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Blighty Beat

BBC Music Introducing has tapped EMI U.K. artist Olivia Dean as the Artist of the Year following the arrival of her debut album Messy.

The award is in recognition of Dean’s impact this year, which has been furthered by ongoing support from the BBC’s talent development program.

That impact includes Messy reaching #4 on the U.K.’s Official Albums Chart, a Mercury Music Prize nomination and a sold-out European tour in the summer. Dean's tour has continued recently with dates in North America and Canada.

Kelly Betts, Editor at BBC Introducing, called Dean’s journey one of “unwavering dedication and passion.”

“BBC Introducing has been supporting Olivia since 2018 and has witnessed the evolution of a true musical luminary,” Betts said. “This award celebrates a phenomenal artist.”

Dean’s support from Introducing started with her uploading her music to its online portal and receiving airplay and bookings from BBC Introducing London. Later, by BBC Radio 1 picked her 2019 song “Password Change” as Introducing Track of the Week. This year, Dean was the surprise guest on the BBC Introducing Stage at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend.


The BRIT Awards has tweaked its categories ahead of 2024’s ceremony in an effort to remain inclusive.

Nominees for Artist of the Year and International Artist of the Year have been increased to 10 from five while R&B will have a standalone category among five genre awards.

The changes are aimed at improving representation and inclusion following criticism posed at the org earlier this year when 2023’s nominees were revealed. Complaints were made after no women were shortlisted for British Artist of the Year, an award that replaced the gendered categories two years ago.

R&B, which was previously listed under Best Pop/R&B Act, was also underrepresented in 2023’s ceremony and Atlantic artist Mahalia called for genre to be given its own category. “Winning awards isn’t the reason why we make and release music. We do this shit out of love. But, at this point, it’s nothing short of disrespectful,” she said at the time, noting that U.K. R&B was “thriving.”

Eligibility for 2024’s R&B Award will cover a 24-month period as opposed to the usual 12 months to ensure that artists that released music in those two years qualify and are eligible.

“British music is special, the secret ingredient is its rich diversity of genre bending sounds created by the most eclectic artists of all backgrounds,” BPI Chair YolanDa Brown said. “It was this that prompted The BRIT Awards to introduce genre-based awards in 2022, and we are delighted to continue this with the addition of a new standalone R&B category.”

The BRITs has also announced that 2024’s trophy will be designed by visual artist Rachel Jones. The ceremony takes place at London’s O2 Arena on 3/2.


Ceechynaa has only two tracks to her name but is already attracting keen interest from labels on both sides of the Atlantic. The 19-year-old rapper burst onto the scene late last year with her self-released track “Legal Baby,” which has since tallied over 1.3m streams on Spotify. Follow-up “Last Laugh” arrived in July. It has nearly 4m plays to date and was recently boosted by an NLE Choppa feature. Ceechynaa is being feted for her confidence, lyrical play and trademark Essex accent. No less than DJ Semtex views her as the future of British hip-hop.

According to manager DJ Limelight, despite the traction she’s gotten on her own, she needs direction, which he’s helping her develop. He also informs, “I want to give artists a safe space to work in, especially young women.”

What makes Ceechynaa special? “She can actually rap,” says Limelight. “For a 19-year-old to be putting her words together like that―it’s dope to hear. She’s also very passionate about representing women and the underdog; there’s a message underneath everything she does. And the accent does stand out.”

Henceforth, Ceechynaa and Limelight intend to consistently release new music and build on her live presence. She played XOYO London in September and has shows booked through the end of the year.

Her manager says she wants to stay independent while building her catalog but will maintain relationships with the label reps who’ve expressed interest for potential deals down the line. The rapper’s ambitions naturally stretch far beyond the U.K. Says DJ Limelight, “Ceechynaa can definitely go global.”


Streams: 5.3m total on Spotify for “Legal Baby,” 2022, and “Last Laugh,” 2023; 207k monthly Spotify listeners

Social media: 65.5k Instagram followers, 232.6k TikTok followers

Live: XOYO London (capacity: 800)


Management: DJ Limelight

Label: unsigned

Publisher: unpublished

Agent: TBD


A household name in the U.K., Little Simz staked her claim to the mainstream over the better part of the last decade. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, her 2021 album and third set on AWAL, rose to #4. It won the Mercury Prize and inspired a BRIT Award for Best New Artist. The critically acclaimed artist is also the recipient of two Ivor Novellos and a pair of AIM Awards.

Simz recently mounted a 10-date North American tour (her first since 2019), which followed the release of her third album, 2022’s Top 40 No Thank You.

As AWAL President Paul Hitchman makes clear, it’s not only music that’s secured her well-deserved status; “Simz has become recognized as an actor, fashion icon, cultural spokesperson and entrepreneur as well as a songwriter, performer and producer,” he says. “She has always innovated and added new strings to her bow.”

As such, Hitchman sees “huge opportunity for her to grow her audience globally through a combination of new releases, touring and visual storytelling.” An example of the latter can be found in the interactive video Simz released to accompany her 2023 single “Gorilla,” directed by Dave Meyers (Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Missy Elliot).

Hitchman would also like to see her win a Grammy and in the U.K., he says, “another BRIT Award and #1 album are achievable targets,” adding, “Overall, we see no limit to what Simz can achieve.”

Her North American tour, which included a 10/3 stop at The Novo in Los Angeles, was rescheduled from 2022. The original outing was canceled for financial reasons. “I pay for everything encompassing my live performances out of my own pocket,” Simz said at the time, “and touring the U.S. for a month would leave me in a huge deficit.” She was able to make it out this year thanks in part to funding from AWAL, says Hitchman, noting that “audiences for her live performances in the U.S. continue to grow and grow.” At home, Simz played sold-out headlining shows 11/10 & 11 at London’s 10,500-capacity Alexandra Palace.

According to Hitchman, AWAL plans to make the fiercely independent Little Simz “one of the most successful, credible, respected and celebrated artists in the world while at the same time enabling her to retain ownership of her rights and control of her career.”


Streams: 600m+

Sales: 130k+ U.K. album sales

Charts: 2021 album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert hit #4

Awards: Mercury Prize, BRIT Award, two each Ivor Novellos and AIM Awards

Social media: 943k Instagram, 884k Spotify and 750k TikTok followers; 441k YouTube subscribers

Live: 60k+ tickets sold in 2023


Management: Nathan Burke, Forever Living Originals

Label: Forever Living Originals/AWAL Recordings

Publishing: unpublished

Live: Lucy Dickins, James Simmons, James Rubin, Randall Uritsky, WME


Having scored four Top 20 albums and a string of Top 20 singles, Digga D is a leading light of the hugely successful independent British hip-hop scene. His latest set, Back to Square One— released on his own Black Money Records and licensed by EGA—reached #6 in the U.K. in September. It followed 2022’s #1 Noughty by Nature.

Digga emerged as part of the collective 1011 (now CGM) amid the rise of the U.K. drill scene. His 2017 freestyle for Mixtape Madness’ “Next Up” series pricked up ears in music and media, with the track later certified silver. In 2018 he started working with EGA, which has since licensed and distributed various releases. EGA MD Charley Snook has been closely involved with Digga, witnessing what she calls his “glow up” over the last few years.

Says Snook, “He’s evolved from being a drill artist to become a potential global superstar. Digga’s no longer considered underground; his songs are charting. Back to Square One, in particular, shows real creative growth and maturity. He’s a generational talent.”

Snook likewise applauds Digga’s standout entrepreneurial skills. “As much as he creates great music, he also knows how to sell it; he knows exactly how to market his records, and he’s a TikTok king,” she expounds. “He brings a lot of
ideas to the table, he’s involved and he wants to learn.”

Digga has been the subject of two documentaries. The first, 2020’s Defending Digga D, follows him as he tries to rebuild his career after a 15-month prison stint; the second, 11 Steps Forward, 10 Steps Back, which accompanied Square One, documents a year in the life, including his travels.

In October, when latest single “TLC” arrived, 23-year-old Digga became the youngest rapper to headline London’s 5,000-seat Royal Albert Hall. Looking ahead, Snook says the focus is global, noting, “His biggest following beyond the U.K. is in Australia, so we’d love to go there and begin blowing him up globally.”


Streams: 1.7b; 3.6m monthly listeners; 250m video views

Charts: Four Top 20 albums and multiple Top 20 singles; 2023’s Back to Square One hit #6 and 2022’s Noughty by Nature reached #1

BRIT certifications: Various gold and silver singles and albums

Social media: 2.5m TikTok and Instagram followers


Management: TBD

Label: Colin Batsa, Charley Snook, EGA

Publisher: Sony Music Publishing

Agent: Alex Hardee, Wasserman


South London rapper Youngs Teflon is a new signing for Atlantic U.K. who’s been “delivering underground heat for a while now,” according to the label’s EVP and president of Black Music, Austin Daboh, who calls him “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” Teflon’s sizeable catalog, which he began amassing in 2009, includes 16 albums (among them Purple Hearts, which hit the Top 40), and countless singles.

“Atlantic will now work with Young Teflon to bring his creative vision to life,” says Daboh. “We’ve been fans for a while and could see he was building a loyal fan base in a demographic that’s very hard to reach and impress. We sat down with him and were blown away by his hustle and determination to sculpt a classic body of work. Everyone at Atlantic is excited that we’ve been able to bring him in and start developing on the base he’s built.”

It’s Teflon’s “royal flush of lyrical skill, tone of voice, storytelling ability and creative mindset” that makes him one of a kind, says Daboh. “That’s the reason true rap fans love him. He’s an artist who creates a throwback sound but one that is undeniably rooted in 2023.”

In the short term, Daboh promises singles to satisfy “day- one fans and remind people of where Youngs Teflon came from.” Next year will be about delivering “a classic U.K. rap album, which we all know he has the ability to create. The sky’s the limit for Youngs Tef.”


Sales: 916k combined singles, 31k album

Streams: 561k monthly Spotify listeners

Social media: 116k Instagram followers, 70.1k Twitter followers; 33.1k YouTube subscribers


Management: Aleem Kalanzi

Label: Atlantic U.K., Austin Daboh

Publisher: unpublished

Agent: Marlon Burton, ATC Live


Rapper Knucks released his debut album, ALPHA PLACE, last year. It hit #3 on the U.K.’s Official Albums Chart and was praised by Clash for its “immaculate self-production and refined wordplay” and credited with “raising the bar for U.K. rap.” Since then, Knucks has begun working with ADA (following two EPs, a mixtape and a short-lived deal with Island Records).

Trenton Harrison-Lewis, SVP Artist and Label Development, ADA and Warner Music U.K., says he’d wanted to work with the rapper for years, elaborating, “Knucks had been bubbling away in the underground scene for a while, making really good music, and I’d built a great relationship with his managers Sincere and Mark [Henry]. We were able to come up with a plan that allowed him to work independently with his team while partnering with us. It was a very competitive deal, but thanks to our relationship, we were able to bring Knucks and his team in.”

Alpha Place “cemented him as one of the most exciting up-and-coming artists in the U.K.,” Harrison-Lewis continues. “The record has streamed amazingly well and now we’re looking to build on that success as he continues to develop.” The first single released via ADA was “I Suppose,” which landed in August.

What separates Knucks from the pack? The ADA/WMUK SVP responds, “His work is distinguished by incredible lyricism, and he often produces his own beats, which is a really powerful combination. He also blends different genres, like hip-hop, R&B and jazz, which gives him his own sound. It’s like nothing else coming out globally today.”

In 2023 Knucks mounted a sold-out EU tour and a debut U.S. run, hitting eight cities. While he works on new music, the ADA team is cultivating his fan base. “We believe his sound has the ability to cross borders,” says Harrison-Lewis, “so we’re working hard to connect Knucks with as many fans worldwide as possible.”


Streaming: 3.8m monthly Spotify listeners

Social media: 65m+ YouTube views; 400k TikTok likes


Management: Sincere, Mark Henry and Sandy Abuah at Tru Tribe

Label: ADA, Trenton Harrison-Lewis

Publisher: unpublished


Headie One is among the figureheads of the U.K. drill scene, which emerged in 2019 thanks in part to his #6 single “18HUNNA” f/Dave. He subsequently tallied four more Top 10 singles and hit #1 with his 2020 debut album, Edna (named for his mother, who died when he was three). This year, Headie reached #5 on the U.K. album chart with Strength to Strength, his mixtape collaboration with fellow London rapper K-Trap. After cementing his reputation under the guidance of Sony U.K.’s Relentless Records, he’s now signed to Columbia.

Says Columbia U.K. President Dipesh Parmar: “What Relentless has done with Headie in a few short years is remarkable. Going from his early days on the streets of Tottenham to becoming one of the U.K.’s most prolific rappers globally is no mean feat. It’s now about bringing new energy to the project and working with Headie and his team to further cement his position as one of the U.K.’s finest.”

So what makes him special? “Authenticity,” Parmar offers, elaborating, “Headie is the rapper’s rapper; he’s the real deal. His lyrical ability and ability to remain culturally relevant, with admiration and respect from the likes of Drake and Fred Again.., to name but a few, is credit to the unfiltered reflection in his lyrics and his continued experimentation as an artist.” That respect has resulted in a variety of collabs, including “Ain’t It Different” f/AJ Tracey and Stormzy (U.K. #2), “Only You Freestyle” with Drake (U.K. #5) and “Charades” with Fred Again.. and tracks with Skepta and Young T & Bugsey.

The current plan is to build on recent momentum, which includes that generated by #9 single “Martin’s Sofa.” Parmar promises, “Ahead of new music, we’ll super-serve Headie’s core fans across his social-media platforms, strategically feeding them bespoke content tailored to each channel as we build his global following.” Next year will see a new album project, which One has already begun to tease, accompanied by what Parmar calls “elevated creative storytelling” and the opportunity to see him play his biggest live shows yet.


Streams: 2.3b

Charts: Four Top 10 singles; six Top 20 singles; debut album Edna hit #1 in the U.K. and charted in six countries; first U.K. drill artist to reach the Top 10, with “18HUNNA,” 2019

Awards: Two BRIT Award nominations; MOBO win for Best Male Act, 2020

Social media: 1.6m followers

Live: Wembley SSE Arena, O2 Academy Brixton


Management: Lovelace Owusu-Sekyere, Adnan Masud, Mimi Oritse

Label: Columbia Records U.K.

Publisher: unpublished

Agent: Craig D’Souza, WME