50 Best British Rappers Of All Time, Ranked

The time has come.

Image via Complex Original/Artwork by Willkay

This feature, supported by NBA 2K, is Complex UK’s way of celebrating of 50 years of hip-hopa sound and culture we all love, and cannot live without! You can hear the artists featured in this list who made it onto the various NBA 2K soundtracks over the last 25 years here.

Since the turn of the millennium, British rap has gone from strength to strength. In the past 10 years, in particular, the scene has grown into a dominating cultural force in UK music, whose influence can be found in all sorts of other genres like pop and house music, as well as fashion, art, literature, film and TV. On the flip, there remains a healthy underground, either coughing up new stars or guiding the cultural conversation of the future. All that is to say, the UK now boasts a formidable, genuinely world-beating crop of rappers in the modern age as well as several decades of forebears.

We have our own culture, our own history, our own future, our own slang, our own infrastructure, even. We’re the ones setting pace now, catching imitators and admirers from abroad; we’re finally in a position where UK rap is completely self-sustained. That makes for a deeper, more enriched scene, and one that’s true to our own experiences. It also makes the cultural conversations more interesting because there’s more to talk about! We only have ourselves to compete with and it’s given us the kind of multifaceted culture that made American hip-hop so indomitable.

Rapping in the traditional sense, regardless of subgenre or era or whatever, is an entirely different discipline to MCing over grime. We don’t need to go back over the difference in lineages between the two because you can Google that. Of course, there are some on this list who are also grime MCs, but that’s only because they’ve either done both or have made significant contributions to the rap scene. And as much as there are probably quite a few rappers who would cite Wiley as an influence, he hasn’t released any ‘rap’—but without him and the grime world he created, where would most of us be?  

When putting together this list, there was a lot to consider. These things may seem arbitrary or designed to spark controversy, but we really did try to cover all angles. This isn’t just a ‘G.O.A.T’ debate or a Best Rapper Alive chart. We wanted to weigh up every factor, things like technical ability or how influential they’ve been. We also considered their contributions to the culture (which could mean everything from popularising the use of the British accent to pioneering a new style that became very popular), and yes, even how successful they are (if that’s had a net positive effect, of course). 

It’s also important to remember that there are different kinds of rappers and that the art of rapping is not monolithic. After a lot of debate, negotiations and reshuffles, we arrived at the list below. So, without further ado, check out our list of The 50 Best British Rappers Of All Time.

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Honourable Mentions...

In no particular order:

Tinie Tempah, J Spades, Big H, Section Boyz, Black The Ripper, Northstar, Cookie Crew, Frisco, Tiny Boost, Benny Banks, Crazy Titch, Bashy, Blak Twang, The Streets, The Mitchell Brothers, Monie Love, Derek B, Fekky, Margs, Slick Rick, MF DOOM, Unknown T, Trim, Ms Banks, Baby Blue, Morrisson, Tion Wayne, Lowkey, Mover, Scorcher, Moorish Delta 7, Lioness, Devlin, Little Torment, Akala, Squeeks, Stefflon Don, Choong Family, S.A.S., Sway, Harlem Spartans, Clavish, Speech Debelle, Novelist, Dot Rotten, Smiley Culture, Jammer, C-Biz, Jehst, Roadside Gz, P Money, Ambush, Cashtastic, Tricky, Shystie, Durrty Goodz, G FrSH.


50. London Posse

It’s only right to acknowledge a group to whom many on this list owe so much. UK hip-hop’s journey could arguably be summarised in two chapters: before London Posse and after London Posse. Where the very first set of British rappers were elected to spit in American accents as marketable assets in the early ‘80s, London Posse—formed in 1986 by Rodney P, Bionic, DJ Biznizz and Sipho—set a new benchmark for what British rap could look and sound like. By simply choosing to rhyme in their native accents, meshed with patois and UK street slang, they set a recalibration at an early stage that would steer the course of the genre. Their lyrical style, fashion sense and attitude gave hip-hop a distinct UK feel. You perhaps don’t get as iconic an image as the Posse stood mean-mugged and defiant in front of a silhouette of Big Ben in the legendary “How’s Life In London” music video, representing a fresh breeze that was about to blow through the scene. Though they released just one album, 1990’s Gangster Chronicle, the Posse’s decade-long run was fuelled by conscious-leaning rhymes and party rockers, such was the flavour of hip-hop of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Since drifting apart, Rodney P has gone on to become one of the genre’s most respected MCs, while Bionic carved out a line in the field of drum and bass. But their revolutionary work was more than done, and their impact will carry as long as UK hip-hop lives and breathes. Respect the architects! —Yemi Abiade

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

49. P.D.C.

Poverty Driven Children. Pussy Drugs Cash. Peel Dem Crew. Pray Days Change... P.D.C. meant many different things to many people during the late ‘90s and noughties. As a streetwise South Londoner, you knew the potential dangers of stepping inside the perimeters of Brixton’s Angell Town, where most members were born and raised. They were all for protecting the manor—any. means. necessary—and this rang true throughout the city. Taking that hood infamy and turning it into something more positive—spearheaded by Jaja Soze, the 10-plus crew fed the streets with vivid portrayals of their life at the time, mixing thoughts of Poverty Driven Children (“Fallen Soldiers”) with the trappings of Pussy Drugs Cash (“Streetz Is My Wife”). P.D.C. were to road rap what Pay As U Go and So Solid were to grime: forebears of an entire movement that couldn’t have happened without them. While Ty Nizzy saw his offspring, Loski, go on to become a top-boy in drill, Jaja Soze turned his hand to community work and continues to do a necessary work in retaining the culture in a now heavily-gentrified Brixton. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

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48. Rimzee

Growing up in Hackney during the ‘90s is what convinced Rimzee to turn his experiences into raps. His music is often about the realities of road life juxtaposed with his ambitions for a better future, which resonated with many people during his come-up. His “2010/New Minute Freestyle” and cover of Adele’s “Hometown” propelled him into wider recognition among UK rap fans; both tracks were featured on his mixtape, The Upper Clapton Dream, and were accompanied by gritty hood vids that showcased the swagger in road rap at the time. Shortly after his increasing success, Rimzee was incarcerated for over seven years on firearm charges. But in 2019, Rimzee came back to an advanced rap scene with a determination to show he still had it, demonstrated by his first single post-release, “Go Time”, and two other mixtapes including his eagerly-anticipated sequel, Upper Clapton Dream 2. Rimzee’s focus within rap has always mirrored the same kind of luxury rap that the likes of Nipsey and Rick Ross outline; since the beginning of his career, he has rapped about his ambitions and financial freedom, even when they were foreign concepts in this space. Still striving and thriving, there is yet more greatness to come. —Naz Hamdi

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

47. MIST

Birmingham has a long tradition of rap, grime and wider MC culture. The second city has a musical history that runs near-parallel to London’s. The legacy of soundsystems, pirate radio, reggae, garage and jungle runs generations deep in a city which has, like the capital, been moulded by the presence of the Windrush Generation. This legacy means that there has been an established and thriving MC culture in the city for decades. And so, every so often, an artist emerges from the city and is able to capture wider public consciousness and attention. Rhys Thomas Sylvester, better known by his stage name MIST, is among them. The rapper initially gained attention as a grime MC with legendary freestyles like his 1Take freestyle on P110 and a famous SwaggaCampMedia freestyle. His classic 2015 SBTV Warm Up Session is among the most viewed on the channel and would prove the start of a life-changing few years. Soon came singles with expansive videos, such as “Hot Property” and “Game Changer”, pushing the boundaries of what visuals from the scene could be by adding a finesse and extravagance reminiscent of the Hype Williams videos of yesteryear. In his music, MIST often drizzles in Punjabi phrases like ‘Apna’ and ‘Karla’, which he picked up while growing up alongside friends from Birmingham’s large South Asian communities. By doing so, he captured the dynamics of one of Britain’s most diverse cities. This relationship eventually led to a heralded collaboration with the late Indian musician Sidhu Moose Wala on their song “47”, which also featured Steel Banglez and Stefflon Don. Eight years after his national breakout, MIST continues to go from strength to strength. His visibility and success has ensured that the city which had largely driven the grime renaissance would be a fixture in the music’s subsequent flowering. —Aniefiok Ekpoudom 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

46. Sneakbo

In 2011, when Brixton-based teenager Agassi Babatunde Odusina woke London up with his sample-heavy debut, “The Wave”, from the off, the sonics suggested a new genre-blending moment was at hand. While straddling underground and commercial success, merging grime with dancehall and, later, Afrobeats, Sneakbo’s style was of the streets while being streets ahead; rap with a bite—and a bounce. Collaborating early on with the likes of Giggs, Not3s, Chip and Mavado, he has charted in the UK with cuts like “Ring A LIng”, “Zim Zimmer”, and with D’Bang on his anthem “Oliver Twist”. His feature on Yungen’s “Ain’t On Nuttin” still holds weight nearly a decade later. Sneakbo’s 2018 debut longplayer, Brixton, hit the Top 20 albums chart independently, with the track “Active” making it onto the FIFA18 soundtrack. But his biggest moment was still to come: “Love Is A Gamble” with Kida Kudz has notched up nearly 500 million streams on Spotify alone since its release in 2020. Still releasing music on his own terms, expect Sneakbo to be in and out of the limelight for the duration. —Chantelle Fiddy 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

45. K Koke

On April 9, 2009, Stonebridge’s K Koke dropped his debut music video for “Are You Alone?”, a song that showcased such conviction, hard-hitting bars and watertight delivery at a time when road rap was just getting started. During this period, K Koke was seeing the appetite for his music increase so he began working towards his debut project, Pure Koke Vol. 1, a mixtape featuring other road rap dons such as Margs and Joe Black. Police cracking down on road rap in the early ‘10s through performance and radio bans was pointless because Koke was passionate about speaking for the underrepresented, particularly those in North-West London on tracks like “From A Place” and “Cold Roads”, and he continued to drop heat for the streets. Loved for his introspective bars, his Fire In The Booth freestyle in 2010 is regarded among fans and critics as one of the best UK rap freestyles of all time. All this led to Jay-Z signing him to Roc Nation and he went on to receive his first Top 40 hit, “Lay Down Your Weapons”, with pop labelmate Rita Ora. In recent times, K Koke's approach to music has slightly changed, now preferring to work with artists from abroad (“Robie YEAH”, his collab cut with German-Polish MC Malik Montana, is his most streamed track to date). However, his foundation-setting work for road rap will never be forgotten. —Naz Hamdi

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

44. Joe Black

Joe Black isn’t as active in music as he once was, but he was a giant in late-00s/early ‘10s UK rap. Whether running solo or in tandem with Benny Banks, Joe Black’s trademark was the so-called ‘pain rap’, the visceral kind of lyricism that stripped away the surface-level glamour of street life and shone a light on what was underneath. It’s tough, uncompromising, and fearlessly raw, but he’s far from one-dimensional. In 2011, he dropped Realionaire, a classic from the golden age of mixtapes that we recently declared one of UK rap’s most important tapes of all time. It landed at the height of road rap, but only a couple of years before grime would eclipse it once more. This version of Joe Black seemed happier, more content. He still had plenty of fire in his belly, but this was Joe the kingmaker, bringing through rising talents like Youngs Tef and Stardom, and letting the world know who the next gen leaders would be. “Usual Suspects”, his epic 2011 collab with Squeeks, will also go down in history as one of the smoothest team-ups we’ve ever seen. —James Keith

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

43. Estelle

Only four Black or mixed-race British women have ever won a Grammy: Estelle Swaray (2009) follows Sade (1986) and Corinne Bailey Ray (2008) and precedes Ella Mai (2019). The success that the Hammersmith rapper/singer created cannot be understated, particularly in America but also especially when we consider just how difficult it is for Black British women to make a mark in British music (let alone the US), something Esetlle has been rightfully and politely vocal about during her career. Starting out behind the counter at the iconic Carnaby St record store Deal Real, the budding rhymer initially featured on records by Skitz and Blak Twang before attracting her own audience with 2004’s utterly endearing “1980” from debut album The 18th. She quickly courted the attention of then-unknowns Kanye West (who she met outside a Roscoe’s in LA) and John Legend, signing to Legend’s Home School label three years later. In 2008, Estelle dropped Shine, an album that still stands up tall today. Soulful and joyful, it may have featured Sean Paul, Swizz Beats, Mark Ronson and Kanye, but Estelle’s compelling storytelling was far from overshadowed; her talent truly shone through. Her achievements now include a Grammy, a Silver Clef award, MOBOs, BRIT and Mercury Prize nominations, a Top 10 UK album (Shine) and No. 1 UK single (“American Boy”), as well as a Top 40 Billboard album (Shine) and Top 10 Billboard single (“American Boy”). To reiterate: this isn’t easy for anyone to do, but especially for Black British women who are historically underpromoted, poorly marketed and ignored by mainstream media. It’s worth noting here that Estelle’s campaign at Atlantic Records UK was driven by Black and POC women. She has since released three further albums, including 2018’s reggae-based dedication to her parents, Lovers Rock, and hosts The Estelle Show every weekday on Apple Music. —Hattie Collins

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

42. Ty

The sudden and unexpected death of Benedict Okwuchukwu Godwin ‘Ty’ Chijioke on May 7, 2020, hit UK hip-hop hard. This cerebral, unconventional, wise and witty rhymer had not only done so much for the landscape of British rap, but for his community too. After spending much of his childhood in care, in 2006, Ty co-founded Ghetto Grammar—an educational programme that utilised hip-hop and spoken word to engage with young people. As well as longtime host of the Jazz Café’s Lyrical Lounge, in the year before his death, Ty hosted Pass The Torch where he sought out the next gen of talented MCs. Ty’s 2001 debut on Big Dada, Awkward, made ripples, but it was 2004’s Mercury Prize-nominated Upwards, that nodded to Gil Scott-Heron, Gangstarr and Fela Kuti while remaining resolutely British, which really put him on the rap map. During the early 2000s in London, even though UK garage and grime loomed large, you also couldn’t escape the furiously-paced “Wait A Minute” and the brilliantly Bhangra-flavoured “Oh U Want More”, which received a rambunctious remix with Roots Manuva. Ty’s bubbly, skippy flow belied someone with something to say—and who had serious style in saying it. Check the lyrics to “Hercules” to see how this articulate, erudite MC balanced sharp wit with stabs of searing insight. Though Ty may not quite have received the flowers he deserved in life, following his untimely death, the tributes poured in; Idris Elba, De La Soul, Akala, Roots Manuva and Gilles Peterson spoke to the legacy he left behind. Greatly missed, you can pay respects to Ty at his mural which still hangs high over Somerleyton Road in Brixton. R.I.P. —Hattie Collins

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

41. Klashnekoff

Klashnekoff’s 2005 street anthem, “It’s Murda”, was everything the underground music scene needed at the time, balancing hard-hitting lyricism and intricate wordplay alongside Klash’s unwavering commitment to authenticity. The East London native’s debut album, The Sagas Of…, released in 2004, invited fans into a whole new world via then-fresh platforms such as Channel U and BBC Radio 1Xtra. And it was while touring the album across the UK and opening for acts from across the pond that Klash helped to bridge the gap between a divided rap scene: by collaborating and connecting with the very best in grime and road rap, he sent a strong message to hip-hop purists by jumping on Kano’s “Sometimes” remix, working with Jammer and Bigga Man on “Iron Face”, and even getting involved in a session with Just Blaze and grime champs Jme and Skepta. You wouldn’t blink twice at these collabs today, but at the time, these were important moments in removing the snobbery and stigma connected to emerging sounds. From tracks like “Black Rose” and later projects like Focus Mode, the founding member of Terra Firma cemented his reputation as a powerful storyteller, seamlessly transitioning between gritty street narratives to vulnerable and introspective reflections. And there’s no question that Klashnekoff’s early work sparked a wave of fierce, British rap over experimental sonics, which is very much the norm in today’s vibrant musical landscape. —Hyperfrank

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

40. Skinnyman

Despite only releasing one studio album, Skinnyman’s Council Estate Of Mind is still revered as one of the most potent and timeless records in UK hip-hop history. Grime was beginning to find its feet when this LP was released in 2004, but the Leeds-born, London-raised rapper showed listeners the issues affecting young, working-class people in Britain across the board. Perhaps what made Skinnyman’s debut so visceral was the wealth of life experiences he could draw from at a relatively young age, having to grow up very quickly after leaving Leeds at the age of 10 for a new home in London. Almost two decades since the album’s release, the themes remain so relevant—which, in turn, reveal the failures of the state. The beauty and fragility of Council... was that it didn’t spare any detail in its vivid painting of a Britain under a New Labour government. If people thought living in Eng-er-land was all tea and crumpets and grim weather, listening to this project would shatter all preconceived notions of what life in Britain was like. —Jesse Bernard

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

39. Avelino

Tottenham, North London, has produced a dearth of talent stretching as far back to the Demon Boyz, so much so that there aren’t many areas in London that has such a rich history of musical talent across a multitude of genres. There’s definitely something in the water across N15 and N17. It was apparent early into Avelino’s career (see: debut mixtape Underdog Music) that he was one of the new generation of rappers from Tottenham charged with ushering local rap into the future. Young Fire, Old Flame was a landmark moment for the rapper that etched his name into history as it was widely seen as a passing of the torch from Wretch 32 to Avelino. Wretch doesn’t just make a collaborative mixtape with anyone—such is his sovereignty—but for him to handpick Avelino for this project showed the rest of UK rap and the wider scenes that he was a voice for the future, not just for the moment. One of the biggest moments came for Avelino in 2023—a decade since the release of his first mixtape—with his debut studio album, God Save The Streets. Avelino stands on the shoulders of those that came before him; that much is clear when you hear his debut LP. The patience it took for him to deliver it was certainly a lesson in staying power, that if you truly have something to say that’s worth listening to, people can wait as long as they need to until you’re ready to speak. —Jesse Bernard 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist (including Avelino’s collab with Hit-Boy, “2 Certified”, featured in NBA 2K24).

38. NoLay

From Run The Road 2 to running people down on a regular, NoLay (who sometimes prefers her Bella Gotti alias) is one of the most consistent street-leaning barrers of the last two decades. Coming like a British Foxy Brown but on far more smoke, packing lyrical punches and a bag of flows, her early SBTV appearances set the kind of standard that still garners respect today. First heard on wax in 2004 with West London crew Unorthodox on “No Help Or Handouts”, her debut solo single, “Unorthodox Daughter”, followed soon after. Landing front covers across Europe, her underground notoriety and hardcore fanbase have seen her through 20+ years and many a mixtape—and there’s no signs NoLay’s letting up. As well as having opened for the likes of Mobb Deep and the Infamous Mobb, she toured and collaborated with Tricky on his 2014 album, Adrian Thaws, with other cuts in the bag alongside Ghetts (who NoLay’s often been compared to) and P Money, and has also dropped many a dub over the years, even calling out Wiley in recent times for colourism. Warring with NoLay is never pretty! After surviving a serious car accident in 2016, the following year saw the release of her debut album, This Woman. While continuing to drop lyrical warfare, including four singles in 2023, NoLay has further cemented her staying power with her role playing Mandy in Top Boy, alongside an all-star Brit-rap cast. —Chantelle Fiddy  

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

37. Bugzy Malone

Bugzy Malone wasn’t the first prominent rapper/MC to emerge from the North of England, but few have held the cultural influence and sway he had during his rise. Some were first exposed to Manchester-born Bugzy in March 2015, when his now-iconic Fire In The Booth was the catalyst for a near seven-month back and forth with North London’s Chip. But for many who were familiar with his music beforehand, this breakout moment was an inevitable chapter in a journey that had for years been gathering millions of views on legendary JDZ Media freestyles, as well as on a string of songs and mixtapes. In 2015, with the ear of the country open, Bugzy capitalised, releasing three EPs in three years—all of which charted in the Top 10. The music carried a trademark for deep introspection and vulnerability as he bared his soul, bringing a legion of loyal listeners into a story that, at its centre, focused on a young man attempting to change his life. Songs like “Beauty & The Beast” and “M.E.N.” have become classics from his catalogue, allowing followers to listen in as he successfully attempted to navigate the troubles of his childhood, the trappings of the road and battles with mental health. Many across Britain found a sense of relatability in his words. Two albums, B.Inspired and The Resurrection, have cemented Bugzy’s status as ‘King of the North’; his cultural influence up North is boundless, and his success has shown how possible it is for MCs from out of London to attain life-changing careers in grime or rap. —Aniefiok Ekpoudom

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

36. Roots Manuva

British rap has often been a space where artists have pooled their wider cultural heritages and influences into vivid storytelling and lyricism. Roots Manuva is among the finest examples of that dynamic. Coming of age in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, he was raised on soundsystems and reggae, as well as dub poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson. His music, though hip-hop, would reflect this eclectic cultural mix typical of a young generation of Black people coming of age in Britain. From early on, he gathered a reputation for bringing a distinct sense of Britishness into his music, staunch in his South LDN accent with references to cheese-on-toast and pints layered throughout his songs. Roots, 51, has released nine albums to date, all via the iconic Big Dada. Among the most seminal is his 1999 debut, Brand New Second Hand (now certified Silver), and 2001 follow-up Run Come Save Me (now certified Gold). The latter was led by cult classic single “Witness (1 Hope)”, a timeless record that stands firm in the British Rap Hall Of Fame, still revered for its stuttering production that leans on funk and dancehall. That record, much like Roots’ career, is among the strongest symbols of the creativity and musical imagination that exist within the genre. —Aniefiok Ekpoudom

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist (including Roots Manuva’s “Witness (1 Hope)” featured in NBA 2K22).

35. So Solid Crew

Bursting out of London’s fertile pirate radio underground at a time when UK garage was better known for uptempo party jams than lyrical acumen, So Solid’s role in the evolution of British emceeing cannot be denied. From the beginning, their austere, minimalist but always accessible take on the sounds of urban London lit a fire under a garage scene then becoming better known for champagne excess than street credibility, and they were among the first to fuse 2-step’s hyper-swung beats with darker, grittier sounds. This was a winning bet, as the group rapidly achieved mainstream success both collectively with their debut single “21 Seconds”, which topped the UK Singles Chart in 2001, and via individual/duo efforts including Oxide & Neutrino’s “Bound 4 Da Reload” and Swiss’ evergreen “Cry”. While this chart fame was fleeting, So Solid’s impact on UK youth culture went far deeper than a couple of crossover singles, inspiring an entire generation’s music, fashion, and slang, reflecting multicultural urban Britain at a time the mainstream press was still distracted by guitar bands. While their reign was cut short due to legal entanglements and media scrutiny, they nevertheless set the stage for the grime scene’s focus on barring out, large crews, and aggressive instrumentals, despite not quite making the transition themselves. From Asher D’s impact as an actor to Megaman’s transformative effect on UK rhyming, So Solid are the pillars today’s artists stand on, whether they know it or not. —Son Raw

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

34. Ms. Dynamite

Where barring is concerned, Niomi Mclean-Daley—aka Ms. Dynamite—has always been in her own lane, becoming one of the few mic-wielding stalwarts revered across a plethora of genres. From the earlier days of pirate radio sets and her residency at FWD>>, where the then-unlabelled dubstep and grime was the order of the night, she merged reggae influences for something far more hard-hitting. Delivering technical verses that always slapped when it came to UK garage (“Envy” will continue to destroy any UK dance for years to come), her own Sticky-produced debut, “Booo!”, a now-dependable club classic, gave Ms. Dynamite the platform to push forth a new strain of Black female empowerment, still felt today. Winning the Mercury Music Prize in 2002 for her debut album, A Little Deeper—while notably on more of an R&B tip, it landed her two BRIT Awards (including British Female Solo Artist) and three MOBOs. Despite largely stepping back from the limelight after the birth of her son and second LP, Judgment Days, in 2005, collabs with Magnetic Man, Katy B, DJ Fresh and her 2011 single with Labrinth, “Neva Soft”, have always demonstrated the talents in abundance. Having made her live show a family affair over the years, Ms. Dynamite is still a regular on the circuit, landing headline festival spots (as well as an MBE for services to music in 2018) and showering down corporate industry parties; big up YouTube and their Legacy Party, which celebrated 50 years of hip-hop with a standout performance from Ms. Dynamite this year. —Chantelle Fiddy 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

33. Loyle Carner

South London’s Loyle Carner has grown from internet rapper to household name in front of our eyes. The scene often glorifies violence and promiscuity in its music, yet Carner offers a genuine alternative that has mass appeal. Uploading jazzy sketches of airtight lyricism on SoundCloud in the beginning of the 2010s, early tracks such as “Cantona” demonstrated his pure dedication to the craft of rapping, tackling his complex and endearing family history with disarming openness one track at a time. He now stands as an award winner, near chart-topper and essential voice of his era of UK hip-hop. And while he’s had to battle criticisms over his languid vocal delivery, he hasn’t let any noise dampen his mission to find himself through his music. Take his album run, from 2017’s Yesterday Gone to 2022’s Hugo, via 2019’s Not Waving, But Drowning, each their own personal quest to find his identity in a world that isn’t kind to him or his mixed ethnic background. The result is some of the most refreshingly honest rap music coming out of the UK this century. As well as genuine bangers like “The Isle Of Arran”, “Hate” and “Nobody Knows (Ladas Road)”, Loyle Carner’s sincerity stands tall in a world full of bravado. —Yemi Abiade 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

32. 67

If drill was its own country, 67 would welcome you at the border gates. LD, Monkey, Dimzy, Liquez, ASAP, 67 SJ and co are patron saints of the sound at this point, bringing it to national acclaim and controversy owing to their ominous presentation and eery rap tales that graced their classic anthem, “Let’s Lurk”, and countless other bops. You believed their raps because they lived them, having started out as a street gang in Brixton Hill before finding their calling as musicians. Not only have they been at the centre of drill’s musical revolution, but they’ve bore the brunt of critics who’ve consistently admonished drill’s existence, reaching the heights of parliamentary debate and national moral panic. Their shows and tours have been shut down under the guise of ‘safety concerns’ and various members have served jail time. Personal tragedy also came with the death of a member, Chris Kaba, at the hands of the police in 2022. 67 have had to overcome the label of a ‘criminal gang’ to remain deeply influential in modern UK rap. Their In Skengs We Trust, Let’s Lurk and Glorious Twelfth mixtapes are essential for anyone looking to trace drill’s origins, while LD has become the sound’s beating heart—a name you call upon when invoking feelings of the first UK drill generation. Such is their impact that when you think of one of this country’s most impactful sounds in recent years, you automatically think of this collective from South London. —Yemi Abiade

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

31. Skrapz

Like most British barrers of note (post-2001), Skrapz started out on grime, as Skrapsta. A former member of North-West London crew SLK, one of his biggest moments in the genre was when he and fellow SLK-er Flirta D clashed Wiley and Skepta live on stage. However, after a few stints in prison (more times than his fans would have hoped to endure), he ventured down the road rap route and blessed the scene with a number of classic mixtapes, such as Skrapz Is Back 1 & 2 and the ‘90s rap-sampling 80’s Baby. Working closely with his best friend, Nines, throughout the years, Skrapz—with his firm, commanding delivery and patois-pinched flow—has remained a constant presence in culture, especially with cuts like “One More Chance”, his freestyle over the Biggie Smalls classic, authentically finding its way to younger generations. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson  

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

30. K-Trap

At the beginning of his career, we all knew K-Trap as the faceless marauder painting vivid trap-house pictures at will on mixtapes like his 2017 debut, The Last Whip, 2018’s The Re-Up and 2019’s No Magic. Yet he found a new level of artistry once he revealed his face to the world in 2020, tapping into a layer of his identity that has produced one of the most impressive creative runs in the whole genre of late. Not only has he released his debut album, 2020’s Streets Side Effects, and dropped a drill project for the ages in 2021’s Trapo, but also released essential joint tapes with Blade Brown (Joints) and Headie One (Strength To Strength), all while producing an all-time drill anthem in “Warm” and countless memorable features with Skepta, Krept & Konan, Yxng Bane, DigDat and Ms Banks. Very few in drill’s recent history have put their foot on the sound and never let it go, but he is one of those ones. Trapo’s bass-riddled voice cuts through even the toughest production, supplemented by absorbing flows and a lyrical delivery that serves as a transporter to the murky life that he leads, one where road life is palpable but success dispels the badness. Still yet to reach his prime, all the signs are that he will continue to wow the scene and beyond in new ways that we won’t be ready for. —Yemi Abiade 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

29. Kojey Radical

The idea of artist development is something that comes to mind when you think about Kojey Radical and his moves over the past decade. For those that remember the golden years of the SoundCloud era, Kojey was one of those names you’d frequently see in fan-curated playlists. If you were ever fortunate to see him live early in his career, you knew that there was something very dramatic about his performances: coming from a spoken-word background, he has always known the power of delivery and how to hold a crowd’s attention. At the time of its release in 2016, many thought that 23Winters—an ode to his relationship with his father—would be his magnum opus, but it was just the beginning of a series of projects that would continue to elevate Kojey and increase his reach. The increased musicality in his work through collaborations with artists such as Swindle and Kano really shone through on his debut LP, Reason To Smile (2022). He’s also another example of someone having to bide their time for that debut album but he’s also another lesson for the generation that will follow that it’s never too late to adapt and add to your arsenal if it makes you a better, rounded artist. —Jesse Bernard

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

28. Fredo

In the post-grime rap goldrush of the late 2010s and early 2020s, quite a few household names were made, but one who managed to find both chart success and underground credibility in equal measure (no mean feat) was Fredo. Away from the mic, Fredo’s a man of few words, but you have to assume he has a good team around him. Take Dave, for example; from bringing Fredo in to join him on record-breaking hit “Funky Friday” (the first UK rap track of its kind to hit number one and without a chorus, no less) to lending a guiding hand as executive producer of Money Talks, Dave’s advice pushed Fredo beyond the confines of road rap without actually turning his back on it. It’s also clear he’s been paying close attention to how the wider game is played. No doubt his good friend Dave’s shared a few nuggets of wisdom along the way, but he’s clearly a student of Jay-Z’s “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” school of thought. Obviously, business ventures don’t make you a good rapper, but a willingness to put good decisions over ego and make long-term moves will absolutely ensure you a long career. 2016 breakout single “They Ain’t 100” still rings off in clubs today, right next to all the big chart hits. —James Keith

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

27. AJ Tracey

AJ Tracey was among the class of 2016, among a new generation of grime MCs young enough to have been raised on the genre. He captures the dynamism of wider British MC culture: an artist comfortable on a range of genres, a dynamic that is a product of the broad spread of music that often floated through British households. From grime to garage, drill to soca and rap, AJT has shown a remarkable ability to fit himself onto almost any riddim. The result is a catalogue of EPs and two studio albums, both of which peaked in the Top 5. But what is perhaps most noteworthy about his career to date is a remarkable run of seminal singles. In grime, he released the high-adrenaline “Spirit Bomb” and a subsequent all-star remix, as well as the now-legendary “Thiago Silva” with Dave. Over garage, he released the anthemic “Ladbroke Grove” with Jorja Smith, while on drill, there was the relentless “Packages #MicCheck” freestyle on Link Up TV which showcased his now-typical, crisp flow. On rap, the genre which has held his attention in recent years, there have been songs like “Rain” with Aitch and “Anxious”. Having started initiatives like the AJ Tracey Fund with Oxford University, this rapper has made it his mission to help the next generations of creatives live out their dreams (like he, himself, continues to do). —Aniefiok Ekpoudom 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist (including AJ Tracey’s collab with Rema, “FYN”, featured in NBA 2K24).


First heard by many as Castro on Jme’s 2006 mixtape, Boy Better Know, Edition 3: Derkhead (and for a short time thereafter rhyming under Castro Saint), following a lengthy hiatus, his return to the game as CASISDEAD birthed a legend, despite the fact his debut album only landed in October 2023. It was, of course, worth the wait: debuting at No. 7 in the UK albums chart and No. 1 on the UK hip-hop and R&B albums chart, Famous Last Words is indeed a future classic. Signed to XL and responsible for the Deadcorp and ImReallyDead labels, with much speculation as to his identity, his epic masks add to the mysterious persona, given his aversion to giving interviews and doing press in general. Way more than just a rapper and songwriter, his creative vision (often typified with dystopian aesthetics) that runs throughout his music, merch and visuals—alongside his entrepreneurialism—are of equal importance. With a fanbase ranging from gangster to hipster to EMO teens and coked-up celebrities (or so we hear), despite his longevity, CASISDEAD’s star is still very much rising. —Chantelle Fiddy 

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

25. Lady Leshurr

Born and raised in Birmingam, Lady Leshurr secures her position among rap royalty through her distinctive fusion of articulate, rapid-fire flows and impeccable wordplay. Throughout the late-00s and early 2010s, her dedicated fanbase was built off the back of her unwavering work-rate; her unadulterated authenticity took centre stage in 2011 on the Friggin L mixtape, while her remix of Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” saw her display her cheeky humour and bright singing voice, and boy did she give Busta a run for his money with her own fast-paced verse. The rapper, singer and songwriter solidified her name in London’s buzzing music scene early on by bringing her magic to every live show and radio set she could, consistently dropping projects and collecting video freestyles on platforms like SBTV (see: F64s) like shiny Pokémon cards. Lady Leshurr’s 2015-launched freestyle series, Queen’s Speech, took her name international and showed the potential to be unlocked in UK music’s relationship with social media—something we often see now on TikTok but was a rare thing back then. Lady Leshurr’s 10,000 hours were instrumental in not only breaking down barriers within a male-dominated scene but also helping to establish the building blocks between 0121 and London. Miss O’Garro deserves all her flowers. —Hyperfrank

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

24. Jme

When MCs talk about being independent, rarely do they really mean it; there’s almost always distribution/management/publisher/PR/pluggers lurking somewhere. A long-standing relationship with live agent Rebecca Prochnik aside, Meridian Walk-raised Jamie Adenuga has been literally independent since 2003. The co-founder of Boy Better Know Entertainment also turned down deals with major high street stores keen to stock his brand because the T-shirt game remains very, very healthy (shout-out Memet). As well as being a merch, MySpace, Jeremy Corbyn, veganism and Tesla trailblazer, the University of Greenwich graduate also offered an alternative perspective to the game; he wasn’t a goodie-goodie, but he was far more likely to geek out on computer game chat than get too greazy. Over the course of multiple bodies of work (which include a No. 12 album with Integrity>), he’s also been celebrated for an innate lyrical inventiveness and an uncanny ability to create catchphrases such as Shhhh… (do we even need to finish that sentence? No) and slang—you poomplexes! Close associations with Sidemen and Giggs (as well as his brother, Skepta, of course) have given Jme a glimpse of the commercial side of life, but really, he’s focused on retaining the purity of the game he loves so much: grime. —HC

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist (including Jme’s collab with Frisco and Shorty, “Go Thru Face”, featured in NBA 2K19).

23. Knucks

Knucks grew up listening to the greats, and it shows—whether it’s mirroring Wretch 32’s considered approach to songwriting, punching in on a beat like Nasty Nas or being inspired by the grime MCs of old in creating new pockets and flows, he’s very much a student of the game. Born to Nigerian parents in South Kilburn, Knucks released his first project, Killmatic—a nod to Nas’ seminal classic, Illmatic—in 2014, and quickly became a favourite on the underground rap scene for bringing jazz elements to the fore, this all before the UK jazz explosion of 2016. Projects like 2019’s NRG 105 and 2020’s London Class helped further stamp Knucks as one of our finest lyrical minds, but it was 2022’s Alpha Place that stopped us all in our tracks: heavy on the jazz, drill and grime influences, Ashley Nwachukwu created a real modern-day classic with this one. The best, however, is yet to come. —Joseph ‘JP’ Patterson

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

22. D-Block Europe

What started as an extension of the American D-Block, headed up by Jadakiss, has morphed into one of UK rap’s most commercially successful acts of all time, thanks to the chemistry of Young Adz and Dirtbike LB. Brothers in arms, the South London duo continues to set new standards in ways that are almost immeasurable, yet it still feels like they’re only getting started. Reading DBE’s achievements almost leaves you short of breath, but here it goes: six platinum-selling singles, ten gold singles, six gold-selling mixtapes, 30 singles in the Top 40, sold-out shows at historic venues such as London’s O2 Arena and Alexandra Palace, and I could go on some more. Cultural relevance as pioneers of trap-wave, impactful tracks like “Kitchen Kings”, “Home P*ssy”, “Overseas” and “Ferrari Horses” set new records at will, owing to the combined gloss and grit of their music. Gloss because of the lifestyle they portray, grit because of their personal struggles within said lifestyle and how they’ve overcome them—all to see in their mammoth catalogue including Home Alone, Home Alone 2, PTSD and DBE World (to name but a few). You can’t have gone to a rave or club night since 2018 and not heard a DBE track, which says a lot about the pair’s impact in such a short space of time. —Yemi Abiade

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

21. Headie One

Headie One has reached more accomplishments than you may remember. 2017’s “Know Better” marked him out as one to watch and is now an all-time classic track in the drill canon, while the likes of “18HUNNA”, “Back To Basics”, “Only You Freestyle”, “Ain’t It Different” and “Marvin’s Sofa” are much-loved bops brimming with the Tottenham star’s penchant for piercing hood stories, finding solace in his humanity and the road life that threatened to consume him. This is an artist who has gone toe-to-toe with Stormzy, Dave, Skepta, AJ Tracey and even Drake on record and has scooped out several memorable moments for himself. Not only that, but he was bold enough to take artistic risks when he linked up with electronic producer Fred again.. in 2021 with the divisive Gang project, drawing the ire of his day-one fans. Which goes to show Headie’s ability to invoke emotion among rap heads across the country. A true needle mover, having secured a No. 1 debut album in 2020’s Edna, Broadwater Farm’s finest also has several classic drill mixtapes to his name in Drillers x Trappers, The One and Music x Road. Headie is a truly transcendent artist, able to transition from the genre he came from and return like a prodigal son, ready to shake the scene once more. —Yemi Abiade

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

20. Central Cee

In age where the music industry is becoming ever so reliant on numbers, ability is often a footnote when discussing the best rappers in the game. In the case of Central Cee, his meteoric rise over the past couple years is backed up by his fierce desire to keep improving on what has already been achieved. Make no mistake, though: Cench’s ascent has been a result of a decade’s worth of waiting in the wings, sharpening his arsenal and ensuring he was ready for the landmark moments he’s already etched into history. With six Top 10 hits and a No. 1 in “Sprinter” with Dave, one of Central Cee’s traits has been his ability to position himself in the right place, at the right time. Dropping a song called “Doja”, which became a club hit with endless edits and remixes, proved he was able to capitalise on memable moments; he’s the Gen Z rapper made for a social-first world. Following his On The Radar freestyle with Drake, which increased his global reach a year after his LA Leakers freestyle, and his continental link-up on “Eurovision”, the West London rapper has been building towards a career that has yet to be emulated by any of his UK peers.
Jesse Bernard

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist (including Central Cee’s “One Up” featured in NBA 2K24).

19. Digga D

When cultural conservatives clutch their pearls at UK drill’s content, they may as well picture Digga D. From provocative mixtape titles like Double Tap Diaries and Made In The Pyrex to contentious lyrics aimed the opps, the Labroke Grove driller blurs the line between menacing threats and a hedonistic celebration of street life in the social media age. To the consternation of the Met and parent’s groups, Digga’s sensationalistic approach to drill music has led to consistent chart success, with even legal challenges and enforced censorship of his lyrics doing little to discourage listeners. For these same fans, Digga’s appeal is his effortless cool and refusal to abide by societal standards that would keep him broke and ignored: every chain, blue paisley suit and foreign whip makes him a hero in the eyes of more people. However, there’s far more to Digga’s music than sensationalism. Look beneath the surface and you’ll find heartfelt examinations of everything from PTSD to family woes, all delivered with a canny sense of melody and influences ranging from classic dancehall to hip-hop’s early aughts. Rhys Angelo Emile Herbert’s music may never be respectable, but it’s always real—and that’s just how he likes it. —Son Raw

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

18. Blade Brown

Battersea-bred barrer Blade Brown has been in the rap game for close to twenty years, and while most would consider his 2007-released mixtape, Hollow Meetz Blade, with fellow South Londoner Giggs as his introduction to the scene, they would be wrong. In fact, Blade has been rapping since 2004, but that link-up catalysed his presence within the larger UK music arena. After Hollow Meetz Blade, Blade took another break from rap—something that has become synonymous with his career. But, in 2011, he returned with his most accessible and official solo project, Financial Times, and began his Bags & Boxes mixtape series following that. A true king of hustle anthems, it’s not hard to see why so many compare Blade to the likes of Gucci Mane, Young Jeezy and Rick Ross; he’s a flashy rapper whose content is mainly focused on things concerning the trap. But it’s always felt cinematic, mafia-like even, by way of his infectious hooks, confident tone, and sleek production choices. Although he’s made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t need to rap for clats, we’re glad he still does so anyway. —Naz Hamdi

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

17. Youngs Teflon

Youngs Teflon has been spotted many a time in pixelated, low-quality grime clashes on old YouTube vids from 2008/2009, but few people know that this is where his music career began due to his revered position in UK rap. Youngs has always been a slick rapper, and his ability to form deeper, conceptual narratives across his music shows that his pen game is to be saluted. Growing up in South London, the heartbeat of UK rap in the early 2000s, meant that Youngs was caught up in the politics of the areas around him, yet he turned to his raps and would use his observations to shape his music. With over ten mixtapes under his belt, including Renaissance, the Call Of Duty series and All Eyes On Me Against The World, countless freestyles, and a career spanning close to two decades, Youngs is an artist whose consistency and high-quality rhyming has placed him among the greatest rappers to come out of the UK. Staying current throughout the years by working within the realms of road rap, drill and grime, whilst collaborating with the likes of Tiny Boost, Carns Hill and Knucks without quality faltering, makes him a highly worthy entry on this list. —NH

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

16. Krept & Konan

Krept & Konan, who first made their name in South London’s Gipset alongside Krept’s late cousin Cadet, have been so successful across so many platforms you could almost—almost—forget their impact on UK rap. Their 2011 cover of Hov’s “Otis” racked up five million views in five days and, although it was swiftly taken down due to copyright infringement, they had made their point. 2013 mixtape Young Kingz further established the pair’s right to be cocky; trading in punchlines, puns, metaphor and melody, Krept and Konan super-successfully managed to create a party atmosphere within a semi-socially conscious mindframe and a clear love and respect for each other. Continuing to utilise social media to their advantage, the pair helped propel rap from the streets to the charts, breaking the record for highest-charting UK album by an Unsigned Act (it went in at No. 19), helped in part by the brooding, brilliant “Don’t Waste My Time” as well as “My Story”, Konan’s painful paeon to his stepdad, Carlton Ned. Since then, they’ve had two Top 5 albums, worked with Headie One and Rick Ross, established soul food restaurant Crepes N Cones (forced to close during the pandemic), founded youth charity Positive Direction and taken their Ban Drill campaign to the Houses of Parliament. Rap Game UK, the award-winning BBC talent show which they host alongside DJ Target, is currently on its fifth season, while Krept’s vegan, organic, eco-friendly skincare range, Nala’s Baby, sold out online within 10 minutes of its launch. Essentially though, it all stems from the music, from the talent, from the vision. —Hattie Collins

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

15. D Double E

Bluku! Bluku! For a generation of music fans, this is far more than a nonsensical exclamation—it’s one of many reasons D Double E is not only one of our most important MCs, but also possibly our most beloved. Sounding like a one-of-one chimera of ‘80s dancehall legend Eek-A-Mouse and an East End character, the N.A.S.T.Y Crew alumnus and Newham General (alongside partner in crime Footsie) is just as comfortable menacingly comparing birds to bullets as he is hosting a dance or radio sesh, perfectly embodying grime’s unique fusion of dancehall, rap and rave. The first thing you’ll notice is the flow—clever, fast paced and totally unbeholden to garage’s traditional styles, D Double emerged out of an era where originality was king, taking this tenet to extremes, to the point where decoding a verse often requires a crash course in the man’s one of a kind syntax. For years, Double was best enjoyed live, whether over DJ Mak 10’s endless supply of dubplates on Rinse FM or live on stage at Sidewinder, but in recent years he’s grown into a legacy artist with a healthy catalog of projects, evolving from an unparalleled host to a first-rate songwriter. In a space where importance is often correlated with screwfaces and self-seriousness, D Double E—aka your favourite barrer’s favourite barrer—is the guy you turn to when you want to be reminded of the reason you became invested in rhyming in the first place: fun! —Son Raw

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist (including D Double E’s “24/7” featured in NBA 2K22).

14. Potter Payper

Potter Payper’s place on this list is secured several times over, if only for the disproportionate series of obstacles he’s had to overcome. Growing up on the infamous Gascoigne Estate and with a lengthy stint behind bars, behind him (not to mention the more recent, brief sentence he served that threatened to derail everything he’s built since…) Jamel Bousbaa has weathered it all. A good deal of that, of course, is down to sheer force of will, but that could have only got him so far had it not been for the generational talent he possesses. It’s been a long road to where he is today—a certified star with the unconditional backing of the Boateng twins at 0207 Def Jam—and although his talent was innate from the start, by his own admission, Potter was unpolished to begin with. Over the years, both in and out of prison, he learned some tough lessons. His Aylesbury Young Offenders cellmate, KB, helped him approve as a rapper; his manager, Bills, turned his music into a business; and now he enjoys the most fruitful period of his career. His writing’s better than ever, too, having swapped the street boasts that once put him behind bars for vivid, gritty realism, as much a reminder to himself as anyone else to move forward and never look back. —James Keith

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

13. Dizzee Rascal

It’s hard to sum up Dizzee Rascal’s career when he’s transitioned seamlessly through so many often-contradictory roles. Tastemakers present during grime’s birth celebrated him for his fiery contributions to pirate radio and the genre’s first classic album in Boy In Da Corner, but these same fans lamented his subsequent turn towards electro-pop, and the five number one singles that shift earned him. Likewise, while he’s often held up as grime’s golden child, he’s largely spent the last 20 years keeping the scene at arm’s length, alternately embracing the MCs who followed in his stead and refusing to be caught up in any purist orthodoxy. Above all, Dizzee is among the UK’s canniest synthesists, a man able to take Three 6 Mafia and Timbaland’s halftime riddims and marry them to garage just as easily as he combined big-room electro house to dance-ready pop-rap. Always marching to the beat of his own drum—whether at 140BPM or not—Dizzee epitomises grime and rap’s commitment to speaking one’s truth, no matter who it upsets, be that Anthony Blair in 2003 or comment section trolls in 2023. —Son Raw

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

12. Nines

A leading light among a generation of UK acts refusing to be shackled to strict and outdated genre conventions, Church Road star Nines’ ability to balance complex storytelling and vulnerability to commercially ambitious production, all without forcing a crossover hit, has forged him into one of London’s most impactful young rhymers. Cannily assimilating drill’s uncompromised authenticity without ever being boxed in by its flows and tempo, his dedication to personal storytelling and his ability to capture the realities of life on road set the pace for other artists within UK rap and drill seeking to explore nuanced songcraft. This ambition extends beyond music as well: Nines regularly demonstrates business savvy in ventures ranging from clothing to film production, and it's this elevation of pure artist to media mogul where he shines brightest, becoming London’s answer to American media superstars like Jay-Z and 50 Cent. Crucially however, Nines keeps things positive, with his lyrics examining his life’s circumstances with clarity and empathy. We now live in an era where the sky is the limit for young, talented UK rappers, and this potential is in large part because of Nines’ refusal to abide by the limits imposed on previous generations of rhymers. And the best part is, he’s nowhere near done yet. —Son Raw

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

11. Wretch 32

Wretch 32 has made a career out of adapting without compromising, first rising up in grime’s early years as part of the Combination Chain Gang with Wizzy Wow, Calibar and Shoka before teaming up with Ghetts, Scorcher, Devlin and Mercston as The Movement. He can build hype on a grime radio set, he can turn his hand to a pop hit if he fancies, but it’s on a rap beat that he really excels. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the on minimal road rap frostiness of Blade Brown’s “Runnin’” with Youngs Teflon, the dancefloor leanings of Wretchrospective, or the cool-headed self-reflection of FR32, Wretch will give you gold every time. And there there are his six Fire In The Booth freestyles (five solo and one with Avelino), each time proving himself to be a formidable talent capable of balancing lyrical finesse with a quiet humility and easygoing charm. Take his 2015 session with Avelino, for example. More than just a top-level freestyle, this was Wretch: the elder statesman, reminding the young guns who’s boss while still elevating rather than eclipsing. As Creative Director at 0207 Def Jam, working closely with legendary UK music execs Alex and Alec Boateng, we see that version of Wretch writ large, personally helping to shape the next generation of talent. Having forged his path at a time when the music industry was far less welcoming of rap and without selling out or compromising on his art, few could be better positioned to guide the next wave. —James Keith

Hear all 50 featured acts in this NBA 2K playlist.

10. Little Simz

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9. Wiley

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8. Ghetts

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7. Stormzy

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6. Chip

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5. J Hus

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4. Dave

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3. Giggs

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2. Kano

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1. Skepta

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