BY Angel Lambo in Opinion | 26 JAN 24

Editor’s Picks: New Chronicles of British Rap and Grime

Other highlights include an exhibition dedicated to Josephine Baker and SZA’s GRAMMY-nominated album

BY Angel Lambo in Opinion | 26 JAN 24

Frieze Editor’s Picks is a fortnightly column in which a frieze editor shares their recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to.

Aniefiok Ekpoudom, Where We Come From: Rap, Home & Hope in Modern Britain

Writer and journalist Aniefiok Ekpoudom offers a meticulously-crafted, illuminating exploration of British rap and grime in his new book, Where We Come From: Rap, Home & Hope in Modern Britain (2024). The narrative delves into the societal conditions that birthed the genre, highlighting influential artists and institutions that facilitated its spread, and examining its impact on contemporary British culture.

Ekpoudom spent five years traversing the UK to weave together a narrative that extends beyond the genre’s stronghold in London. Written in an accessible and matter-of-fact style, Where We Come From unfolds like the Book of Genesis, tracing a music genealogy that began with Smiley Culture, who begat So Solid Crew, who begat Giggs, who begat Krept and Konan, who begat Stormzy…

Aniefiok Ekpoudom, Where We Come From: Rap, Home & Hope in Modern Britain
Aniefiok Ekpoudom, Where We Come From: Rap, Home & Hope in Modern Britain, 2024. book cover. Courtesy: Faber

The book doesn't merely scratch the surface; it is rich with names, personal anecdotes, and time-traveling references, sometimes leaving readers yearning for a glossary. Each page enhances our understanding of the broader political context in which rap and grime operated — from the earliest Black pirate radio stations in Birmingham to a chapter dedicated to London rapper Dave. In an introduction recently penned for The Face, Ekpoudom describes Dave as ‘the next iteration of a culture and a community rooted here for around seven decades. There is something distinctly South London about him; the glimmering silver caps in his teeth, the cadence, the punchlines, and deep introspection that has long been a hallmark of the genre in the region.’

Dave at The BRIT Awards 2022 at The O2 Arena
Dave performs at The BRIT Awards 2022. Courtesy: Getty Images; photographer: Gareth Cattermole

Where We Come From emerges as more than just a historical account; it’s a mixtape and a comprehensive journey through Britain told from the perspective of the people who have spent the past seventy years shaping the culture.

‘Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion’

‘Josephine Baker: Icon in Motion’ (2024), at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, pays homage to the French singer, dancer, spy and civil rights campaigner. Escaping racial segregation in the US at 19, Baker found fame and success in Paris, where she lived until her passing in 1975. In this modest yet thoughtful exhibition, Baker’s cultural impact is recounted through artworks directly inspired by her or which are engaged in political dialogue with her legacy.

Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Birthday (1993) is a plump red quilt depicting a smiling Baker in repose, adorned with a string of beads around her bare torso. A notable highlight is Henri Matisse’s wall-sized paper and gouache work, La Négresse (1952–53), which was inspired by Baker’s banana-skirt dance – a satire of racial tropes. More recent, Simone Leigh’s sculpture of black and beige-toned porcelain plantains, Slipcover (2008), is also on display as a commentary on Black culture and female labour.

Josephine Baker, 1929, © George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives
Josephine Baker, 1929. Courtesy: © George Hoyningen-Huene Estate Archives

I’m pleased that Baker’s memory can be resurrected at any moment, without the excuse of a centenary celebration or impending biopic. The show is on until April, but if Berlin is a little too out of your way then I strongly encourage you to explore one of her early films, such as ZouZou (1934). It’s unlikely to disappoint.


With the GRAMMYs next week, I feel as if it's my duty to remind you of the creative genius that is SZA and her critically-acclaimed sophomore album SOS (2022), which has been nominated for 9 awards. Although she may be going toe-to-toe with the likes of Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift at the upcoming ceremony, no one explores petty jealousies and emotional insecurity like SZA does – all folded into lyrics concerning betrayal, revenge sex and – naturally – double homicide.

SZA, SOS, Promotional image
SZA. Courtesy: Top Dawg Entertainment

SOS opens with a bold assertion of SZA's artistic evolution, featuring heavy boom-clap beats and unironic auto-tuned gems like 'Low' that highlight SZA's growth as well as her versatility. However, the album takes a somewhat unexpected turn, which perhaps only true fans of SZA’s genre-splicing skills can fully appreciate. Tracks like the Phoebe Bridgers-assisted 'Ghost in the Machine' signal a change in mood and genre, suddenly embracing an indie drive-time sound. 'F2F', an indie pop ballad that could easily have been found on Olivia Rodrigo's cutting room floor, further disrupts the album's flow. Then 'Special' comes along with all the feels of Radiohead's 1993 sad-boy crooner 'Creep.'

As a whole, SOS marks a refreshing departure from the controlled vulnerability of SZA's previous album, CTRL (2017), demonstrating her willingness to explore diverse sonic territories. Six years in the making, this release underscores the notion that true gems are crafted by those who wait.

Main image: SZA, SOS, 2023, album artwork. Courtesy: Top Dawg Entertainment

Angel Lambo is associate editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin.