Last summer, a teenager from a wee Scottish town went viral for a freestyle video. In isolation, this wasn’t extraordinary: for many aspiring emcees, filming a freestyle or a cypher and linking it to relevant channels and publications is a good way to get noticed – at least when starting out.
But Shogun interested journalists specifically because of his nationality. It’s thirty years since hip-hop arrived in Scotland, but our rappers are still regarded by critics as some kind of weird aberration, or worse, a novelty.
That’s not to say Shogun’s talents weren’t recognised: his slick bars, impactful delivery and advanced breath control in the video ‘Vulcan’ immediately marked him out as one to watch. Much of his appeal also stemmed from the fact he’s technically a grime emcee as opposed to a hip-hop artist. When you consider how relatively young it is as a genre, it makes sense why the prospect of Scotland getting its own grime star would be exciting.
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But as with Young Fathers, who won the Mercury Music Prize, lazier critics suggested Shogun was evidence that Scotland’s wider rap scene was on the rise. It’s a scene that’s come on leaps and bounds, but not for the reasons they think.
As weird as it sounds, Scottish hip-hop has arguably never been more popular than it is now. This isn’t because of a few viral videos, whether it be ‘Vulcan’ or Stanley Odd’s ‘Son, I Voted Yes’; nor is it because of any one rapper’s individual successes outside of hip-hop, as is the case with author and columnist Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey.
Rather, it’s down to the persistence and resilience of Scotland’s entire hip-hop community, whether that be our emcees, producers, beatboxers, b-boys, b-girls or graffiti artists. The longstanding reaction that rappers receive simply for using their own accent has often been cited as the perfect example of the Scottish cultural cringe that has long existed.
But except for Silibil n’ Brainz, who famously got a record deal by pretending they were American, most Scottish emcees have never flinched from spitting in their own accents. Authenticity – a key tenet of hip-hop culture – has much to do with it, but it’s also down to mutual support and constant encouragement between a collective of artists.
Whereas you often hear of small town bands ‘breaking out’ and ‘making it’ in London, the few rappers who receive any attention whatsoever tend to retain links with their community and put on fellow emcees wherever possible.
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The other barriers the hip-hop scene tend to face are perhaps unsurprising. Loki recently railed against Scotland’s “middle class-led culture” as he sees it, where hip-hop tends to fall to the bottom of the food chain because it’s an art-form that gives voice to the working class.
Even the more prominent artists in the scene typically lack the funding and access needed to effectively share their music or go on tour. The Scottish music industry doesn’t really cater for hip-hop and this is reflected in the amateurish level of promotion of any given project.
I was recently told by an officer at Creative Scotland, the organisation set up to support Scotland’s creative industries, that they want to reach out more to the hip-hop community as they receive so few applications from rap artists compared to rock acts.
But the truth on the ground is that hip-hop is constantly growing. In Glasgow, the monthly Break Even nights, organised to give up-and-coming rappers a platform, are attracting new people every month. In Edinburgh, the Hip Hop House nights held by veteran emcee Werd are achieving something similar.
Both cities are hosting battle rap, beatbox and breaking events on a more regular basis than ever before. On a grassroots level, artists such as Steg G, Bigg Taj, Ashtronomik and others run hip-hop workshops that attract young people from a diverse range of backgrounds.
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Anecdotally, we’re receiving more submissions for the long running Scotland Stand Up podcast, which I co-host, now than we ever have before. And, crucially, we increasingly have a defined gig scene in place with artists such as T3xtur3 and CRPNTR both filling out headline shows this month alone.
What the Scottish hip-hop scene lacks in resources, it more than makes up for in effort, will and determination. So, while the attention afforded to the likes of Shogun is encouraging, it’ll be a unified effort from the entire community for Scottish hip hop to make a mark in 2018.
Which artist will be the “next Shogun” or “Scottish Eminem” next year? In terms of rising talents, it could be Ciaran Mac, Kid Robotik, Empress, Zesh, CRPNTR, SWVN, Ransom FA, Sherlock, Big Shamu, Young Brido, EVIL, Symba, Milla or about a dozen others. If there’s any justice, none of them will be described as such, and Scottish hip-hop’s real success will be it becomes so normalised that any or all of them earn the attention they deserve.
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Words: Jonathan Rimmer
Jonathan edits Scotland Stand Up and co-hosts their monthly podcast, which features new music and commentary - they're available at www.scotlandstandup.co.uk
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