How the UBeat Music Awards got their hip-hop category wrong (and how to improve it for 2017)
On Friday 30th September, the nominees for the 2016 UBeat Music Awards were officially announced. The second annual awards show will take place in Newcastle's o2 Academy and broadcast live on Made In Tyne & Wear - the home of the UBeat TV. With 190 nominations across 19 categories there were always going to be some local musicians unhappy with being left out of contention, but the organisers of the awards have managed to unleash the temper of almost an entire genre with their Rap/Hip Hop Act Of The Year category.
The main source of the controversy seems centred around a lack of knowledge of more artists. Some nominees have releases only a couple singles over the year, whilst some artists not nominated have released seminal albums.
Prior to the nominations, I was sceptical. As former manager of The Great & The Magnificent, I have seen the behind-the-scenes nature of the nomination process from last year – although it looks to have changed. Last year, The Great & The Magnificent received a consolation nomination. Originally, we had been contacted with a nomination for Big Beat Bronson, of which The Great & The Magnificent were formerly members. Having learned that Big Beat Bronson had split a relatively long time prior to this, UBeat offered The Great & The Magnificent the nomination instead. Going into 2016’s nominations announcement, I wasn’t filled with much hope for an organisation who were ready to nominate an act that hadn’t released music for at least a year, and then offering that same nomination to the remnants of the group, just beginning to release music again.
On the other hand, I also know first hand how hard it can be to discover new rap talent from the North East. On this website, in 2014, I wrote a list of the best tracks of that year and received a similar backlash UBeat are facing now. I was a naive and inexperienced writer, but with the best of intentions. That is probably the case for Dan Charles and his team too. I am certain his creation of a hip-hop category this year was to be celebratory and inclusive of an exciting scene brimming with promise, and its more a case of naivety than anything else. At the time of writing The 7 Best North East Hip-Hop Songs of 2014, I genuinely believed there were only a dozen (or less) rappers from the local region. Two years down the line, I have discovered there are hundreds. Each and every one of them talented musicians, but most of them lost when it comes to promotion beyond their social media pages.
In fairness to UBeat, they did allow applications for review which would allow for new artists to introduce themselves to the panelists. Although, not many of the local hip-hop scene have seen that this was a possibility until this weekend following the nominations announcement. Many find the notion of applying for a nomination laughable, at best. How then, were UBeat sourcing talent for a local scene that has accidentally inhabited a very secular and exclusive nature? I asked Dan Charles to explain how he and his team picked the nominations:
“Well for the last four months artist from all different music backgrounds have been submitting their music and applying for certain categories they would like to be entered into. As well as this we actively look for artists in the area that we feel should be recognised. But we’re only a small team and obviously we don’t know everybody so some people might feel let down that they weren’t nominated, but at the same time we can only do so much if they don’t actually submit their own music. We’ve been promoting this on TV, in publications, all over – and the awards each year are getting bigger. This year we had an incredible amount of people that submitted their music. Our team ultimately nominate the artists. Then a team of Music industry professionals, from radio producers, managers, record labels etc ultimately pick the winners from each category which then get revealed on the night.”
Many find it hard to believe that after performing at almost every rap night in the region, H-Man and Just B (collectively known as HB) didn’t received a nod. Unanimously considered the best in the region, their ‘The Perfect Storm‘ album is already considered a classic since its late-2015 release. Even in recent months, whilst H-Man has been somewhat quiet, prepping his solo EP, Just B released ‘Lyrics From The Villas Vol. 1‘ to thunderous acclaim. It’s also hard to see how New North East haven’t been recognised for their achievements. Cementing themselves as one of the most exciting collectives in the country, the Hip Hop and Grime movement from Sunderland have become trailblazers in the past 12 months. 90Bro in particular, deserves a spot. Whilst her style provokes split opinions, Kay Greyson has had a break-out year in 2016, with multiple gigs, Evolution Emerging placement and the release of her debut mixtape, with more industry support than any other regional rapper, I’d have imagined her nomination was a given. There are many other names that rightfully feel overlooked, from Ill Prepared label mates Handsy and Indigo Children to Boro’s Leddie & Smoggy and many more, seeing other names who haven’t released much music in 2016 getting recognition above them.
— Ego Trip (@ThisIsEgo) October 1, 2016
I think that is where the controversy truly lies. Nobody is directly calling UBeat out for their missing out, but more so for the inclusion of certain others. Personally, I have a love and respect for the CJMG group (Dap CEO, Max Gavins, He Knows She Knows) both as people and as musicians, but in 2016, have they released anything seminal? Dap’s ‘Crispy Cremes and Broken Dreams’ EP may have featured the successful single ‘On Your Mind’ – a collaboration with MistaBreeze of The Great & The Magnificent and K. Young – but that was released before last years UBeat Awards. Aside from that, not many are aware of the EP’s existence, Dap’s freestyles and remixes of popular industry tracks gained more traction. Truthfully, Dap’s nomination is probably the most credible of the three, and it’s more his persona and sour relationships with many of his peers that have clouded judgement.
Max Gavins is probably the most marketable MC in the North East. With an accessible sound balanced with genuine lyrical talent, I’d have backed him last year following the fantastic ‘Man Of The Year’ and ‘Mic Ashley’ singles – but in 2016, his releases haven’t quite hit the mark. Whenever ‘1994’ finally drops, he’ll be a shoe in to pick up the ‘Hip-Hop Act of The Year’ Award and hopefully many others too, but this year, we haven’t had enough, for Max to truly deserve this nomination.
He Knows She Knows aren’t officially apart of the CJMG group but Silvar Laidlow – one half of the duo also featuring Sharna, his fiancé – has been a long-time affiliate of Dap and Max and Silvar’s ‘Songs About Her’ can be found on CJMG Group music outlets. The X Factor couple’s placement on the ‘Hip-Hop’ category is probably the most confusing. Given they’re also nominated for ‘Best Pop Act’, it raised the question – should they be nominated for both? Their sound is a far-cry from what hip-hop is considered for many, but then that is also true for the likes of Young Thug and Travis Scott who are some of the more successful ‘rap’ artists right now. Personally, I think they’re a great duo, but not in the context of hip-hop.
There are question marks over the nomination of other acts too. Both Smooth Jezza and The Click – of which Smooth Jezza is a member – nominated for the same award? A solo member being nominated in the same category as a group they’re apart of isn’t necessarily indicative of bias. Sometimes an artist can be releasing multiple pieces of music through both avenues. But The Click have only very recently returned as a unit. Smooth Jezza’s nomination is not up for debate what-so-ever. He’s put in a lot of work, headline gigs, ridiculously impressive music videos and is considered one of the most influential rap artists the region has ever had. Whilst Double U deserves a similar level of respect for his career as a whole, in 2016, his return is still new and the majority of the music he and Jezza have created, is yet to be released. The Click have promised enough greatness that they’re probably dead-certs for 2017 nominations, but for 2016, their just hasn’t been enough, yet.
The other nominees include Booney, Consept & D6ixS, Conscript, Shy G and Jazzay. Conscript being the only out of those to have released a full project. Whilst the others whilst undoubtedly talented have only dropped the occasional single and performed once or twice throughout the year. Its hard to argue that all of these picks deserve nominations over the previously mentioned names, like HB and New North East, who have released full length mixtapes and albums.
New North East’s 90Bro tweeted:
Not sweating no nominations, our mission is way deeper. At least they are acknowledging local culture. #UBeat
— 90BRO (@90BRO) October 1, 2016
The latter part of the tweet is something many of those aggrieved by the nominations fail to recognise. As many regional outlets begin to look deep into the local hip-hop culture within the North East, opportunities and platforms to showcase talent are multiplying. It’s important to acknowledge that at the very least UBeat are attempting to celebrate the achievements of hip-hop in Newcastle and surrounding areas. Whilst it is far from perfect, rather than completely discrediting them and writing them off as ‘dodgy’. I’d like to see influential members of the local community offer a hand in helping UBeat improve, so that next year’s ‘Hip-Hop Act Of The Year’ can be a closer representations of what’s going on in the scene. Ahead of 2017, Dan Charles and co, could look into enlisting the help of Grant Seymour (Hash Rotten Hippo), Simon Beckwith (NARC) and Nick Roberts (BBC Newcastle), all of whom have played varying but important roles in pushing local hip-hop music forward for years.
The UBeat Music Awards may not be a Hip-Hop Awards specifically, but so long as there is a Hip-Hop category, those who love the local culture, myself included will always focus on that aspect predominantly. Hopefully once the angry Facebook status’ and dismissive tweets have subsided, the organisers will understand why the likes of Blitz, Handsy, Just B, H-Man, Rex Regis and co, have responded so negatively. It’s because they’re rightfully passionate about their local culture, and want it to be represented in the best way possible. Now is the time, however, for the negativity to leave, and it’s time for constructive criticism, as this article is intended to be, to help all involved better promote the exciting talents emerging in North East Hip-Hop.