Top Hip Hop Artists | From Derek B to Little Simz

We celebrate hip hop’s 50th anniversary by profiling many of the best British artists and rappers…


In 2023, hip hop is marking 50 years since Kool Herc held a legendary block party in New York City back in August1973. 

Over the years, the genre has grown to become one of the defining sounds and cultural movements of modern times both in the US and here in the UK. 

We’ve already published our UK hip hop history exploring many of the key moments and milestones in the hip hop timeline.

Now, we’ll profile many of the genre’s key artists who have helped push the culture forward and shape it into what it has become today... 

Derek B 

One of UK’s founding hip hop fathers, Derek B, cut his musical teeth on pirate radio as a teenager before the release of his breakout hit, 'Rock the Beat' , back in 1988.

The London-born rapper went on to score two further top 20 hits with 'Good Groove' and 'Bad Young Brother'  during the same year. 

He was the first British hip hop artist to perform on Top of the Pops and worked with big US stars including Public Enemy. 

Monie Love

Monie Love was born in London but made a name for herself on the other side of the pond, and has lived in New York since the end of the eighties. 

Her initial recordings came through childhood friend MC Mell "O", Sparki and DJ Pogo, under the banner of Jus Bad Productions. 

'I Can Do This' was a UK hit for Monie at the end of the eighties, a track that led to more musical work with the Jungle Brothers after meeting the influential Native Tongues collective

Other big tunes for Monie included 'Monie in the Middle' (a track located in a high school dealing with a woman's right to determine what she wants from a relationship) and 'It’s a Shame' (which sampled The Spinners original 'It's a Shame' written by Stevie Wonder).

Cookie Crew

MC Remedee and Susie Q were the pair behind Cookie Crew, one of the first female UK hip hop outfits to emerge during the eighties. 

The pair came to prominence after winning a rap competition and were asked to do a show with Afrika Bambaataa, who was touring with DJ Red Alert and Lisa Lee.

In 1988, Cookie Crew had a surprise top five hit with 'Rok Da House', created by production team Beatmasters, who they partnered with after a recommendation by DJ Tim Westwood. 

The track was one of the first to be associated with the nascent hip house genre and led to a string of other successful tunes including 'Born This Way (Let's Dance)', and 'Come and Get Some'.

Blak Twang

Blak Twang (born Tony Olabode) is a British rapper raised in Deptford, London who was dubbed 'the original hip hop geezer'.

Also known by the pseudonyms Taipanic and Tony Rotton, he was one of the most powerful early homegrown talents, a reputation cemented by the release of his third 2002 album 'Kik Off'  and the LP's lead singles 'So Rotton'  and 'Trixsta'.

His accolades include nominations at the MOBO Awards and Source Magazine and he's continued to sustain his music career, working solo and with Rodney P and the sadly passed away Ty.  

Roots Manuva

Roots Manuva is one of the UK’s most prominent rappers, a self-styled "bionic zit-splitter". Over the course of several groundbreaking records, he's become a cult musical figure, staying resolutely true to  himself.

Roots made his recorded debut back in the nineties as part of IQ Procedure before debuting as as Roots Manuva the same year on Blak Twang's 'Queen's Head' single.

2001's 'Run Come Save Me' was the record which gained him a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize and spawned his all-time classic, 'Witness'. 

Ever since, he’s continued to put out brilliant, idiosyncratic music with his most recent studio album, 'Bleeds', released in October 2015. 

Ms Banks

Ms Banks, known as Thyra Kigho Deshaun Oji, has been releasing music for just shy of a decade, unleashing a series of increasingly well-received mixes, EPs and collaborations. 

She's guested on tracks with everyone from JME to Little Mix while her latest mixtape - 'Bank Statement' - was released to great acclaim back in 2022. 

Most recently, she appeared alongside Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra as part of the opening act for the Eurovision Song Contest 2023 hosted in Liverpool.

Loyle Carner 

Born in South London and growing up in Croydon, Loyle Carner is a brilliant artist, lifelong Liverpool fan and great chef - clearly a man of many talents alongside his music.

He's deployed his laid back, at times confessional hip hop sound across a number of successful records since the release of his debut, 'Yesterday's Gone' back in 2017. 

The album earned him two respective Brit Award nominations for British Breakthrough Act and British Male Solo Artist alongside a Mercury Prize nod.

His latest record 'Hugo’ is his third and was released in October 2022 to rave reviews.

Nadia Rose 

Initially landing on the mainstream music consciousness in 2016, rapper Nadia Rose’s career lift off came when her lively hit 'Skwod' went viral. 

It earned her a MOBO nomination and a place on the BBC Sound of 2017 shortlist. 

Born and raised in Croydon, South London (the home of UK grime legend and her cousin Stormzy), Nadia has released a string of EPs and collaborations touching on everything from rap to reggae, including 'Fearless' with former Spice Girl, Mel C. 


South London rapper Flohio has been working in hip hop circles since the mid-2010s when she guested on God Colony's 'SE16'

Her combination of unique rhymes and flow put to electronics has led to further collaborations with Modeselektor and The Streets before she unleashed her own mixtape, 'No Panic, No Pain' in 2020. 

Debut album 'Out of Heart'  followed to glowing acclaim in 2022 with this year seeing her perform at Glastonbury and Dekmantel. 

Little Simz

Little Simz has been one of the hottest rappers in the UK since she released her first album, 'A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons', in 2015.

Brought up in North London, her star has been in the ascendance for some time, thanks to her killer microphone skills and brilliant songwriting. 

Little Simz released her third album 'Grey Area' in 2019, teaming up with influential producer Inflo and earning a Mercury Prize nomination in the process. 

Subsequent albums including 'Sometimes I Might be Introvert' and 'No Thank You'  have seen her continue on her upwards journey, claiming a Brit Award and the Mercury Prize. 

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by ICMP staff writer
July 28, 2023
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