. BT & Rendo - Ten Toes