This time last year, Dot Rotten was already a highly accomplished MC and producer with a substantial reputation in the UK’s underground music scene. Now, after an outstanding 2010, the South Londoner, signed to major label Mercury Records, heads this year’s queue of underground rappers on the cusp of breaking through into the mainstream. Last month, he was one of 15 highly-touted artists on the longlist for the BBC’s prestigious Sound of 2012 award – whether he makes the final five (which is being announced this week) or not, Rotten’s status as the only UK rapper in contention speaks volumes about how highly he is regarded by tastemakers in the music industry.
Rotten made his name in the Grime scene, making what he calls “140 music”, before signing to Mercury last year and making a significant impression on the game with the release of a stellar free download EP, distinguishing himself in a lyrical war with legendary MC Wiley and releasing his debut single proper “Keep It On A Low”. More on all that later though – prior to signing his major label deal, Rotten’s name famously trended nationwide on Twitter back in 2010 when he appeared on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra’s UKG Soundclash event as an unannounced guest, almost single-handedly winning the clash for Team Grime when he delivered a blistering freestyle on Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” instrumental. It was a sensational radio moment and on a personal note, was the point at which I was first convinced that Dot Rotten was one of the UK’s elite MCs.
He kicked off 2010 as the first artist to take part in Grime blogger Hyperfrank’s Volume Control project – the resultant track, a Beatfreakz produced tour-de-force called “Thunder”, received huge acclaim, spins across the board and multiple reloads from every major respectable DJ around. A few months later, he was involved in a back-and-forth battle with Grime godfather Wiley, from which he emerged unscathed in April to release “Normal Human Being”, a Hip-Hop track which reached the 1Xtra playlist and scored airtime on Radio 1, radically shifting people’s impressions of Rotten in the process. He took to Paris, donning a sharp suit and tie for the inspired video and proved that he was able to craft both well-rounded songs and strong pop choruses, even singing a lick or two while he was at it.
The MC went on to release another four tracks which, along with “Normal Human Being”, formed the basis of his free download Above The Waves EP, a stunning body of work that demonstrated Rotten’s complex and intelligent lyricism, ear for melody and highly developed songwriting skills. Packed with dense rhymes and smart concepts, Above The Waves was a hugely effective introduction to an exceptional new artist. If you haven’t already, I’d strongly recommend you download it immediately.
At the tail end of 2011 he dropped “Keep It On A Low”, his first official single as a Mercury Records artist. Produced by en vogue hitmakers TMS, the club-friendly banger is perhaps Rotten’s most mainstream work so far, but remains uncompromisingly dense – unlike some of his major label peers, he’s yet to dumb down his complex lyrics for the masses. It’s already received a fair amount of influential Radio 1 play, and is currently sitting on 1Xtra’s playlist. This week, he debuted follow-up “Are You Not Entertained” on the Radio 1 breakfast show, a colossal platform which will have seen his record played out to millions. A rockier record than anything we’d heard from him prior, it nonetheless refrains from morphing into a cheesy hybrid attempt, retaining at its core the elements that make Dot who is he.
Make no mistake – Dot Rotten is a phenomenal talent, the likes of which come around just once in a blue moon. Undoubtedly one of the most gifted lyricists of his generation, he’s arguably the most technically able rapper to make it into mainstream contention so far. A beast of a songwriter with a useful ear for melody, my only fear is that Rotten might just be too good for the masses. Whilst the levels of talent and lyrical ability among the homegrown MCs eating at the top table have gradually increased year-by-year, from his dense rhyme schemes to his lofty concepts, this young man is a class apart. With that said, his ability to craft real songs and write catchy choruses (that are far beyond the disposable pop nonsense of some of his predecessors, if not his contemporaries) is what has everyone from Radio 1 to the Guardian paying close attention. For the record, Dot’s been my favourite UK rapper (and in my top three internationally) for quite some time now – chances are he might not release a #1 single, but I’m willing to bet he drops a classic album.