A few years ago, in 2007 to be precise, Jamal Edwards had a vision that was ahead of its time. This vision was SBTV, a music channel on YouTube that Edwards initially used to promote the videos that he took of his friends freestyling in his area. The channel quickly rose to prominence, capturing the early stages of popular urban artists such as Giggs, Wretch 32, Blade Brown and Skepta, amongst many many others. However, pop artists such as Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora and even Emeli Sande were featured on the channel. SBTV was almost unrivalled when it came to capturing the bubbling UK music scene at the time. Freestyle channels such as Tim Westwood TV and Charlie’s Sloth’s ‘Fire in the Booth’ (the first FITB was by Mystro in 2010) have also been a major influence on the UK music scene as we know it. For many people, particularly those not living in ‘ends’ or in the specific areas where these rappers began gaining popularity, these channels were vital to discover new artists in a different format than television (because TV channels like Channel AKA, formerly known as Channel U, were arguably the main platform for UK urban music in the early 2000s and early 2010s).
In the earlier years, SBTV was undoubtedly the dominant channel of its time. Fast-forward a few years, and Link Up TV and GRM Daily (formerly known as Grime Daily) became the two major players in the UK for urban music. Link Up TV hosts major UK hits such as 67’s ‘Let’s Lurk’, Yxng Bane and Kojo Funds’ ‘Fine Wine’, C Biz’s club banger ‘The Game’s Mine’ and countless other classics. Similarly, GRM Daily have premiered many videos that have amassed millions of views such as Ramz’s ‘Barking’, B Young’s ‘Jumanji’, EO’s ‘German’ and Not3s’ ‘Addison Lee’. During the formative years of these channels, I would argue that it was a level playing field with both channels premiering future classics and hit songs. Neither of them were completely dominating in the same way that SBTV did before them. Also, other channels such as JDZMedia and P110 were still fairly popular so there was a healthy variety of music channels to choose from.
Now in 2019, although there are still smaller UK hannels which have been steadily dropping quality content such as Mixtape Madness, Pressplay Media and BL@CKBOX, along with the heavy-hitters that I have already mentioned, GRM Daily are arguably completely in control of urban music in the UK right now. With over 2.1 million subscribers, GRM’s reach is substantial. The content that they choose to promote is what is predominantly consumed. The UK urban music scene (specifically the genres of UK Rap, Trap and Afroswing/Afrobashment) is almost monolithic thanks to Posty’s GRM Daily.
Of course this is a positive thing; artists now have an unprecedented reach and a specific target audience that are eager to hear their particular style of music. Rappers are doing numbers that simply wasn’t possible before. On the flip side, I have to ask, have the music channels stifled visual creativity? One look through the catalogues of GRM Daily will show you that visually, most of the videos are generic and have the same visual narrative (flashy cars, sexy women, jewellery, shots of estates etc.). Only a few really stand out (I’m thinking of SL’s fantastic visual for ‘Tropical’ and Unknown T’s ‘Throwback’). One look at the videos of rappers such as Slowthai and Kojey Radical will emphasis my point. They simply have far better visuals because they aren’t afraid to take risks. Also, what happens to the rappers that are making Alternative-Rap? Rappers that don’t fit neatly into GRM’s aesthetics? Rappers such as Jesse James Solomon, Rejjie Snow, 808ink, Ocean Wisdom and other rappers cut from that particular cloth. They have to rely on their own platforms because there isn’t one that caters to their particular sound, demographic and aesthetics.
This is the reason why many people are complaining that many of the songs coming out of the UK ‘sound the same.’ Songs such as Not3s’ aforementioned ‘Addison Lee’, J Hus’ ‘Did You See’, DBE’s ‘Large Amounts’, Fredo’s ‘They Ain’t 100’ and M Huncho’s legendary MadAboutBars, created a blueprint that many people are trying to emulate thanks to their success. Maybe the answer is that every artist should just focus on building their own platform. Perhaps we need a new platform for the more alternative rap that is coming out of the UK. Either way though, regardless of how you feel about them, the music channels in the UK are, and always have been, an integral part of the scene.
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