Blog

11 July 2017

‘It’s been a huge year’: XL Recordings A&R Caroline Simionescu-Marin on why UK rappers are breaking in 2017

On the cover of the new issue of Music Week, we reveal that eight 2017 debuts by UK artists have made the list of the Top 200 albums of the year so far.

Rag’N’Bone Man, Harry Styles, Dua Lipa, Stormzy, Nines, J Hus, Sampha and Loyle Carner make up the list. Three of those – Rag’N’Bone Man’s Human, Stormzy’s Gang Signs & Prayer and Styles’ self-titled debut – have gone gold or above. It’s a marked improvement on this time last year, when only two – Zayn’s Mind Of Mine and Jack Garratt’s Phase – made the cut.

Caroline Simionescu-Marin – who told us earlier this year that UK rap is “flipping the industry on it’s head” – is A&R manager at XL Recordings and had a big hand in the release of One Foot Out, by Harlesden rapper Nines. An enigmatic artist with very little presence in the press, Nines, according to the A&R, continues to benefit from a dedicated and passionate fanbase. One Foot Out has so far sold 31,649 copies according to Official Charts Company data.

We spoke to Simionescu-Marin to take a trip inside the campaign and to analyse just why it’s been such a good year for breaking UK rappers.

Did you expect the Nines record to do as well as it has?

There was no expectation, we didn’t know what his fans bought or didn’t buy. It’s testament to building a fanbase over a long period of time. We were so happy because he wasn’t getting supported; he had no press, no playlists, no big single, and no pre-order… The album was announced the night it came out. For it to have achieved so well is crazy. It’s testament to the fanbase and the grind he put in before releasing a debut album.

Nines is one of four UK rappers to make the Top 200 list. What do you put that down to?

They’re all hugely talented and it’s been a huge year for UK rap to come through. We’ve had an amazing grime moment and we’re going to see different facets of rap music coming to the charts. J Hus has an exceptional fanbase and his songs just connect. Great music will sell and prevail. The thing with rap artists is that their connection with fans is different to everyone else’s; it’s intense and so personal. I totally believe they all deserve to be in this list, they’ve worked hard and made great bodies of work, we can’t deny these are all great albums.

So are we in a healthy position for new music?

Definitely. Streaming has changed the game, even in the space of a year. The awareness of how important it is has completely thrown sales on their heads. A lot of these artists were largely built on streaming. Rag’N’Bone Man dropped his album on the same day as Nines, but Nines streamed higher [although Rag’N’Bone Man achieved more combined sales by the end of the week].

Has the industry changed its approach since last year?

People are just getting it together; everyone knows what they’re supposed to do now. Stormzy is the blueprint and has defied all the odds; he’s become a pop artist, not in the sense of changing his music, but by being one of the most popular artists for youth culture. Youth culture is one of the most powerful things that exists as far as selling goes – they buy, they engage, they are out there sharing. Once you get the youth on lock these things become a lot easier and the rap world is very good at that. People are nailing the formula now.

What is that formula?

Everyone is starting to embrace their own vision and character and take things to where they’ve never been before. People like Stormzy are opening doors for everyone else. It’s going to be even easier for the Daves and AJ Traceys of this world when they release their albums; we’re setting the market to be used to hearing rap music, to be used to hearing J Hus on Capital FM… It’s only going to get bigger and better.