The UK through the lens of The African diaspora

For this mixtape, I focused on the modern rap scene in the United Kingdom, more specifically England. All of the artists in the mixtape are born to African parents and speak about their struggles living in the UK as young Black people but still being proud of their heritage. Much like the United States, the United Kingdom has received a significant number of African immigrants since the 1960s. Many of those immigrants were from other English-speaking African countries like Nigeria and Ghana. These artists also speak about their heritage and challenge how society perceives the young Black British youth.

The first song is “Black” by Dave. Dave was born in South London to two Ghanaian parents. His father was deported when he was a child and he describes that as having a massive influence on his music. In “Black”, Dave tackles what society’s definition of Blackness is and displays that he is proud to be Black. Dave highlights a range of Black experiences in his verse and the music video reflects just that. My personal favorite part of the song is towards the end where Dave speaks about how Europe colonized and enslaved West Africa and called it the slave coast and then connects it to the criminal justice system and the incarceration of young Black men. He touches on topics like immigration, the villainization of Black men, adultification of Black children, and all the other struggles associated with being Black, but at the end, he still says that he’s proud of being Black and wouldn’t change it for a thing.

The second song is “Deeper than Rap” by J Hus. J Hus was born to Ghanaian and Gambian parents. Unlike the other artists, J Hus was incarcerated for 8 months for the possession of a knife. After he was released, he dropped his album Big Conspiracy where the song “Deeper than Rap” was featured as the last track. Much like “Black” by Dave, J Hus challenges people’s views of him especially after being incarcerated, but just like Dave J Hus states that there is more to him than what the eye can see. He explains the constant fight for his life because of his upbringing in the “hood” and his experiences in prison. He also speaks about his experience with racism with lines like “Why they wanna take my manhood and strip-search me?” and “No blacks, no dogs, we were segregated”. J Hus referred to infamous posters outside British restaurants in the ’60s that segregated White British people from Black and Irish people. Regardless of how people perceive him, J Hus iterates that he is proud to be Black and he is more than just a “roadman”. He is proud to be dark-skinned and even speaks out against skin bleaching as well.

The third song is by Nigerian- British rapper Knucks. Unlike the other artists in the mixtape, Knucks spent a lot of time in Nigeria as a young child because he was sent to live there by his parents. He later states that his experience in Nigeria really influenced his music because he was able to experience Nigerian culture firsthand. In his song “Home”, Knucks describes the struggles of living in the ghetto in London with problems like knife crime and the media. In an interview, Knuckles states that his inspiration for the song was to “put a face and conscience to the statistics that are usually shown in the media.” Just like Dave and J Hus, Knucks challenges the perceptions people have about young Black people. Throughout the song, Knucks asks “Can’t you see London’s burning?” Throughout this song, Knucks is almost storytelling and tells the classic tale of a day in the life of a young Black British man who is currently living in the hood.

The fourth song is by, probably the most successful artist on the list, Stormzy. Stormy was born to Ghanaian parents but only raised by his mother. In his song “Crown”, Stormzy reflects on his struggles and his successes so far in his career. Throughout the song, Stormzy plays on the phrase “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”. In this song, Stormzy deals with the pressure and criticisms of being a young successful black man and being the “voice of the young Black youth”. He mentions a scholarship that he set up for the young Black students and he was called racist for it, but as Stormzy said “That’s not anti- White, it’s pro-Black.” Once again the theme of overcoming the struggles of being Black in England, but still having that pride of their identity is repeated in the song.  

The final song is by Enny, a young female Nigerian artist. In her newly released song “Same Old”, Enny touches upon the everyday struggles of Black British people with their struggles with gentrification, drugs, failed relationships, and even the effects of Brexit. With lines like “Fuck you and your gentrification. Why’d you have to come on to my ends and try and change shit?” Enny expresses her frustration with her changing environment and the effects of systemic racism. Throughout the song, Enny just says that regardless of all the struggles, she just wants to be able to enjoy her life. Enny is tired of hiding her frustrations and struggles, but somehow society takes that same pain and makes you suffer even more. That is when people turn to drugs and alcohol as a solution. Enny is just reflecting on the effects that systemic racism has on her community and how she just wants to escape. At the end of the day, she just wants to get back to her same old lifestyle, but she can’t so she has no option but to make it out. Once again, the theme of still being proud of being Black regardless of the struggles one faces appears in the song.

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