Top Boy's return is a perfect toast to this golden era of U.K. rap

The gritty drama's comeback emerges during a prolific year for U.K. hip hop and grime artists.

Henry Lewis

Last updated: 12th Sep 2019

In 2013, when series two of Top Boy ended, the immediate response from its legion of fans was simply: "when will it be back?"

The sophomore series finished with a lot of unanswered questions: Does Dushane get away from the Albanians? Does Sully continue to look after Jason? How does Gem get on in Ramsgate? What happens to Ra'Nell's Mum, Lisa, and her job as a hairdresser? The list goes on.

However, the wait for series three went on... and on... and on.

Now, via a recently published video on Netflix's Youtube channel, it has been revealed by creator Ronan Bennet that the show was simply cancelled. For what reason, we don't know, but it's long term absence certainly didn't stem from the creators, or from the cast's failure to deliver.

With Top Boy seemingly dead in the water, fans had all but given up on seeing its return - but luckily, one of those fans happened to be one of the biggest rappers in the world.

It's no secret how much of an anglophile Drake is, from his reference to U.K. MC Sneakbo on Take Care track 'Cameras', to his strong association with Skepta and BBK, as well as drafting in the likes of Jorja Smith, Giggs and Skeppy on More Life. He even cheered England on during the 2018 World Cup.

And then there's his love for Top Boy.

The global megastar loves the show so much that he made himself personally responsible for bringing it back, took on the role of executive producer and pitched its return to Netflix, securing one of the year's most eagerly anticipated TV comebacks.

The beauty in this story though is that, according to reports, Drake has limited his actual involvement, preferring instead to reinstate the original writers and cast, trusting them to get on and do the business.

Essentially, Drake has invested heavily just to see one of his favourite TV shows return.

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Aside from pure entertainment, this is extremely good news for a multitude of reasons. The cultural importance of Top Boy can be separated into a few separate strands, as I'm going to attempt to explain right here:

In the same Top Boy legacy video, Ashley Thomas, who plays the kidnapped Jermaine, is quoted as saying: "For years I remember watching shows and not seeing yourself...maybe when a person of colour was on the TV you'd scream upstairs like 'Yo! Someone's on T.V, Yo!' Everyone run downstairs, watch that character to see what they're saying"

The increased visibility of people of colour performing at the highest level in the arts has become something of a national talking point. Take Stormzy's iconic headline slot at Glastonbury Festival, which, as well as placing a young, black U.K. musician at the centre of the global music stage, also saw him list a mighty 52 rappers making waves in the industry - the majority of which are people of colour. 

On the subject of music, Top Boy's return comes at a time when U.K. hip hop is riding at an all time high. Series three features new roles for two of this year's standout musical performers; Dave (who himself delivered a seminal Other Stage headline set at Glasto) and the simply sublime Little Simz

With their albums, Psychodrama and Grey Area respectively, both have delivered sensational releases in 2019 that have well and truly pushed the U.K. to the forefront of contemporary hip hop, while pre-existing Top Boy character Kano has gone above and beyond with his most recent release, Hoodies All Summer (another contender for album of the year).

On top of that, the show's other lead actor, Ashley Walters, was part of garage collective So Solid Crew, while the aforementioned Ashley Thomas also performs as the MC Bashy - and featured alongside Kano on 'White Flag', from Gorillaz Plastic Beach album.

The interdependence of this show and this nation's most talented rappers helps to give us, the viewers, a genuine insight into their lives and collective struggles, often in circumstances most viewers can't even begin to imagine.

In '101 FM', one of the standout tracks from Grey Area, Little Simz begins the track's infectious hook with:"We used to dream of getting out the flats..." - and looking at Ra'Nell's living situation throughout Top Boy in particular, Simz's imagery really comes to life.

Those who've seen Simz perform live (if you haven't, you really need to) might recall a story she tells, before the track 'God Bless Mary', about a neighbour who allowed her to blast her beats at high volume, thus paving the way for Simz to become the artist she is today - and given the proximity of 'the flats' you can appreciate how much of a big deal this must have been.

Meanwhile, on his mega 2019 release Ignorance is Bliss, Skepta pays homage to the show via the line, "I'm a top boy like Sully with a six figure hobby" (on the J Hus collab 'What Do You Mean?'), while on the album's opening track 'Bullet From a Gun' he spits: "A real top boy, I just can't play the victim. Been livin' my life as a kingpin".

Needless to say, the connection runs deep with the BBK don, and with U.K rappers generally.

As Little Simz says herself in the legacy video: "Going to school the next day it's like 'Ah did you watch last night's episode of Top Boy?", while in a separate interview with the Guardian, Simz states "Every story that’s being told in this series, I’ve witnessed [a version of it] first-hand. Even the character I’m playing, I know this person in real life. It’s very close to home."

She goes on to say: "It gave me another outlook on this area, because growing up here we felt like this place was worth nothing. It was essentially a shithole, there’s no opportunity here and nothing to do. And now we’re filming this Netflix series here."

And that's why this show matters, not just at an entertainment level, but in encouraging young people living in similar situations to gain a sense of identity. And with many of the show's actors hailing from the areas in which it is shot, it seems those dreams of 'getting out the flats' can come true.


You can purchase tickets to see Skepta and Giggs by clicking the links.