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Is urban music chart success just a phase?

FOR THE LONG HAUL?: Rapper Wretch 32

Each week we ask two writers with contrasting opinions to answer the question...



REMEMBER INCUBUS Incubus? Didn’t think so. It was 2002 when they sang Everything goes in circles, and their alt-rock/nu-metal hybrid musical style was selling out stadiums nationwide, alongside the likes of Linkin’ Park and Papa Roach. Unfortunately for them, they were spot on

Fast forward ten years and urban music is having its day in the sun. Don’t get me wrong; I love urban music. A quick glance at my iPod’s Recently Added playlist would tell you as much. Hip-Hop, Grime, DnB and Dubstep, it’s all on there. But the fact is, things change. Whether it’s clothes, food or music, trends come and go and things come full circle; like all the genres that have come before it, the success of urban music in the charts is nothing but a phase

Take 2011 for example, five of the top 10 best selling singles of last year are what you could class as urban music, whether British (Jessie J), American (LMFAO) or from elsewhere (Rihanna). 2001’s list, on the other hand, is full of Westlife, S Club 7 and Hear’Say. 1991’s boasts Bryan Adams, Queen and Right Said Fred. Is it likely 2011’s list will look like 2021’s? History tells us otherwise.

I’d venture it’s the result of a couple of factors, although which is the cause and which is the effect are up there with the chicken vs. the egg debate. On one hand you have the record companies, scouring for talent and ‘the next big thing’. When they stumble across a scene like Grime in East London, they mine it to exhaustion; Dizzee Rascal is followed by Wretch 32 is followed by Dot Rotten. Rosters fill with similar artists and suddenly there’s no room for any more. Time to stop copying each other and to find something new.

On the other hand you have us: the media and the public. We hanker after new releases, we gossip about an artist’s latest reinvention, we blog and download and wait for the next ‘battle for the top spot’ before getting bored and moving on. Meanwhile, the music press sneers and moans and hypes and predicts: is the band we recommended to you last month actually rubbish? Everything changes, yet everything stays the same. Pop takes on a few new influences and the outsiders become the mainstream.

Urban music is already changing and morphing as The Wanted sing over dubstep beats and Tinie Tempah spits over Europop. Go compare BBC Radio 1Xtra’s playlist with Radio 1’s if you don’t believe me; you won’t find Wiley, Mavado and the latest MCs on the latter. No, now the ‘new boring’ is here (according to The Guardian and Pop Justice’s Peter Robinson) and between Birdy, the return of Leona Lewis and Lana Del Ray we’ll all be put to sleep by 2012 musical offerings - bring on the beige! Don’t worry, urban music won’t be gone, it’ll just be out of the charts for a bit.

As for Incubus, well I’ve just bought their latest album, the first from the band in over five years; apparently they’re touring here fairly soon - anyone for a comeback?




The ‘bu bu bu but’ of label skeptics and cynical music fans will always be there re Urban music chart success.

The fact is Urban Music has had chart success for as long as I’ve been buying music. From Notorious BIG in 1997, to Drake in 2011, this alone proves it is not ‘just a phase’. A phase is something short lived, like wearing a Velour tracksuit with our hair scraped back. The success of urban music is and can always be seen developing.

The fact that chart topping artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele are debated about in the discussions of urban music shows the synergy between Urban music and mainstream pop (weather or not you think they as artists, count as urban, or not) the chart success of urban music has enabled them to slip between the categories.

It is clear both artists are influenced and have routed inspirations in genres considered urban. Ed’s collaboration EP with a long list of Urban artists is a perfect example of the importance Urban music has played in his chart success. Many others have entered the mainstream by dipping their toes in ventures urban, showing as a genre it is crucial in cementing the developing success of more mainstream acts.

My first memory of Urban UK music, chart success was So Solid crew with 21 seconds and Craig David. The garage scene was a breading ground for talent and the subsequent chart success that has followed. Since then we’ve watched artist like Tinchey Stryder to N Dubz pave the way for new artist from the ‘Urban world’ who now achieve the same chart success along side US and UK talent, more recent examples include Wretch 32 and obvious chart toppers Tinie Tempah and Labrinth.

It is still also urban artists not on major labels that rack up thousands of views on You Tube and who’s tried and tested methods of free downloads and mixtapes have now become the norm for mainstream activity.

You only have to listen to the production of new talent like Labrinth (and others like him) to hear the steady influence urban music has had on the creation of new and unique sounds. Urban Music chart success isn’t a phase it is firmly apart of Popular Culture that can be seen on our televisions, in our films, fashion, books, journalism, art and music, it is something that will constantly develop and evolve.

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