When Estelle’s ‘American Boy ‘debuted in 2008, it was an instant classic. You couldn’t open Kanye West’s verse with “tell ‘em wagwan, blud” and not reach number one in the UK; and it did.
Following the success of this collaboration, listeners expected a cultural shift that would launch collaborations between British and Americans into the mainstream. Whilst we did see this happen in small doses (Chipmunk feat. Chris Brown, Tinie Tempah feat. Kelly Rowland), the perpetual fixation on ‘breaking America’ left many in the music industry disappointed.
However, what was birthed was a stronger sense of self in the UK’s rap and R&B scenes, evolving to focus more on national and international success that far succeeded the need for the United States.
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Most recently, music fans have seen this materialise in Headie One x Drake’s ‘Only You Freestyle’. Like any piece of art, it didn’t come without critique. There was the usual side-eye of Drake for cultural appropriation - already a Canadian on a UK drill beat, the brief switch to Arabic didn’t help his case.
Outside of this however, Drake’s poor flow is what had fans confused. Drake is a lot of things, but a poor rapper is definitely not one of them; yet he seemed like a fish-out-of-water when trying to match the tempo of this very standard UK Drill beat.
This isn’t the first time Drake has found himself awkwardly paired with this genre, either – just look at Drake’s drill debut ‘War’, released earlier this year. This song also had a mixed reception, and while the overall consensus was that this wasn’t area he needed to dabble in any further… alas, we have met again.
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Headie One’s verse on the other hand, was met with welcoming arms. Many applauded Headie One for the collaboration, propelling to fame in just under three years, a collaboration with Drake shows Headie’s ascension in full force.
The focus on Headie One rather than Drake, had been surprising to many, given the latter is often discussed in the context of global stardom. Of course, as Headie One is one of UK Drill’s pioneers, he was very much in his element on the track, as should be expected.
In the past, the strength of a UK artist was measured by not just their ability to reach international success but, in the U.S. specifically. A difficult market to please, many made celebrity status synonymous with America and breaking any other market was seen as less integral.
Seemingly, there were no rules, with the States being receptive to artists from Dido to Skepta, but less so with Robbie Williams - despite all these artists being viewed as national treasures if not currently, then at some point in their careers.
Whilst it left many UK artists unsure of their talent at a point, it has since allowed the UK to put its trust within itself, which has ultimately led to wide success, including “breaking America” anyway.
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This has been evident in the success of songs such as Nottingham based duo, Young T and Bugsey’s ‘Don’t Rush’ (which incidentally also features Headie One, what a guy). 'Don’t Rush', the fourth single on their acclaimed EP ‘Plead The Fifth’, reached global success after being featured in the international Tik Tok challenge ‘Don’t Rush’ which was first popularised by UK based influencers.
The single has since translated into global Shazams, peaking at No.5 on the global Shazam chart – No.4 in the US, No.4 in France and No.37 in the UK, and has remixes with rappers such as mogul Busta Rhymes and Da Baby.
We can enjoy these collaborations without positioning them as a requirement for UK artists to succeed. We’re seeing a decline in the discourse that focuses the UK needing U.S. assistance, but rather British artists being celebrated both home and away. International markets are in awe of our scene and are justifiably wanting a piece too.
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Words: Tochi Imo / @tochichels
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