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10 UK Artists to Watch This Year

Here's 10 Black British artists to keep an eye out for this year.

Last year saw us lose game-changing artists like Prince and Sharon Jones amongst a slew of other tragedies, including the election of a racist, misogynist and unqualified US President. Nonetheless, in such a testing climate music has the ability to question, re-focus and bring up for debate issues affecting us all.


The 10 artists in this list are all innovators in their own rights, whether carrying the baton for UK grime, rallying for change, forging their own scenes or paying homage to their African ancestry and the greats that inspired them, we’re sure these acts will be making waves into 2017 and beyond. So get to know them.

Stream our Apple Music playlist below and read about the individual selections underneath.

Ray BLK

22-year-old South Londoner Ray BLK embodies an expression of female black Britishness we have been waiting for. In the video for "50/50," a track calling out time-wasting lovers, she pays homage to the hair shops of South London. Always rooted in her own experience, BLK delivers tales of London life through sultry vocals and finger snapping beats. Her songs are relatable and memorable—the hook for "50/50" stayed well and truly lodged in my brain for days.

This year has already provided the singer with an impressive list of accomplishments to put under her belt, she’s collaborated with Stormzy (on track "My Hood"), supported Kelela at her London show earlier this year, and taken home the BBC Sound of 2017. The release of her EP Durt has only made it a better year.

Singing of heartbreak, the trials and tribulations of life and odes to the complexity of her hood, Ray BLK offers anthems to the black British experience, which look set to stand the test of time, make sure you lend her your ears if you haven’t already.

She spoke to us here earlier this year about Black British womanhood and calling out homophobia.

Gaika

Gaika has been on our radar ever since his chilling track "Blasphemer." His special brand of dark dancehall and bashment-infused soundscapes have seen him carve out a space entirely his own. A youtube commenter, described him as "Jamaican Death Grips" and the subtle menace that bubbles beneath his tracks certainly earns him that title.

Following a debut EP in 2015, Machine, and an early feature on avant-garde de-colonial label NON Worldwide’s Compilation, the artist recently dropped his latest EP Spaghetto on Warp Records, and headlined London’s XOYO earlier this month. He’s collaborated with Mykki Blanco and is on the experimental edge of sound art, shaping dystopian soundscapes which rub up against what the world expects of a black male artist. Even if you can’t put a name on it, watch out for more sonic innovation from Gaika.

Nérija

They’ve been backed by tastemaker Gilles Peterson, and sold out their self-titled debut EP launch show at this year’s London EFG Jazz Festival. Nérija take their name from the Hebrew word meaning "lamp of god," and the all-female jazz band are certainly lighting the way.

Their seven band members include Shirley Tetteh on guitar, Sheila Maurice Grey on Trumpet and Nubiya Garcia on tenor sax, amongst others who are tearing up the jazz scene on their own terms. They’ve played jazz festivals up and down the UK and are proof that independent artists can make ripples; using crowdfunding to record and release their first EP.

Their hard work paid off, earning them a nomination for Breakthrough Act at the Jazz FM Awards, (no small feat with Kamasi Washington and Christian Scott also up for awards). With influences of township music and hip-hop seeping through their compositions, we hope Nérija will be a part of the fabric of the UK’s Jazz scene for a long time yet.

Obongjayar

Obongjayar’s gravelly voice paints melancholy in a new light. You’ll be hard pressed not to stop in your tracks after hearing his debut single "Creeping," which booms the solitude and struggle of London life through any speakers. This soul-stirring artist, originally from Nigeria, arrived in London aged 17 and has been perfecting his craft, causing ripples in London and Norwich scenes ever since.

Spewing confessionals over sparse beats and glitchy soundscapes, Obongjayar’s aesthetic is definitely rooted in the sound of 2016. Yet packed with poetic imagery, visceral delivery and vulnerability, his work is a breath of fresh air. It’ll leave you feeling hopeful about the potential for nuanced representations of masculinity in the music we hear.

His debut EP Home has dropped recently, you download it here for a taste of melancholy and grit. Check out the arresting video for "Creeping," directed by none-other-than Frank Lebon (the equally-talented brother of the man behind Frank Ocean’s stunning "Nikes" visuals). You can expect to see Obongjayar gracing stages around the capital before long, not one to be slept on—for real.

Nadia Rose

Winner of this year’s MOBO Award for Best Music Video, Nadia Rose is 22-year-old rapper from Croydon, South London unafraid to grab opportunity by the scruff of the neck. Relatively new to the scene, Rose quit her job two years ago to try rapping full time and hasn’t looked back since.

From headlining London’s Born and Bred Festival this summer (a weekend long celebration of grime, hip-hop, garage and more) to opening for legends like Busta Rhymes, Rose is taking new found success in her stride. Spitting over club bangers like "Tight Up" with playful lyricism and cockiness she’s a contender for a seat at the table with top UK rappers like Lady Leshur and her cousin Stormzy.

Freely rapping about female sexuality, success and nights out, Nadia’s tunes are the perfect soundtrack for getting ready before hitting the club. Her EP Highly Flammable, which features plenty of tracks to set the club on fire, cemented the argument on why she should be one of your new favorite rappers. Peep her "Skwod" video above.

Kojey Radical

To be honest, Kojey Radical should have been on our list of ones to watch in 2016. The 23-year-old poet and rapper (a Londoner hailing from Ghana) has had a stellar year, supporting the likes of Ghostface Killah and Saul Williams, selling out headline shows at London’s Jazz Cafe and Cafe OTO, and a nomination for MOBO’s Best Newcomer Award, all whilst being unsigned. And the young artist shows no signs of letting up, posting “I'm trying to live and die one the greatest performers who ever lived.”

Whilst mainstream media might be slow to wake up to this wordsmith’s talents, the energy and love at his shows suggests he’ll be fine without their recognition. His hard-hitting lyrics and gripping visuals speak specifically to a young diaspora, thirsty for authentic tales of our lives in Britain and our complex heritages.

His EP 23 Winters, with the tagline “We’ve come a long way from being scared to say our African names when asked,” was conceptualised around conversations with his father about Ghana, adulthood and responsibility. Spitting political fire over neck breaking trap beats on tracks like "Gallons," Kojey fearlessly dissolves the rift between poetry and rap, bridging the gap with weighty lyrics speaking to the difficulties of black life in Britain. Even if “they don’t wanna see me righteous running riots with my people,” we certainly do. There’s no telling what he’ll drop in 2017, but it will—no doubt—be fire.

Youth Man

Youth Man are not for the faint hearted. A punk band based in Birmingham, their high octane songs earned them a slot at this year’s first UK Afropunk Festival. Guitarist and lead singer Kalia soars from dulcet, vulnerable tones into heavy roars colliding with bass lines moving faster than the speed of light.

The independent band have been tearing roofs off gigs around the UK and are have just announced that they’ll be supporting Sacremento’s hardcore punk band Trash Talk on their UK/EU Tour. If you can’t catch them causing musical riots across the EU, listen to their EP WAX that dropped earlier this year.

Brother Portrait

Brother Portrait dropped "Seeview/Rearview" last month and had us speechless. His lyrical and visual homage to the dual nature of being a black British immigrant speaks volumes and we can’t wait to see what he drops in 2017. One third of alternative hip-hop group Black Other, Hadiru Mahdi (aka Brother Portrait) cut his teeth in London’s spoken word scene and is now ready to drop his EP, navigate in:limbo.

If the poignant honesty of his offerings up till now are anything to go by, we’re in for a treat. His voice is one in a growing chorus of black Brits opening up about their experiences, bringing seismic shifts in Britain’s music scene. Give thanks and nod your head to the beat.

Flohio

Young MC Flohio had the chance to represent her ends SE16, Bermondsey when supporting acclaimed producer Clams Casino at his XOYO gig last month. A member of TruLuvCru, a group of creative friends looking to make their mark on Britain’s art and music scene, Flohio understands the power of collaboration.

In the summer, she featured on "SE16," a stunning collaboration with production duo God Colony, that pairs distorted off kilter beats with industrial-come-tropical instrumentals that will reconfigure how you view the term ‘grime.' The video, directed by none-other-than Gaika, takes us on a lo-fi tour of South London. Flohio topped off a killer year with a set at Boiler Room’s November party, sharing the bill with 19-year-old prodigy Sam Gellaitry and Areaboyz. Forgive us for saying we told you so when Flohio gets the attention she deserves and fully blows up this year. Wrap your ears around her debut EP Nowhere Near asap!

J Hus

“I’m an ugly man making sexy money” sings J Hus in the viral video for his 2016 hit "Friendly"—we hope the self deprecation is just for show. His tongue-in-cheek lyrics (that never shy away from objectifying the female form) ride over afrobeats infused rhythms—there’s no denying he delivers bangers.

Though he lost out to Abra Cadabra on his MOBO nomination for Best Song, and has kept a lower profile this year than in 2015 (when he dropped his debut EP The 15th Chapter and supported the ever problematic Young Thug), J Hus’ growing popularity is undeniable. Even if awards aren’t ready for him yet, the club dance floors certainly are. "Dem Boy Paigon" and "Lean and Bop" are just a few of his 2015 hits, and with hints of a new album to come, the 21-year-old Newham rapper of Gambian heritage shows no signs of slowing up.

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The Best African Memes of 2018

Laugh with us into 2019 with OkayAfrica's best African memes of 2018.

Meme culture has become a mainstay on these internet streets. It's essentially an alternate form of communicating, of commentary and of simple laughter. 2018 had its fair share of highs and lows, and young Africans continue to utilize memes to celebrate or to cope with the nonsense.

To reflect on the African memes that broke the internet this year, we tapped contributors and African meme tastemakers to list the best African memes of 2018.

Laugh away below.

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The Black Women Who Made Big Strides in France in 2018

Yes, this was a bad year for many reasons, but we can still celebrate the black women who rose to prominence

Back in 2015, a group of Black women activists appeared in the French media: les afrofems. They were and still are, fighting against police brutality, for better inclusion in the media and to destroy harmful sexual stereotypes surrounding black women among other worthy goals. Since then, more influential Black women have gained a bigger representation in the media. And, even better, some of the afrofems activists, like Laura Nsafou and Amandine Gay, have made films and written books to bring more diversity to the entertainment industry.

2018 has, in many ways, been a year where black women made strides in France, at least in terms of culture. From winning Nobel prizes, to having best selling books and being on top of the charts, Black French women have showed that, no matter how much France wants to keep them under the radar, they're making moves. And, no matter the tragedies and terrible events that have shaped the year, it is something worth celebrating.

France's New Queen of Pop Music

We begin with Aya Nakamura, France's new queen of pop music. Her song Djadja was a summer hit. Everyone from Rihanna, to the French football team who successfully won their second world cup, sang it. Her sophomore album "Nakamura" has been certified gold in France and is still on top of the charts. She is the first French singer to have a number one album in the Netherlands since Edith Piaf in 1961. The last time a black woman was as visible in pop music was in 2004, with Lynsha's single "Hommes...Femmes".

Nakamura has received a huge backlash, mostly due to misogynoir—misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles. From a French presenter butchering her African first name despite the fact that he can easily pronounce words like "Aliagas", to online trolls calling her ugly and manly when a picture of her wearing no makeup surfaced, to people complaining that she is bringing down the quality of the entire French pop music industry, Nakamura responds to her critics gracefully. Her music is not groundbreaking but her album is full of catchy songs with lyrics using French slang she masters so well that she came up with her own words like "en catchana" (aka doggy style sex). And most importantly, many black girls and women can finally see someone like them in the media getting the success she deserves.

The Nobel Prize Winner

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another Black French woman has broken records this year: the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé who won the Alternative Nobel Prize, a prize meant to replace the Nobel Prize in Literature, after the scandal that the Swedish Academy of Literature faced last year. Condé wrote her first novel at only 11 years old and has been prolific ever since. A former professor of French literature at Columbia University, she has published more than 20 books since the 1970s, exploring the complex relationships within the African diaspora. "Segu", her most famous novel, is about the impact of the slave trade and Abrahamic religion on the Bambara empire in Mali in the 19th century. Condé's work is radical and she remains committed to writing feminist texts exploring the link between gender, race and class, as well as exploring the impact of colonialism. Condé is a pillar of Caribbean literature and it's taken long enough for her work has been acknowledged by the Nobel prize committee.

The Children's Books Writers

From Comme un Million de Papillon Noir

And finally, 2018 has been the year where France's children's literature industry has finally understood how important, for the public, writers and publishers, being inclusive and diverse was. From Laura Nsafou's Comme un Million de Papillon Noir, a best selling book about a young black girl learning to love her natural hair which sold more than 6000 copies, to Neiba Je-sais-tout: Un Portable dans le Cartable, the second book of Madina Guissé published this year after a successful crowdfunding campaign, there are more and more children's and young adult books with non white protagonists. In France, there are still no stats about how diversity is doing, but in America, in 2017, only 7 percent of writers of children's literature were either Black, Latino or Native American.

There's still much to accomplish in France for the Black community to have better representation in the media, politics and all walks of life, but important strides have been accomplished this year, and it make me hopeful for what 2019 and the following years have in store.

News

J Hus Has Been Sentenced to Eight Months in Jail for Knife Possession

The rapper has been convicted following an arrest in June.

Gambian-Biritish grime rapper J Hus has been sentenced to eight months in prison for knife possesion, reports BBC News.

The artist, neé Momodou Jallow, was arrested in Stratford London in June when police pulled him over near a shopping center, claming that they smelled cannabis. Police officers asked Hus if he was carrying anything illegal, to which the rapper admitted that he had a 10cm folding knife in his possession. When asked why, he responded: "You know, it's Westfield."

Hus pleaded guilty at a hearing in October after initially pleading not guilty.

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