The Journey of Black British Music

The love of music has always been an influence on so many black people and families and growing up in a very large family and community, music was played everywhere I went: in my home, family and friend’s houses, celebrations and raving.  It is a huge part of my life.  Music brought people together and I recall many times when my parents had gatherings music and food was the hub of it all and how easily something small could turn into a party with just a selection of records.  When the coffee table got moved to the side of the living room everyone knew what time it was – partttty time.  I want to celebrate the black British music genre which has had an influence on me, my family, friends and children – it’s just a snippet of our good times and I could never capture it all, but what I hope to achieve is for my readers  to walk down memory lane of the good times.  I hope you enjoy!

Black music has been an influence to the world as far back as the Roman times.  However, black music is associated with slavery when African slave descendants were transported across the world they were able to bring musical instruments with them or make new ones and create their own music.  Overtime, black music has evolved and varies from country to country.  Black America has always had an influence on music globally and many types of music such as Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Hip Hop, Rock, Country and Western and Soul were all created by black America.  But they are not the only influencers of music as other countries such as the Caribbean (Reggae, Calypso, Soca, Mento, Rock steady and Ska), Latin America (Salsa, Cumbria, Reggaeton, Bachata, Merengue, Bossa nova, Rumba and Son) and Africa (Afrobeat, Afrobeats, Apala, Assiko, Bikutsi, Benga, Bongo Flava, Cabo-Love, Chimurenga) all had their own types of music and influences.

As for the UK, black people have been influenced by all genres of music, especially as our fore parents from the Windrush generation that came from different Caribbean islands merged together whilst building their foundations.  Our major influences were reggae and soul.  Later on in years the British youths created their own sounds and during the 1970s and 1980s we had Lover’s rock known for its smooth slow reggae beats and sweet ballads that young couples would ‘wine and goh down’ to at clubs and house parties to songs from artists such as Louisa Mark’s ‘Caught You In A Lie’ (1975), Janet Kay’s ‘Silly Games’ (1979) and Carroll Thompsons ‘I’m sorry’ (1980). 

Reggae music has consistently been played throughout the years and in the 1980s we had a number of reggae artists and bands making good music such as Aswad which was one of the first groups to successfully cross over into mainstream charts with hits such as ‘Don’t turn around’ (1988).  During the 1980s the black English music scene was rife with a number of sound systems such as Jah Shaka, Sir Coxsone and Trojan to name a few.  These sound systems produced a number of young black talent that were singers and lyrical MC’s such as Maxi Priest, Tippa Irie and Smiley Culture who were all from Saxon Sound System and had recognised chart hits such as ‘wild world’ (1988), ‘Police Officer’ (1985) and ‘Hello darling’ (1986).  We also had our first black boy band Musical Youth who had a hit song called ‘Pass di dutchie’ (1982).

The 80s music ended nicely with the release of ‘back to life’ (1989) by RnB group Soul to Soul and we entered the 1990s with ‘There’s nothing like this’ (1990) by Omar, Don-E’s ‘unbreakable’ (1992),  Mark Morrison’s (the UK’s version of Bobby bad boy Brown) ‘return of the mack’ (1996) and Lyndon David Hall’s ‘sexy Cinderella’ (1997).  The 1990s was a time where England was heavily influenced by a number of international entertainers that produced music for multiple genres for example, Biggie Smalls, Jodeci, Mary J Blige, Shabba Ranks, Ninja Man, Lady Saw, Patra, Super Cat and the young Buju Banton.  But whilst they were influencing the UK raving circuit there was a new genre of music waiting to burst on to the scene that changed how music was sampled and produced……. 

Where is all my jungalist massive?  Jungle music was the predecessor of drum and bass and was very much an underground music and raving scene which was also a spinoff Acid House Music.  Jungle music was a mixture of vocals, big pianos of happy hardcore and heavy futuristics sounds with hip hop, ragga, soul and rare groove thrown into the mix.  Jungle birthed a new sound where people from different ethnic and social backgrounds would rave together.  The jungle movement consisted more of DJ’s and MC’s such as Brockie and MC Det, Nicky Blackmarket, Andy C, Fabio and Grooverider, Randall, DJ Hype, Stevie Hyper D, Skibadee and Shabba D and the Ragga twins.  Everyone went to raves such as Telepathy, Orange, Dessert Storm and Jungle Splash and would dance to tracks such as General Levy’s ‘Incredible’ (1994), Goldie’s ‘inner city life’ (1994), Shy FX’s ‘Gangsta Kid’ (1995) and Splash’s ‘Babylon’ (1995). 

From there UK music moved to Garage House a beat with more soulful, R&B, Gospel, soft vocals and piano riffs influence where we had music from Roy Davis Jr ‘Gabriel’ (1997), DJ Luck and MC Neat ‘A Little Bit of Luck’ (1999), Wookie’s ‘The Club’ (2000), Sweet Female Attitude ‘Flowers’ (2001) and Sticky ft Ms Dynamite’s famous ‘Boo’ (2002).  The Millennium birthed the start of grime music, a darker child of garage, which So Solid Crew’s ’21 Seconds’ (2001) track has been acknowledged as being one of the predecessors of grime.  But it was Dizzee Rascal who received recognition and critical acclaim when he won the Mercury Music Prize for his album ‘Boy in the Corner’ in 2003 that brought grime music to the fore.  Grime music gave young artists the opportunity to rap about their life experiences and rappers such as Wiley’s ‘Wearing my Rolex watch’ (2008), Giggs ‘ummm’ (2008), Tini Tempah’s ‘Pass Out’ (2010) and Chipmunk ft Mavado ‘Every Gyal’ (2011) either created hits that enabled them to break into mainstream media with a number of hits or make collaborations with artists from various music genres.

The latter half of the 00’s grime music still had a hold and the likes of young Stormzy broke through with ‘shut up’ (2015) and rap duo Krept and Konan ft Jeremih’s ‘freak of the week’ (2015) was an international hit.  Grime caught the eye of the international market and a number of big named artists such as Diddy, Drake and Kanye West started to take the UK artists seriously and began pursuing collaborations or taking the beats to mix into their songs.  Presently, the latest craze for the youths is drill music which comes with mixed views with hip hop fans acknowledging it as a major genre in contemporary rap and mainstream media associating the music with the gang related issues and knife crimes that is plaguing the London Street.  Regardless of the view points and controversy, artists such as Unknown T’s ‘Homerton B’ (2018), Russ Millions ‘gun lean’ (2018) song and dance and Tion Wayne ft Russ Million’s ‘Keisha and Becky’ (2019) have all made its mark within the music industry. 

Throughout all of this reggae, rap, soul and now afrobeats have consistently influenced black culture in the UK and artists past and present have not only used their platforms to entertain us like Steflon Don ft French Montana’s ‘Hurting me’ (2017), Nots3’s ‘addison lee’ (2017), J Hus’s ‘did you see’ (2017) and pandemic favourite ‘don’t rush’ (2020) from Young T, bugsey and Headie One, but they also make music to highlight the systemic and day to day struggles black working-class people face such as Dave’s ‘black’ (2020).

As you can see music is a major part of black people’s lives and I really do think that black British music has been underrated, we have birthed some fantastic artists and genres over the years.  Music has helped black people to speak out and express ourselves, set dance trends, make friendships, come together in love, grief and celebration and create beautiful memories which lasts a lifetime.  Writing this blog has really enlightened me and I have enjoyed every minute of reminiscing and listening to so much tracks and I hope that after reading this it will encourage you to pull out those old records, CD’s or downloads.  I know I have missed out so many artists and genres and I would love it if you would share some of your black UK musical favourites and categories by commenting below.

About Author

South London Blogger, who is passionate about writing topics that have an impact on people of colour in the UK!

(11) Comments

  1. Leelee says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article, music moves me in many ways and the genres you’ve captured over the last few decades is definitely relatable. Question tho, do you feel the music nowadays has the same feel like the music in the 90’s and early 2000’s? Sound like my elders asking this question lol.

    1. Thank you. No, my personal preference of music was during the 90s, it had a vibe and the lyrics meant something. I remember going out of my way to buy an album and loving and appreciating the whole album, but today there is one or two tracks that are ok and the rest either grows on me or is a miss and definitely do not get some of the rap music floating around at present. When I play music my children always tell me that the music is my days (and up) is so much better than today.

  2. Rene says:

    Love the article… Black music has definitely paved the way for alot of artist within different genres of music.
    Also that fact that it brought the youths together in the 80s and 90s with ‘All Dayers’

    1. I absolutely forgot to include the all dayers and I was one of the promoters for the ‘Moonshot Youth Promotions’ ?

  3. Sandra says:

    Growing up personally, knowing many of the artists, MC’s and Sound systems from the 80’s and 90’s you mentioned. Was a way of partying and enjoying the music with friends. It was, for me. An extension of the parties that our parents had, but for us teenagers. I don’t think I fully understood back then, how music and the sounds created by Black people was shaping the world. Or how privileged I was to be living and experiencing the influences around me.
    Music back then to me, was a release. A way of enjoyment, but also of letting out the frustrations of life experiences.
    Do you think the music from the youth of today, fully understand the history their sounds are bore from?

    1. No, I don’t think they do, which is a massive shame. But it’s for us as adults to educate our children about the history of music, sound systems and what it means.

      1. Sandra says:

        How do we leap that hurdle?
        I was trying to explain to my nephew the other day, how Brownstone’s CD -which I played. Was my outlet for a relationship break up…and he looked at me like…’what is that’!! ??‍♂️

        1. ?? I think what your doing now is what we need to keep doing, playing the music and have discussions about it. Growing up I had to listen to so much selection of music and at the time I had no appreciation for any of it until I got older!

  4. Sharelle says:

    Loved this read!!! So many tracks and artist running through my head… would love to look at my old Limewire downloads!!!?
    My favs would be Crystal Walters (Gypsy Woman) Jamiroquai (Too young to die) and Cleopatra (Cleopatra Theme)

    1. Jeeeze Cleopatra, coming at ya ???

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