Photo via Denzel Himself/Instagram

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The torch has been passed.

Supported by the infrastructure of UK hip-hop platform Mixtape Madness, Kenny Allstar’s Mad About Bars helped shepherd the 2016-2019 era where drill talents such as 1011, fka Y.OFB, rose to their respective successes. Now Fumez The Engineer’s Plugged In Sessions is standing shoulder to shoulder as the next go-to freestyle series.

Simplicity is key for these freestyle formats: rappers juggle unremorseful disses over a drill beat, there’s usually some wordplay about being on the wing like Maguire and there has to be cut-ins of Fumez shocked at the description of gruesome bodily horror. If it’s generating millions of views, helping artists’ careers and establishing Fumez as a conduit highlighting the most aggressive drill talents in the UK, then don’t fix it right?

In March, Fumez dedicated International Women’s Day to host the Female’s Special; a femme fatale of eight rising rappers and it’s a pretty good display of what’s popping in the UK. There’s Bryn, whose glossy Tik Tok-shaped lyrical jabs show a modern side of UK trappy sounds whereas Blasian Baddie doesn’t hide from her namesake – letting us know she’s black and Asian in the first verse – and in the second eight bar verse too. Personally, I know she’s captivating that biracial demographic who want a little seduction and representation in their drill music.

The MVP moment has to be Cristale’s first 8-bar verse before the production takes a breath and passes the baton to TeeZandos’ incisive verse. And it got me thinking, damn, a Cristale x TeeZandos x Reemuuni Plugged In is necessary right now. Or at the least, some A&R should be overworking overnight to put those three artists on a song. On the other hand, Queen Millz’s skippy grime-influenced flow would be perfect to hear in her own individual Plugged In Session.

It’s nothing out of the blue for Fumez, check out the twelve-man mission where some Grandpa’s favourite rappers Pete and Bas share the same mic as Camden’s drill poster-child Suspect. Even if you’re left wishing Fumez would bring more female rappers to do individual sessions instead of squeezing eight rappers within a 4 minute freestyle on IWD and ticking off the diversity quota. But it’s a well-intentioned gesture and we got some solid performances.

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When RenzNiro, the multidisciplinary artist hailing from Manchester released the coming-of-age tape See Me, See Trouble last year, it sounded like he was on the cusp of discovering himself; personally and professionally. After the release, he performed across the UK and later went back into his cave – which was either a darkroom and a music studio somewhere in the sticks.

He re-emerged onto the scene ten months after the release of his debut with his new single “More222Life.” RenzNiro’s youthful voice charges through Mattu and Rainy Miller’s chilly and textured alt-electronic production underlined by reverberating 808s and choral hums. The polymath reflects on self-esteem, moving on after heartbreak, reaffirming himself to “Inhale, exhale, remember you was born for f*cking this.”

RenzNiro balms away the demons of self-doubt and imposter’s syndrome. Starting from within, it’s promising to see a young black creative getting closer to that edge and instead of looking down, they only see a horizon of what’s out there to conquer.

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I saw Denzel Himself live years ago at a Boiler Room event around 2018. There was free booze and a free excuse to get out of your mould-infested student room for a good night out. There were only a few conditions spoken by Denzel: dress in all-black/monochromatic colours and get ready to lose yourself in the cult.

Except there’s no drinking of barbiturates whilst dressed out in some black and white Nike Decades, it’s Denzel crowd-surfing off the hands of the jumpy crowd and the heat of the goth-rap adrenaline-packed THRASHER EP. Following Denzel Himself’s journey since then feels genuine, like seeing your next door neighbour’s farm of vegetation flourish during the spring. Considering his iconoclastic direction to synthesising genre and aesthetic is steering towards the oft-forgotten history of Black Cowboy, it never looks fake or sounds too chasing-with-the-trends.

This chameleonic ability makes Denzel Himself fit into every song like a dedicated method actor and every self-directed music video as a prolific movie director. In “GOTH SKATE,” the UK alt-rap game’s Christian Bale with a penchant for The Neptunes dives into his next role as an angsty braided neo-gothic cowboy roaming the streets of London.

“GOTH SKATE” is an extension of his head-banging hardcore EP, goth cowboy: country songs for Grudge-holders. It’s as dark as his bark and bite gnarls and soothing as his neo-soul singing, crooning “ah God, I don’t wanna be your baby” floating on top of the neo-jazzy introduction.

In typical Himself fashion, the London-born artist stomps on the self-produced beat with rusty synths and piercing drums taken out of a 2003 Pharrell’s drum kit. His command is truly gripping: check out the bit where he rips through the mix, telling the beat to “stop the chorus” before breaking the fourth wall in a weird Wolf-era Tyler, The Creator interlude musing stoic koans before ordering us to dance.

Now he vagabonds in Europe, aiming to recruit another cult member, just remember to dress up in all-black.

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Sasha B has a peerless knack of balancing that invisible tightrope of sardonic corniness and self-deprecating humour which doesn’t make the listener pity or roll their eyes at whatever they have to say.

She craved her iykyk-like presence in the UK underground scene with her melodic hook-y guest features or her sasha b on the flow series, showcasing her random-tweets-in-the-drafts lyricism, her post-Indie-sleaze (before it was cool) demeanour and beat selection which picks cues from hyperpop, meme rap and UK alt rap.

Produced by the UK-based electronic beat wizard 3o, “bitchwho” is a signpost in the direction she’s travelling in this post-irony meme rap world. She sounds less mercurial and melodic and more poker-faced like a restrained mother who listens too much to Kreayshawn and Remble recently. Her songwriting shines in a weird way, condensing wry stream-of-consciousness thoughts to a catalogue of surreal images; she sees herself marrying a famous David because she’s a Jew, she buys a Pepsi as an advocate for world peace and she shoutouts Skillibeng in the most mind-boggling way that’ll have you googling those lyrics because it DID go over your head (unless you’re well-versed in dancehall.)

While she won’t make any Curb Your Enthusiasm cameos soon. Her latest songs “anarchist” and “bitchwho” sounds like as if sasha B is one punchline from going viral or seeing her thoughts bastardised by some wannabe blue tick comic/podcast host. By the end of the song, your mind will think “well she thinks she has 10-20 comparisons?? Well. Bitch. Who?

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The internet has stripped away the constraints of music discovery and everybody’s music taste seems to be expanding at a thousand miles per hour every day. Beyond the physical (cassettes/CDs/vinyls) and visceral (live/TV performances), it makes for some pretty interesting results, especially coming from the Gen Z British side of the globe.

There’s times when it works well like Central Cee flipping Passenger’s “Let Her Go” into a trap ballad and the tattooed superstar grieves the smell of her flesh on his bedsheets; or alt rapper and producer Zino Vinci turning AJ Tracey’s distinctive rap phrases into a lo-fi dreamy backdrop for a nerdy anime fan applying rizz as “ceo of the friendship group.” At the very least, it’s a pretty surreal attempt at going viral: take this ballied up drill rapper interpolating Madcon’s cover of “Begging You” as a hyperlocal diss.

The art of sampling is nothing new but is there anyone doing it like the 22-year-old singer and songwriter Jim Legxacy? There’s an iridescent enigma orbiting the South Londoner who self-produces genreless ballads on his bedroom floor. His latest single, “old place” is comfortable in that quintessential Legxacy territory; curt love songs about longing, old flames peppered with intimate details like breaking your bike after a break-up which makes his songwriting as vivid as a Polaroid candid.

In “old place,” the dreamy production from Jim Legxacy takes the listener through many musical zig-and-zags: you’ll hear Harlem Spartans’ MizOrMac’s iconic refrain from the drill classic “Kennington Where It Started” layered on a bed of emo-y guitar chords, stuttering soft drums that pop out of the mix like firework sparklers and Legxacy’s begging-for-your-girl-in-the-rain falsetto. The way the Lewisham based artist makes all of these seemingly incongruous elements work lies with his world-bending touch which reinvents pastiche subject material as groundbreaking and romantic.

After releasing the fever-like CITADEL, Legxacy teases another mixtape in the heat of dropping the singles “DJ” combining Jersey club, drill and afrobeats like it’s no big deal and the Cameo flipped “candy reign (!)” that’s so heartfelt it’ll make your future uncles – the mandem in a couple years – stop midway through the Candy dance at a family party and contemplate that 10/10 baddie we fumbled years ago.

We can wait for that woman to come back or make better use of our time and wait with anticipation for him to drop that goddamn mixtape.

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Mobset’s Squintz left last year on a sober note with the Legend of Zelda samples and that crushing second verse. It levels the same pathos Dizzee Rascal felt in “Do It!,” shouldering the burdens of generational inequality, parenthood, mental health and letting those waves of emotions hit those revelations, we use up a “we move” from our inventory and head back to reality.

If you’re searching for that grime itch, the North Londoner recently dropped a pretty dope alt-grime tape with 3o called The Waiting Room.

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Over rickety piano keys and a looped vocal sample, Shepherd Bush’s A2 Anti found more pockets in this beat than you’ll see in an Issey Miyake 1996 Bomber Jacket.

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Paris and Walthamstow link up for this alt-hip hop banger; Jeshi taps into a The Streets-level storytelling of night-time antics describing punters “doing up grub” in a skanky pub toilet over Nxxxxxs’ heavy basslines and looped back piano stabs.

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