Who’s Giggs and What’s He Doing on ‘More Life’?
A quick primer on the UK rap vet
After months of tracklist guessing, close scrutiny of low-quality video clips recorded in the club, and missed release dates, More Life is finally here. As expected, Drake looked to the UK and other international artists for inspiration and help for the album (or “playlist,” technically). But the artist with the biggest profile on the project who may be the most unknown to American ears is the London rapper Giggs.
He appears high in the playlist (on More Life‘s second track, “No Long Talk”), and is one of the few collaborators to pop up on the project more than once. With his frosty baritone and glacial delivery, his distinctive voice stands out, and while More Life will likely serve as his introduction to many Americans–and to those outside of the UK, generally–Giggs’s big global break has been a long time coming.
His story starts in Peckham, a district in south-east London, where he ran with the Peckham Boys gang and picked up the nickname Giggler, “Giggs” for short. He caught a case for possession of a firearm and served two years in 2003. (Though its over a decade old, that gun charge still prevents him from visiting the U.S. today.) While away, he landed a new alias– Hollowman. Upon his release, he dedicated himself to his music as a way out of the streets, and most people point to his 2007 song, “Talkin’ Da Hardest,” as the moment Giggs’s name started taking flight. “If you’re talking the hardest / Giggs better pop up in your thoughts as an artist (jheeze),” Giggs began over a Dre beat originally produced for Stat Quo, before going on to detail life with the Peckham Boys.
He signed with XL Records in 2009, and leaned into his American influences. In 2010, he released his second album (and first with XL), Let Em Ave It, which featured “Look Wat The Cat Dragged In,” a dance cut featuring a Timbaland-type beat, and the Drumma Boy-produced “Get Your Money Up.” He also collaborated with Atlanta rapper B.o.B. on “Don’t Go There,” back when the Earth was still round. In the years since, he’s collaborated with Styles P, Wacka Flocka, Lex Luger, and Kent Jones, among others, and of course, Drake.
The cops picked him up again in 2012 for gun possession and held him for four months before he was finally acquitted of all charges. His third album, When Will It Stop, arrived in 2013 via his own SN1 Records (with distribution through XL), and while he still considers XL Records family, he’s since fully left the label over creative differences. He independently released a tough fourth album, Landlord in August. Led by the single “Whippin Excursion,” it’s his most successful release to date.
As a rapper from the UK, Giggs is often referred to as a grime artist. Yet, while he frequently collaborates with the biggest names in the scene, his music is clearly different from the hyperactive, digital leanings of grime. In an interview with Noisey, he tried to break down the difference between grime and UK rap. Hollowman didn’t personally see a difference, but acknowledged he’s coming from another head space. “It’s all the same thing, isn’t it? It’s just music. They say grime doesn’t come from hip hop, but I think it does,” he said. “To me, obviously I’m a rapper, isn’t it? But people say, yeah Giggs is a sick grime artist cause of his country.”
He’s always been a much slower-paced rapper than grime MCs and his beat selections tend to be more informed by American movements than many of his British peers. (When he feels like it, Giggs can most definitely hang with that rapid-fire stylee the grime fans are fond of: just peep his verse on Kano’s “3 Wheel Ups.”) Eventually, his style would find a like-minded circle of artists in road rap, a form of UK rap influenced by trap.
A lot of today’s global love for sounds like UK rap and grime was sparked by Kanye West at the 2015 Brit Awards. He showed up on stage with 25 grime MCs and flame throwers. After that, the word “grime” was in everyone’s mouth. At last year’s Brit Awards, Drake picked up the torch (sorry) and opted to skip the Brits afterparty and join Skepta at a Section Boyz show instead. A few days later, DJ Maximum was on OVO Sound radio and played an all-UK set that included a tune from Giggs. Then Drake dropped “One Dance,” the UK Funky-sampling goliath of a tune and a number of British artists that had moved onto house started revisiting that sound as well. Earlier this year, Drake brought Giggs and Section Boyz out on stage at a performance in London and the ground was officially set for More Life.
We all thought the internet was going to be the great equalizer, and grime definitely had a moment in certain American scenes because of it. But superstars and celebrities are more important than ever today, and it took artists at the top to breathe new life into the underground. Whether that’s good or not is up in the air. But Giggs is probably not mad at all.