Will a UK MC ever fully translate to an American audience? (2012)

Originally published via Dreamers Row (circa 2012).

As we begin to move past the abundance of US-influenced, low budget ‘ballers’ of the Channel U days and mark our own presence on the global music scene, it’s only right we take a deep look in the mirror and ask ourselves; will a UK MC ever fully crossover in the US?

Firstly, to be clear, by ‘crossover’ I don’t mean sell a million units of a Euro-pop record featuring a sample from a repetitive 80s classic and a hook from an A&R’s latest lab project. I’m talking gaining true respect for your artistry from a significant audience (hold tight, Justin Bieber).

So, what about the need for a formula in today’s unpredictable US market? I mean, I understand the whole “I’ve got to cater for (relevant audience) on my first single to sell the album” argument, but when you’re 6 tracks deep and you’re seriously questioning the true nationality of a British artist on their US debut; something is wrong, very wrong.

And then, of course, there’s the “I’m opening doors so it will be easier for those who follow in my footsteps” argument. Yes…well, sorry to break it to you, but Slick Rick received 5 Mics from The Source in ’88; the door isn’t just open, there’s a key under the mat and a sledgehammer in the letterbox just in case.

I don’t know about you, but I think we’re taking these Americans a bit too seriously, aren’t we? I mean, all of these complex strategies, marketing dollars and campaigns, and we still can’t seem to find a young British MC to keep those execs content for a year or two. We’re trying too hard. Afterall, we speak the same language, don’t we? We enjoy the same taste on a lot of levels, right? So where are we going wrong? Isn’t it that we’re just trying too hard to impress that cool, older kid at school – you know, the one with the chain an a bit more dough? I think so.

In every aspect of homegrown British music, the US has always looked to us as the trend-setters; whether it be The Beatles, Mike Skinner or North London’s very own, Adele – the US accepts our music and culture as it is – when it’s not trying too hard to fit in, or being adapted to cater for a market which no longer exists, dreamt up by an out of touch marketing exec. Real emotion and passion resonates with everyone (apart from the 717 million people who watched Justin Bieber’s, ‘Baby’ on YouTube. This is a real figure, try not to weep).

Now, I understand that to many people reading this, it may come across a tad too critical coming from another bedroom-dwelling blogger putting the world to rights over Dominos pizza and late-night TV. And they’d be totally right. But fuck them; I’m making a point here.

So where does it all go wrong – is it the artist going for gold? The intimidation of being a fish out of water in the US, or simply lack of willingness? We’re often too quick to jump on the heels of the artist that signs a deal and is suddenly claiming, “You can’t put my sound in a box, I don’t believe in genres.” But there’s pressure on the MC as soon as they take their first sip of that sweet Champagne provided by the label to ensure that signature is printed exactly where it should be. All of a sudden, this is a career, and they’re constantly being hounded to find that ‘international sound’ (see: Flo-Rida).

So, seeing there’s such an enlightenment of becoming a professional here at home, being in the US is sure to have a much larger impact upon the way the artist views their own ‘sound.’ However, fitting in with what I previously mentioned, why does there always have to be a target demographic to cater for? Especially as the supposed consumer isn’t gauged accurately, nor accounted for correctly when the industry falsely analyses the habits of the modern-day music consumer. We (yes, I’m speaking for you too) want content day and night, for FREE and we’ll still complain – so are we to blame? Hell no.

Although we (the UK) are behind in many ways, we’re also at an advantage creatively. The entire entertainment industry in the US has been built up over decades, and with that, comes a solid corporate infrastructure which, in turn, culls the freedom of creativity. So with the introduction of social media and the game-changing impact it’s had on almost every aspect of the business, the traditional structure — which is still in place via corporations and institutions throughout the US — is faced with fierce opposition. They are currently in the process of having to unlearn and re-think the age-old methods of finding, creating and selling new music, as are all of us.

However, back here in the UK, we were always somewhat behind, and a similar infrastructure was never fully established, leaving us misrepresented on many levels, but in the industry’s negligence, there was also freedom to do as we pleased. So when the new wave of social media hit the UK, we took full advantage and embraced it as a platform, as there really wasn’t many other opportunities or avenues to go down to be heard (other than pirate radio); this allowed us to perfect our own, pure sound (forgetting the hordes of 21st century boy/girl bands and whatnot, of course).

Now, you’re probably thinking “What does this have to do with how well a UK MC is going to do in America?” Well, my point is: UK MCs shouldn’t get caught up in the same bewilderment as corporate America; we know what good music is, don’t let suits dictate your creative pursuits.

Is there any hope? Well, I’d say so. As the world stage points the spotlight away from the latest 2-step dance craze of the moment – and the hipsters collectively shed light on, erm…let me get back to you on that – there’s a window of opportunity that greets the MC bold enough to simply be themselves. The more we chase the proverbial dollar, the more we alienate.

Preach.