A leading BBC radio DJ has warned that the best new UK music talent is being forced to make it in the US because the British record industry doesn’t know how to promote black R&B singers.
A Royal Mail postman is set to become a star in America as a wave of new British singers break down barriers at the home of soul music.
Kadeem Tyrell, who works six days a week delivering mail in south London, will perform this week for US music industry heavyweights at SXSW, the talent-spotting conference staged in Austin, Texas.
However DJ Ace, the host of BBC 1Xtra’s R&B show, is staging a showcase featuring Tyrell and five other UK R&B acts – the first of its kind in the US – and said his artists were often snubbed by the British music industry.
“Kadeem is a big deal in the States. He’s just sold out a US tour. But he’s someone not a lot of people know in the UK,” Ace told i. “The eyes of the industry are looking at R&B in the UK and seeing the talent. It’s frustrating the world is seeing it more clearly than we do over here.
“Because R&B is seen as an American genre, the music industry here doesn’t necessarily know how to promote it.”
R&B singer Tyrell, who has racked up 10 million Spotify streams for his self-released songs, is being sought after by US record labels, battling to sign the next British success story after Stormzy and Little Simz.
Tyrell joins rising British performers including SIPHO, Miraa May, Mnelia and Samm Henshaw, at a series of SXSW events, backed by Kemi Badenoch’s Department for Business and Trade, showcasing black artists whose music is picking up fans in the United States, traditionally the hardest market for UK singers to crack.
However Ace said: “There needs to be more people at the UK labels who are invested and passionate about R&B. Instead there’s a pressure to sign someone who has a hot song on TikTok to get a quick hit.
“Developing R&B artists takes time, you need to think about where they’re going to be in three albums’ time not three months from now.”
Ace decided to invest his own money in staging the Texas showcase after being unable to secure sponsorship from within the music industry. “It’s an independent showcase and I’ve put my hand in my pocket to make sure it happens.
“I assume a brand or streaming company would want to take a chance and support this movement. I’m not angry though. I really believe in what I’m doing so I’m happy to pay for it.”
Ace said he had received “amazing messages from the heads of big US record labels” who will attend the showcase.
The BBC is also hosting the first US showcase featuring “British artists of colour” discovered through Introducing, the platform which allows unsigned artists to upload their songs and get them heard by industry professionals.
Theo Johnson, host of the BBC Introducing on 1Xtra show, told i: “Everything has its time and the new wave in America is UK R&B.
“It’s taken 15 years’ work of pushing the agenda of UK black music – Afrobeat, soul, R&B is really hitting home. It really helps to have the success in the past, when we brought through Little Simz and Stormzy.
“Everyone else is sounding and looking the same. Just being unapologetically British, we’re going to stand out and make a name for ourselves.”
British artists who have cracked the US Billboard charts in the past year include Pink Pantheress and Raye, who split from her record label Polydor after claiming it refused to release her debut album and is enjoying a series of hits after issuing her music independently.
A spokesperson for UK music body BPI, which is hosting a British Embassy at SXSW for UK artists to perform and network, said: “We are seeing signs of meaningful change that more British artists of colour are breaking through to achieve mainstream success in the US and other major international markets.
“That is why the British Music Embassy and BBC Music Introducing presentation of its first ever BBC 1xtra Introducing showcase at SXSW featuring British artists of colour couldn’t be better timed and is such welcome news.”
The Brit Awards was criticised by black artists after the nominees for its Pop/R&B category included Harry Styles and Sam Smith but no singers performing specifically R&B.