While hip hop originated in the United States, the UK has developed its own thriving rap scene and sound. British artists have made an undeniable impact shaping the genre’s landscape. This definitive ranking will profile the 25 best rappers from the UK based on their lyricism, influence, chart success, albums, and cultural importance.
From London grime MCs to Birmingham hip hop veterans, these rappers represent the scope of UK rap. Let’s dive into the top 25 starting from number 25 down to the greatest British rapper ever.
Hailing from South London, Cadet first gained attention through his “Rated” freestyle in 2015 before signing to independent label Red Bull Records. His 2018 single “Advice” grew his profile further and hit the UK Top 40. Known for blending genres like rap, R&B, grime and afrobeats seamlessly, Cadet was poised for bigger success before his tragic death in a 2019 car accident at just 28. His honest lyrics and musicality had UK hip hop potential.
#24. Wretch 32
North London rapper Wretch 32 scored several Top 10 hits in the UK during the early 2010s like “Don’t Go” and “6 Words” fusing rap, grime and electronic music. His 2011 debut album Black and White peaked at number 11. Across five total LPs and collaborative tracks with artists like Ed Sheeran, Wretch 32 established himself as one of the scene’s premier rappers before transitioning more into television roles and presenting.
#23. Little Simz
Female London MC Little Simz broke through with critically acclaimed projects like her 2019 concept album GREY Area, combining grime, jazz and experimental production. She earned a UK Top 5 album in 2021 with Sometimes I Might Be Introvert. Songs like “Woman” showcase Simz’s technical skill and socially conscious lyrics aimed to inspire other women. The 4-time Brit Award nominee continues to elevate UK hip hop with conscious lyricism.
#22. Dizzee Rascal
As a pioneer of the grime genre, East London’s Dizzee Rascal became one of Britain’s biggest rap stars in the 2000s with acclaimed projects like his Mercury Prize-winning 2003 debut Boy in da Corner. Singles like “Bonkers” and “Dance Wiv Me” helped bring grime to mainstream British radio. Dizzee’s innovative production and high energy established foundations for future grime and UK rap stars.
#21. Lady Leshurr
Female Birmingham MC Lady Leshurr originally grabbed attention through her “Queen’s Speech” freestyle series on YouTube. She later broke through more commercially with projects like her 2016 mixtape Mode and 2019 EP Quarantine Speech. Leshurr impresses with witty, tongue-twisting bars and a vibrant musicality blending rap, grime, and Caribbean soca influences. Her creative videos also showcase charisma.
London rap veteran Ghetts first made noise as a grime MC in the 2000s clashing (or battling) others on pirate radio stations. Across mixtapes and albums like Ghetto Gospel and Conflict of Interest, his fierce delivery and punchlines earned respect. Mainstream exposure came later through collabs with UK pop acts. Respected for his technical prowess, Ghetts shines among grime’s elite wordsmiths.
This young multi-instrumentalist rapper from South London broke through in 2019 with his gritty yet introspective debut album Psychodrama, winning that year’s prestigious Mercury Prize. Dave built buzz through his freestyle videos and singles like “Hangman” that highlighted social/political issues impacting the Black community. His vivid storytelling and jazz influences showcase UK lyricism at its sharpest. At just 23, Dave seems poised for huge success.
London pop rapper Example exploded onto the scene in the late 2000s with upbeat, electronic-tinged hits like “Changed the Way You Kissed Me” and “Kickstarts.” His inventive fusion of genres along with witty lyrics scoring multiple UK Top 10 singles and albums established Example as a leading crossover force. Later songs like “Kids Again” contain more gritty elements represents the duality in Example’s catalog.
#17. Tinie Tempah
South London rapper Tinie Tempah became the first British MC to achieve a number one UK single with his smash “Pass Out” in 2010, paving the way for other grime artists. His major label debut Disc-Overy spawned additional hits like “Written in the Stars.” Tempah continued peaking with 2013’s Demonstration before going independent. His brash flows showed grime could thrive in the pop mainstream.
#16. Professor Green
Arriving in the late 2000s, London rapper Professor Green (aka Stephen Manderson) made an immediate impression through his hit “Read All About It” with Emeli Sandé. His sarcastic yet introspective lyrics detail his working-class upbringing. Solid follow up albums like At Your Inconvenience scored several more UK Top 10s establishing Professor Green as both a critical and commercial force.
Pronounced “Jeh-muh,” rapper Jme rose to prominence alongside his grime MC brother Skepta as a co-founder of Boy Better Know collective. Jme carved his own niche through albums like Integrity> showcasing his clever wordplay and punchlines blended over beat-heavy grime and electronic production. As an independent artist, his DIY approach inspired a generation of grime MCs to stay dedicated to their craft.
As mentioned earlier, versatile South London rapper Dave broke through in 2019 with his Mercury Prize-winning conceptual debut Psychodrama. Beyond vivid storytelling about Black struggles, Dave impressed with jazz-inflected production and fluid delivery on singles like “Location” and “Clash.” Still just 23, Dave’s creative integrity and musicality points toward a long influential career ahead repping UK hip hop.
One of grime’s pioneering MCs from East Ham, London, Kano gained recognition starting in 2004 with his debut Home Sweet Home and hit “Ps and Qs” which reached the UK Top 20. Subsequent albums like London Town and Hoodies All Summer showcased his buoyant rhyme skills. Respected as an elder statesman in UK rap, Kano’s longevity comes from dedicated craft and keeping grime’s essence alive.
#12. Wretch 32
North London rapper Wretch 32 scored several Top 5 UK hits in the 2010s blending genres like grime, hip hop and electronic music. His 2011 debut Black and White reached number 11 fueled by the smash Ed Sheeran collab “Don’t Go.” Across 5 albums and mixtapes, Wretch popularized the term “rapper-tivist” for his socially conscious lyrics. His mainstream success opened doors for future grime crossover.
As grime’s current biggest star, Stormzy brought the genre to new heights in the UK during the late 2010s with his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer topping charts. His BRIT Award wins and Glastonbury headlining solidified his massive success. Stormzy also uses his platform for social activism. The charismatic MC represents how UK rap can thrive both underground and commercially at once.
#10. Little Simz
The independent female London MC Little Simz found acclaim in the 2010s through vivid storytelling and production blending rap, R&B, grime and jazz. Albums like A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons and GREY Area were nominated for the Mercury Prize. Little Simz stands out by tackling mental health, discrimination and empowerment from introspective viewpoints. Her limitless potential continues to unfold.
#9. Roots Manuva
Pioneer Rodney Smith a.k.a. Roots Manuva became one of the most influential rappers in British hip hop history for blending dub, drum and bass, and downtempo electronic sounds starting with his 1999 debut Brand New Second Hand. Albums like Run Come Save Me earned Mercury Prize nominations. Manuva’s innovative production and flow created the blueprint for future UK rap experimentation.
#8. Lady Sovereign
As one of the few white female MCs in grime, Lady Sovereign cut through with an energetic brash style on tracks like “Random” and her 2005 debut Vertically Challenged. Her success expanded internationally with Jay-Z signing her to Def Jam for 2009’s Jigsaw. Lady Sovereign’s brazen lyrics and individuality left a mark during grime’s mid-2000s peak years as an inspiration.
#7. Dizzee Rascal
The acclaimed East London grime MC Dizzee Rascal became an unlikely UK pop star in the mid-2000s while never compromising his fiery flow. 2003’s Boy in da Corner took grime mainstream for the first time, winning the Mercury Prize. Hit singles like “Bonkers” and “Dance Wiv Me” followed suit, making Dizzee the scene’s most recognizable face worldwide and paving the way for others.
#6. Tinie Tempah
As mentioned earlier, Tinie Tempah became the first British MC to top the UK singles chart with his smash “Pass Out” in 2010. His major label debut Disc-Overy spawned additional hits like “Miami 2 Ibiza” and “Written in the Stars.” Blending styles like grime and electronic music seamlessly, the South London rapper opened doors for other nontraditional acts to find wide success in the pop mainstream.
Born Joseph Junior Adenuga, Skepta became an influential figure and torchbearer for UK grime and hip hop as co-founder of Boy Better Know alongside his brother Jme. Breakthrough tracks like “That’s Not Me” and Konnichiwa arrived after over a decade of work. Winning the 2016 Mercury Prize proved Skepta’s creative vision, especially through inspired beatmaking. His staying power remains impressive.
#4. Professor Green
One of the UK’s biggest rap stars in the early 2010s, Professor Green (aka Stephen Manderson) broke through with his Emeli Sandé-assisted smash “Read All About It.” His sharp lyrics paint vivid pictures of working-class London life. Chart-topping album At Your Inconvenience followed in addition to mental health advocacy. Professor Green brought new perspectives into UK rap’s consciousness with commercial success.
London-born Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (aka M.I.A.) garnered acclaim and popularity in the 2000s for her revolutionary fusion of hip hop, dance, electro, world music and political messages. Albums like Arular and Kala earned her critical praise for defying expectations. Empowered hits like “Paper Planes” made M.I.A. one of music’s most forward-thinking artists and a creative inspiration beyond hip hop.
#2. Mike Skinner
Frontman of project The Streets, Birmingham’s Mike Skinner pioneered speaking lyrical narratives over electronic, garage and grime production rather than traditional rapping. Hit albums Original Pirate Material and A Grand Don’t Come for Free were praised as conceptual masterpieces capturing 21st century British life and youth culture. Skinner’s relatable storytelling progressed UK hip hop songwriting.
#1. Slick Rick
Though originally from South London, Slick Rick became New York hip hop royalty in the 1980s and helped pave the way for future British rappers. His imaginative narrative songs like “Children’s Story” were stylistically slick and pioneering. Despite later deportation issues, his three classic Def Jam albums cemented his legacy as one of rap’s most singular voices. Without Slick Rick’s success, UK rap may have developed much differently.
The Evolution of British Hip Hop
Like rock music, UK rappers embraced hip hop on their own terms fusing it with local culture. Early stars like Derek B and Demon Boyz achieved little mainstream visibility. But groups like London Posse, Hijack, and the Brotherhood developed small but dedicated followings.
The early 2000s saw momentum build with Dizzee Rascal and The Streets gaining critical acclaim. By the mid-2000s, Lady Sovereign and Mike Skinner brought international attention. In the late 2000s, Professor Green and Tinie Tempah broke out commercially.
Grime became UK rap’s signature genre blending hip hop, garage, dancehall, electronic, and Jamaican sound system culture. Pioneered by MCs like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Kano and Skepta, grime represented the streets of London and beyond. Its high BPM beats and quickfire rapping became integral to UK identity like punk once was.
Today grime is stronger than ever with Stormzy achieving unprecedented success. Fellow MCs like Dave, Little Simz, and Ghetts also thrive with versatility highlighting UK rap’s creative breadth. The incredible progress and diversity suggests a bright future ahead.
Legacy of The Top Rappers
While taking cues from American rap, these visionary MCs also rejuvenated the genre by bringing distinct regional influences like dub, electronic music, world music, and their own attitudes. Their creative alchemy birthed grime and made rap feel more organic to the UK.
Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, Skepta, Stormzy and other grime MCs demonstrate how hip hop can expand infinitely when merged with local culture. Their explosive energy mirrors the nation’s restlessness. These rappers evolved UK rap into a thriving homegrown scene that both honors its roots and reinvents convention.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are considered the founders of UK hip hop?
Groups like Demon Boyz, London Posse, Silver Bullet, Hijack and others first adapted American hip hop to the UK. London Posse and Caveman were among the earliest to rap in London accents.
What cities are most important in British rap history?
London obviously, as the birthplace of grime and home to most pioneering MCs. But Birmingham, Manchester, and Nottingham also fostered noteworthy rap talent.
How has US rap influenced British hip hop?
UK rap grew from emulating 80s styles like old school, electro, and golden age. 90s stars like The Notorious B.I.G. inspired future grime. Today, UK rappers fuse a range of US influences seamlessly into their own sound.
Who are the most popular UK rappers currently?
In terms of commercial success, Stormzy, Dave, D-Block Europe, AJ Tracey, and J Hus are among the top current rap stars. Critical acclaim shines on Little Simz, Slowthai, and Kojey Radical.
What subgenres exist in British hip hop?
Grime is the signature UK rap style. But MCs also embrace road rap, drill, jazz rap, afrobeats, dub, conscious hip hop, and other fusions. The diversity showcases UK rap’s vibrancy.