FROM TWO TONE TO ROAD RAP: EXPLORING THE STREET SOUNDS OF COVENTRY

If we rolled it back to the early 80s it wouldn’t of been unusual to associate the humble city of Coventry with a progressive music scene and vibrant youth culture. The large Afro-Caribbean community, and broader working clash culture throughout the small the city of Coventry – for the period the gave you the likes of The Special’s and Two Tone records – was a symbol and product of modern multiculturalism.

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The 80s Ska Movement that swept the nation and gave us bands like The Madness, Bad Manners and The Selecter was indicative of a progressive social evolution across Britain and a small city like Coventry with it’s multicultural heritage is the type of place a movement like this should’ve continued flourish. But unfortunately because of Coventry’s small size – being a help in the beginning, hindered it from continued to maintaining any prevalence among broader youth culture. So after the successes of Two Tone records the tides changed and Coventry returned to being in some regards a desolate cultural ‘Ghost Town’.

However, things were bubbling when the Global influence of the 90s US Hip Hop movement continued to influence youth culture and Coventry was not out of it’s reach. Much like PDC in Brixton or Moorish Delta from Birmingham, crews like COV came with the classic Americanised style synonymous with the era. Despite this being an almost laughable attempt at Rap music today, when you consider the time and respectable levels of lyricism on the track, you still gotta give them credit for their contributions towards laying the foundations for the future rap talent of the city.

Like most cities in the UK, in the years between the early noughties and now, there was no notable musicians from the Urban sphere coming out of Coventry. That was until the latter stages of the last decade with the nationwide popularity of Grime and UK Drill fueling some much needed creativity, culminating in a new wave of rap acts.

From the likes of RB7 in UK Drill, or Shakavelli and Jdiz’s UK Rap selections or the collective C3’s offering that rest in the realms between Grime and UK Drill, over the last few years Coventry has really began to deliver music that matches up with the standards of the time, culminating in a recipe for inevitable crossover success.

Enter Jay1 who rose to fame with the popular hit ‘Your Mrs’. Jay1, like the likes of Ramz in the past managed to come with a song that connected at the right time. Though his success was meteoric, his legitimacy as a front runner for the city was short lived. First with his inaugaral album being widely panned by critics – namely the LinkUpTv show ‘The Listening Party’. Along with the recent scandal that surrounded Jay1, Dot Rotten and Steel Banglez only serving to further damage his reputation.

Though Jay1 has a healthy fan base and is one of the first Coventry rappers to claim mainstream success, his status as the torch bearer for the city has been compromised by his lack of critical acclaim allowing the title to be open to other contenders..

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Pa Salieu is someones who is receiving the critical acclaim for his music and is firmly defining his own sound and the city he comes from. Pa’s, who’s arguably the biggest credible rap act to come out of Coventry delivers a credible street edge and off the wall quirks that form an compelling package.

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Though he’s been compared to J Hus by many, his music suggests room for long term development into something of truly his own. The subtle twang of his Gambian and Coventry city heritage are present in his vocal style and status as a bonafide outlier all contribute to his distinct appeal.

With Jay1 and Pa Salieu, along with rappers such as Skatta, Shakavelli and JDidz,plus collectives such as C3 and RB7 accumulating a humble buzz online, the work towards Coventry solidifying it’s status as a city to be taken seriously is well and truly under way. A diverse range of styles from the street sounds of the aforementioned artists, to the more bubble gum sounds of songs like ‘Canada Goose’ by Junior X Tayz which has racked up a tidy 200k views on YouTube so far.

The online success of these underground acts highlights that the artists in Coventry are certainly beginning to connect with the masses. They have a few different artists getting significant 6 figure streaming figures, while all also offering diverse styles and sonics. The Dance music of Bristol, the recent rap success of Manchester and the hardcore Grime scene in Birmingham have all had their moments in the spotlight over the years and looking at the landscape today, Coventry’s gearing up for their own Urban music moment in the not too distance future.

Written by Timi Ben-Edigbe

/@TIMI.WATSONROSE