Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop

Exploring the vibrant base of neo-soul-inspired talent bursting from the storied city...

17.01.19 Words by: Will Rosebury

If there’s one thing the city of Manchester can constantly be relied upon to do, it is to revive itself time and time again. It is a story that repeats throughout the history of the Northern powerhouse. Whenever it is ignored by the mainstream or threatens to be forgotten in a bygone era, the Mancunian spirit rises up and calls out in unison: ‘Fuck this, we’ll do it ourselves’.

It may sound like a contradiction to suggest that the Manchester scene has been overlooked in recent years, given that for decades the city has consistently produced some of the most prominent artists in the UK. Although modern acts like The 1975, Bugzy Malone and Pale Waves are proudly Mancunian, these artists are products of broader indie and grime scenes. For the first time in a generation, a number of Manchester artists are building a scene and sound that is unique to the city.

The past five years have seen a growth in both an independent hip-hop scene alongside a rise in R&B artists hailing from Manchester, the marriage of which has resulted in a vibrant and expanding base of neo-soul inspired artists. Manchester group Children of Zeus embody both the sound and the aesthetic of this new scene, with their 2018 debut album ‘Travel Light’ merging the feel of Soulaquarians-era hip-hop with elements of modern rap and electronic music. The project was widely praised and topped multiple end of 2018 lists.

What is so exciting about the current crop of Manchester artists is that many of them share similar influences, namely neo-soul, contemporary R&B and hip-hop. Alongside Children of Zeus, Layfullstop and The Mouse Outfit both dropped great soul-inspired rap projects last year, setting the standard incredibly high for others to follow. Even the genres more traditionally associated with Manchester such as alternative rock have merged and expanded the sound. Take, for example, Shotty Horroh’s 2018 album ‘Salt Of The Earth’, on which Oasis are clearly as big an influence as any rapper.

Like the Madchester scene of the late ’80s, the diversity of influences is underpinned by a real community of artists who are all able to excel individually

Ever since the hey-day of the legendary Haçienda, dance and electronic music in its various forms has been a central component of Manchester’s cultural scene. Again, this rising neo-soul influence can be heard in new releases by the city’s house and drum ‘n’ bass producers, with tracks like Chimpo‘s ‘No Trust’ and DRS’s ‘Rain Dance’. This integration of hip-hop, electronic and soul really sets this new wave of Manchester music apart as uniquely versatile.

To truly explode as a scene, it may need a bonafide star to take it to the next level, and there are plenty of artists waiting in the wings to do just that. IAMDDB is perhaps the best positioned to break through, having already cultivated a significant following. Her latest project ‘Flightmode, Vol. 4’ was heatedly-received, and volume five is on the way this year. Frequent Children of Zeus collaborator [K S R] – who Dummy interviewed recently – is another with enormous potential, with his 2018 single ‘Sweet’ being the tip of his creative iceberg. His jazzy neo-soul aesthetic is similar to Katbrownsugar, another artist primed for mainstream success, who dropped her mesmerising EP ‘Pink Trees The Deluxe Edition’ last year.

Like the Madchester scene of the late ’80s, the diversity of influences is underpinned by a real community of artists who are all able to excel individually. Whereas the Madchester scene blended alternative rock with the acid house being played at the Haçienda, this modern iteration has done the same with hip-hop, neo-soul and a variety of electronic music. Of course, these new artists have some way to go to even be comparable with this legendary era of Mancunian culture, but it only seems like a matter of time before it reaches the wider world. Keep your ears open.

Related: Read our interview with Manchester creative [K S R]