‘Hurtin’ Me‘ was one of last year’s most popular singles and for the artist behind it, was the ruby in her 2017 tiara. Having signed to Universal Music in March for £1mill, alongside the release of her mixtape ‘Real Ting’, urban music fans worldwide started murmuring. The artist I’m talking about is Stefflon Don. (Steff-London – get it?!)
Having begun life in Birmingham, Steff moved to Holland aged 8, where she was raised by her Jamaican parents. Aged 14 the family returned to the UK, this time settling in London. This early exposure to different cultures reveals itself in Stefflon Don’s Global sound. Her voice isn’t instantly recognisable as British, as is often the case with UK rap artists. Bugsy Malone, for example has a thick Birmingham accent and the way Stormzy raps is unmistakably ‘London’. Stefflon Don however, has the ability to sing over an American melody, rap on a Grime beat and freestyle over a bashment or dancehall track, sounding authentic on all. This talent combined with her star presence is a recipe which I’m confident could see her becoming the first UK rapper to truly crack the states.
Many British artists have had huge success across the pond. Adele, Ed Sheeran and One Direction are some of the biggest selling artists Globally, however when it comes to hip-hop or Urban music, we’ve struggled. Skepta’s made a start, through the support of Kanye West and Drake, though he hasn’t managed to convert the hype into record sales. Stormzy followed closely behind, also with a lot of eyes on him. Despite getting his album to chart in AUS and NZ though, Stormzy so far has failed to see even one single chart in the US. Then there are other Grime artists like Giggs who haven’t even been able to make a dent at all. Something about their sound just doesn’t seem to resonate. An interview by Vice addressed Americans on this asking what they weren’t getting about Giggs?! “His style just sounds like talking on a beat.” Whilst that’s specific to Giggs and not all UK artists, it relates to why no-one has yet properly broken through. These artists are trying to remain true to their sound and break a new market with it but the bulk of that market needs a bit of warming up. They’re trying to introducing themselves and a genre together rather than flexing their sound to increase their profile and then, once established, sharing their more original material.
But you may be wondering why it matters whether or not UK artists crack America? Of course, it really comes down to scale. If artists want to be world-class then this does hinge on cracking the American market because of its scale and reputation. For example Lil Yachty, a rising American rapper, raked in $11million in 2017 whereas Stormzy who’s far better known in the UK is estimated to have earnt around half of that figure. Its evidently not all about money; the spotlight on urban or ‘black origin’ music is also important. This has grown and continues to grow, with many of the biggest selling American artists falling into hip-hop or RnB categories. Cracking this market would help the British music industry recognise Grime or UK Hip-Hop in the same way as more traditional ‘white’ music. Ie. man plus guitar.
So back to Stefflon Don. If 2017 was the year she cracked the UK, she seems to have the same idea as me and see 2018 as the year to go after the US. She’s kicked it off by building hype on local radio stations including LA Leakers (Power 106 FM), Shade 45 and Beats 1. With her colourful long hair and bold style, she already looks like a megastar. See below a picture of her with Cardi B at the Mobo Awards this year (where she scooped best female). To look at, you’d think Steff was the bigger star. Next step is joining G-Eazy on the European leg of his 2018 ‘Beautiful and the Damned’ tour. G-Eazy, who is currently dating singer Halsey, produced my favourite song of 2017 with ‘No Limit’ which featured A$AP Rocky and Cardi. Seeing Don chart America would be a big step forward for British music and a proud moment for sisters this side of the Atlantic. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.