Black British singers hold many of the top spots amongst the country’s most loved, most successful, and most pioneering music artists.
From grime, to gospel, to R&B, this list highlights some of the male and female black British singers and musicians you need to know about – both new and old.
Michael Kiwanuka is a black British singer-songwriter who has been steadily rising to ‘icon’ status over the last decade. His expansive and distinctive sound defies categorisation, taking cues from pop and soul.
His Mercury Prize-winning 2020 album Kiwanuka was his best yet. It’s a stunning record that seems to transcend generations – you can imagine it coming out of the 1970s, and you can be equally sure that people will still be loving it in 2070.
Stormzy is one of the most successful UK rap artists of all time, and one of the best known black British artists of this generation. From his first sensation ‘Shut Up,’ Stormzy has gone on to win numerous awards including at the Brits and MOBOs.
From his origins as a grime artist, his music has seen him traverse the spectrum of UK hip-hop, and in more recent times, gospel. A living legend who continues to impact contemporary music.
The rise of Little Simz has been parabolic, with her recent album seeing her make significant in-roads into the US. The black British singer, rapper, and actress draws influence from grime and UK hip-hop, as well as incorporating significant experimental aspects in her music.
Of her four studio albums to date, the 2021 Sometimes I Might Be Introvert has received international acclaim. Without a doubt, Little Simz is making a name for herself as one of the great female black British singers of our generation.
Kojey Radical is a rapper, musician, and poet, whose music incorporates elements of hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul. The artist has garnered huge respect in the underground scene especially, with his 2016 album 23Winters standing as a stunning example of his pioneering experimentalism and artistry.
Breaking away from some of the tropes of UK hip-hop with his sophisticated production and lyricism, Kojey Radical is one of the most boundary-pushing black British musicians active today.
Ego Ella May
Alternative jazz and neo-soul artist Ego Ella May (pronounced ‘eh-go’) is one of the most exciting emerging black female singers in the UK today.
A stalwart of London’s contemporary jazz scene, Ego Ella May has been prolific in her releases in recent years. If you’re yet not familiar, try out her lilting single ‘Give A Little,’ then dive into her 2021 album Honey for Wounds.
The lead singer of the trip-hop group Morcheeba, Skye Edwards is a legend of the late 90s and early 00s UK music scene.
Morcheeba’s 1998 album Big Calm stands as the band’s most popular album, but recent releases including the 2021 Blackest Blue have a huge amount to offer for fans of the downtempo and trip-hop sound. A legendary black British singer with a stunning voice.
Ms Dynamite is one of the most-loved artists of the 00s UK hip-hop and R&B scene. The winner of numerous Brit, MOBO, and Mercury Awards, the British singer and rapper’s best-known track is the unmistakable ‘Dy-Na-Mi-Tee.’
But Ms Dynamite is not just a one-hit-wonder. Her Mercury Award-winning 2002 album A Little Deeper is an education in the sounds of UK hip-hop and R&B. Little known fact – Ms Dynamite is the older sister of rapper and activist Akala.
Macka B is a legend of UK reggae. The singer, songwriter, and activist is known for blending powerful political messages with light-hearted, feel-good reggae beats. His extensive discography includes over 25 studio and live albums.
Going strong since the mid 80s, one of Macka B’s most popular records came in the form of the 2017 Health is Wealth album, in which he extols the benefits of a vegan and ital diet. The cheeky ‘cucumba’ is an absolute classic!
One of the most sensational female black British singers active today, Celeste’s gorgeous 2021 single ‘Strange’ saw her earn significant acclaim. Taking cues from jazz greats like Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald, her 2021 album Not Your Muse is something special.
Whether you know it or not, you will have probably heard her pop anthem ‘Stop This Flame.’ An amazingly versatile singer and musician who is onto great things.
Taking her cue from alternative R&B and soul greats like Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill, Mahalia has pioneered a distinctly British take on pop-infused R&B. The British Jamaican singer, songwriter, and actress broke through with her 2017 performance of ‘Sober’ on Colors.
Her accolades include nominations for Brit, Grammy, and MTV awards. Check out her 2020 lockdown EP, Isolation Tapes for a taste of her super soulful sound.
Roots Manuva is one of the great British rappers and alternative hip-hop artists of the 00s. His big single ‘Witness’ became an underground anthem, with collaborations with the likes of Gorillaz, The Cinematic Orchestra, and Nightmares on Wax further cementing his reputation as one of the most innovative rappers of the period.
Hailing from a poverty-stricken, Pentecostal home in Stockwell, London, the artist went on to release 9 studio albums between 1999 and 2015.
Dave is one of the most successful British rappers of recent years. The winner of numerous Brit and MOBO awards, his major hits include the 2021 ‘Starlight,’ and the 2019 ‘Location’ featuring afrobeats luminary Burna Boy.
Known for his socially conscious lyricism, the British-Nigerian’s music combines elements of UK hip-hop, grime, and afrobeats. Check out his heartfelt and technically impressive 2021 album We’re All Alone In This Together.
Jorja Smith is a true rising star in the UK’s music scene right now, and one the most-streamed female black British singers on Spotify. Drawing on elements of neo-soul, jazz, and pop, her smooth and soulful vocals are displayed wonderfully on her 2021 single ‘Nobody But You.’
Her biggest hit to date remains the 2019 ‘Be Honest,’ featuring Nigerian afrobeats superstar Burna Boy. Delve deep with her 2021 album Be Right Back.
Dizzee Rascal is one of the most famous and most critically acclaimed UK rappers and grime artists of all time. He has been awarded an MBE for his contribution to music.
With huge tracks including ‘Bonkers,’ Dance Wiv Me,’ and ‘Fix Up Look Sharp,’ Dizzee took grime to a mainstream audience. His 2003 Mercury award-winning Boy In Da Corner remains an essential grime album.
Enny’s rise was a propelled the release of her 2020 single ‘Peng Black Girls,’ and especially the remix of the track featuring Jorja Smith. Of Nigerian heritage, Enny grew up in Thamesmead, South East London. With a background in film, she currently works with Hackney-based collective Root 73.
Her debut album Under Twenty Five dropped in 2021 and solidifies her sound. Check out ‘Malibu,’ featuring Manchester rapper KinKai.
Nao has been on the rise for some years with her sound developing and changing significantly over the years. From her early, lofi ‘wonky funk’ days, Nao’s sound today is polished, evoking the sounds of 90s R&B, but with fresh hints of afrobeats creeping in.
The uplifting and summery ‘Drive and Disconnect’ was one of Nao’s breakthrough tracks. Her 2021 album And Then Life Was Beautiful went on to receive critical acclaim with NME rating it 5/5, as well as Grammy and Mercury nominations.
Not everyone knows his name, but everyone knows his 1967 song ‘Rudy, A Message To You.’ The song which was later covered by The Specials was originally written by Dandy Livingstone.
Born in Jamaica, Livingstone immigrated to the UK at the age of 15. He went on to become a seminal figure in British reggae, signing to Trojan Records in 1968.
Livingstone has released thirteen albums in his time, finding his heyday in the 60s and 70s. In later years, he went on to focus on production.
R&B artist Billy Ocean is a man who has reached legendary status. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, the singer and songwriter is best-known for his chart-busting 1976 R&B single ‘Love Really Hurts Without You.’
After breaking the UK in the 70s, Ocean went onto transatlantic success in the 80s, with his song “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going” reaching number two in the US charts.
Amongst his many accolades, BIlly Ocean was awarded the MOBO Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and was appointed MBE in 2020 for his services to music.
Born to a Nigerian father and an English mother, Shirley Bassey is one of the most commercially successful British singers ever. With over 140 million record sales to her name, she is amongst the best-selling female singers of all time.
She is especially well-known for her theme songs appearing on three James Bond films – Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, and Moonraker – with Goldfinger being inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008.
In 1994 she was made a CBE. Her 2020 album I Owe It All To You saw her set the record for being the first woman to achieve a Top 40 UK album in seven consecutive decades.
Corrine Bailey Rae
Singer-songwriter Corrine Bailey Rae first burst onto the scene with her 2006 feel-good single, ‘Put Your Records On.’ Her self-titled debut album, released the same year, debuted at number 1 in the UK albums chart.
Her success was promptly rewarded, with Rae picking up three Grammys, three Brit awards, and two MOBO awards the following year. Rae went on to release albums in 2010 and 2016, both of which found chart success both in the UK and US.
After a hiatus of nearly a decade, Rae finally returned in 2023 with her latest album Black Rainbows.
Cat Burns is a young black British singer-songwriter who rose to fame with her 2020 single ‘Go’ which reached number two in the UK singles chart.
Her sound is heavily pop-influenced, with hints of indie and gospel. Thanks to going viral ok Tiktok, her song ‘Go’ was heard worldwide, and is now certified platinum by the BPI.
Seal is an icon of black British music, with several international hits to his name. Born to a Nigerian mother and an Afro-Brazilian father, his heyday came in the 90s, although he found continued success through the 00s up until today.
After initially rising to fame with his 1993 song ‘Crazy,’ Seal went on to win three Brit awards and three Grammy awards in his career. Other major hits include ‘Kiss from a Rose’ (1996) and ‘Prayer for the Dying’ (1996).
Labi Siffre is the man behind several huge 70s R&B and pop singles. Born in London to a Nigerian father, and a mother of English and Barbadian descent, Siffre is respected not just as an R&B and pop artist, but as a poet who has published three books.
Siffre’s first big hit was ‘It Must Be Love’ (1971), which reached number fourteen in the UK charts. The song was later covered by Madness a decade later, reaching number four in the UK charts, and thirty-three on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.
His crowning glory was his powerful and moving 1987 anti-apartheid song, ‘(Something Inside) So Strong.’
Born to a Jamaican mother and an English-Irish father, Ella Mai is an British R&B artist who has found significant success on both sides of the pond, and perhaps especially in the United States.
Her rise to fame was gradual at first, until her 2018 self-titled album shot her to success. The album went platinum, topping Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-hop Albums chart, and charting respectably in countries around the world.
The young singer went on to be honoured by Billboard as their Top R&B Artist in 2019, with her single ‘Boo’d Up’ taking the 2019 Grammy award for Best R&B Song.
Check out her 2022 album Heart on My Sleeve.
Leona Lewis was one of the most internationally successful British artists of the 00s, reaching “pop star” status internationally. Born to an Afro-Guyanese father and a mother with Welsh, Irish, and Italian descent, she grew up in London and attended the esteemed BRIT school.
Her debut 2007 album Spirit smashed records, becoming the fourth best-selling album of the decade, and one of the best-selling albums in the UK ever. The record topped the album charts in major markets across the world, including the UK and the US, selling over 10 million copies.
Before her rise to success, Lewis appeared on the X Factor in 2006 as a contestant. The renowned singer went on to appear on the show as a judge.
Lewis currently lives in the US, and continues to perform live internationally.