I want to be clear that this is not a ‘fresh outta the stonebake pizza oven’ kinda hot take; it’s more microwaved and luke-warm. What you’ll find in this ready-meal of an opinion is something that I think has a ring of truth about it. That rapper Loyle Carner grew to inhabit a space within British popular music which was pioneered and indelibly moulded by Rizzle Kicks in the early 2010s.
I wholeheartedly recognise that the two artists are very different and Carner’s musical stylings are more mature in nature than Rizzle Kicks, but I still think there is an echo of truth about this comparison.
The thing that unites these two artists is their shared appreciation for 90’s-era and New York inspired hip hop. British rap is largely defined by a sound distinct from the US’s offering; where Jazz and sampling forms the backbone of American hip hop, garage is the underlying force in British sounds. But in shirking this mainstream sensibility, both the music of Loyle Carner and Rizzle Kicks is imbued with an affection for an East Coast sound.
Historical context is required to make this point and it is worth turning your attention to the general picture of UK jazz-rap. British rap offerings which genuinely draw on jazz-stylings are few and far between; three notable examples in my opinion would be Us3, Massive Attack and Tricky. The former uses UK acid-jazz as the texture to its sonic output and is more dub-inspired than typical American offerings, and as for the latter, both Massive Attack and Tricky fall squarely into the genre of ‘Trip Hop’.
Trip Hop’s a fantastic music genre but it’s its own beast, it is not a British imitation of New York hip hop. And so a picture emerges in which there is a sore lack of classic jazz-rap in the UK scene.
Enter Rizzle Kicks to this heated scenario. Of course, it is not a like-for-like comparison, Rizzle Kicks were a pop-rap outfit after all, but unquestionably there are influences in there – simplistic beats made up of kicks and snares underlie almost all of the tracks on their debut, and record scratches carry throughout.
What’s more, while the output is light on the sampling, there is brass instrumentation across the album, offering nods to the jazz/soul callbacks seen in New York’s traditional offerings. This is not to say that Rizzle Kicks are the second coming of Eric B and Rakim, but simply that their sound is clearly rich in inspiration from them and others like them.
What Rizzle Kicks did here was import – they popularised a sound which, whilst commercially successful, had not to my mind, been echoed in the musical offerings of talent on our own shores. This demonstrated an appetite for British rap which was broader than grime and its garage-influences and paved the way for Loyle Carner to come in 5 years later and elevate this soundscape to a higher plane.
From his first EP, to his debut, Yesterday’s Gone, Loyle Carner has paved over the cracks in Rizzle Kicks’ sample catalogue. With Donnie and Joe Emerson’s ‘Baby’ sampled on his first EP, and the S.C.I. Youth Choir’s ‘The Lord Will Make A Way’ on his first album, Carner has made it clear that samples, and more specifically soul-samples, are a significant part of his repertoire.
If you compound this with a slow, minimalist beat and the slacker-y, spoken flow that he brings to his music, then there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that he is paying homage to a sound originated 3,500 miles from our own shores.
The crowning achievement of Rizzle Kicks was their demonstration that UK rap in this style could be popular. Not since the mid-90s had anything resembling New York hip hop been majorly successful in the UK and Rizzle Kicks demonstrated its commercial viability.
I would love to say that they were Loyle Carner’s direct inspiration but I am not him, and I cannot see inside his head. All I can say is that I believe Rizzle Kicks’s influence on the British rap scene was sufficient to help usher in the success of Mr. Carner – they walked so that he could run.