Right Up Your Street: Otis Mensah on the Sheffield underground scene

Shining a light on Sheffield’s thriving underground music scene with artists Otis Mensah and Matic Mouth.

Words: Otis Mensah
Photo: Georgina Martin

As a teenager growing up in Sheffield, it was natural that I dabbled in the art of writing bars and participating in the British music culture of grime in any way that I could. This was the case for most of my friends, as we sought out a creative outlet. From writing 16s on the back of schoolbooks to clashes in the schoolyard, at 13-years-old me and my friends were most certainly not listening to indie bands but being enthralled by the words of Kano, Ghetts & Boy Better Know.

This art gave us a voice and, for me, a sense of belonging that eventually ran its course. At around the age of 16, I had made a personal observation that participating in this music came with a certain level of pretence, like I had to measure up to something I simply wasn’t. Not to be dramatic, but I felt I was experiencing an identity crisis by realising I couldn’t actually relate to the overarching feeling I thought embodied my favourite music.


Otis Mensah – Thought of the Day (Exposed In Session)

WATCH: Budding poet and rapper Otis Mensah doing what he does best in our latest Exposed session at The Greystones, Sheffield. Film: Renton ProductionsSound: Junior Park Music

Posted by Exposed Magazine on Monday, 9 October 2017


Although coming to appreciate and respect grime and everything it means for UK music, youth culture and now popular culture, at the time I felt a certain sense of bitterness towards music in this country; I felt there was no representation of the art I wanted to speak for me. Being a child of the internet generation, I began to discover worlds of music for myself. I soon found home and confidence in atypical artists like Kid Cudi, Tyler the Creator and Childish Gambino who breathed out a certain counterculture. I felt their music encapsulated my state of existence: being vulnerable, lonely, honest about not belonging, and in doing so not fitting the mould of ‘masculinity’. However, what I had found was something foreign, and in recent years, as my genre tastes expanded, I began to excite myself with the music from fellow experimental hip-hop artists, soul and jazz musicians who shelter under the same cultural umbrella as British artists appealing to bubbling underground music scenes in the UK.

Sheffield has always been renowned for its rich musical heritage and culture; from bands like Pulp to Arctic Monkeys and so much more – but what about artists participating in and inspired by black music culture? I’ve witnessed profound artists left out of the conversation by wider mainstream blogs and publications, and ever since being what I thought it meant to be a grime emcee as a teen I’ve wondered why. The term ‘urban’ gets thrown around a lot among industry conversation but I feel more often than not it’s misused and lazily bunches together grime, hip-hop, soul and jazz-infused acts to share one glimmer of the limelight. I believe every artist deserves respect and recognition within their own genre, sub-genre, culture and context. It’s time we shed light on the artists inspired by and representing black music and culture who are, quite literally, right up your street.

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