This is one of those brackets where I’ve pushed a few disparate things together. It’s a rap bracket, clearly, and rap that’s on the margins of pop (with a couple of big exceptions). But there are two distinct reasons why it’s on the margins. It’s split between underground hip-hop, which existed in a sometimes critical self-exile, alienated from rap’s glittering new mainstream, and British MCs, on the geographic margins of rap’s development.

And then the British MCs are themselves split between rappers trying to make hip-hop with a British accent and sensibility (like Roots Manuva), and MCs coming out of garage who are trying to push their genre forward.

It can be hard to look at this stuff without the benefit of hindsight. Maybe it’s not worth bothering. We know what happened next in these stories. When we reach the mainstream hip-hop bracket you can judge for yourselves how much, and how successful an alternative the underground stuff was – for me, despite the angry preaching of KRS-One on “Get Your Self Up”, it works best taken on its own terms without any implied contrast. The Coup’s corny but lovable parental advice, and Cannibal Ox’s fearsomely angular sci-fi bleakness are dispatches from their own realities, not part of any imposed conflict.

As for the Brits, the proto-grime of More Fire, So Solid and Sticky feels more interesting to me than Ty or Roots Manuva not just because it has more energy but because it has a future just around the corner from 2001. But on the other hand that’s completely unfair. In 2001 it wasn’t obvious at all what might happen next. UK hip-hop felt energised and fertile – helped by the fact I had a friend making me many compilations of the best cuts – and Manuva’s overground success with “Witness” looked like it would open the door to others. 

Meanwhile, partly despite, partly because of the rise of So Solid Crew, garage was losing the backing of the record industry: acts who’d been pressured into “going garage” were now being kept at arm’s length by a business which was fundamentally nervous of young black British talent and audiences.

Some of the music is still divisive – “21 Seconds” might have become an accepted classic, but the raw bragging of Oxide And Neutrino’s “Up Middle Finger” may not win so many friends. I love the angry inventiveness of the garage crews though, and the way they brought Jamaican style toasting and clashes back to the UK scene. (Which is one reason I rounded the bracket off with Wayne Marshall’s dancehall track and DJ Scud’s apocalyptic “No Love”) 

POTENTIAL WINNER: “Witness (1 Hope)” put a solid run together in the People’s Pop Poll and it’s still one of the warmest and most likeable things in this bracket. If it gets through and gets a lucky draw… who knows?

BEST TRACK: Lethal Bizzle’s jumping-bean energy makes More Fire Crew’s “Oi” a firecracker of a record. He’s had a variable career, to say the least, but on form he’s one of the best MCs Britain has ever produced.

DARK HORSE: Cannibal Ox were the beneficiaries of vast hype at the time and for me “Iron Galaxy” hasn’t aged that well… but it’s still striking and coherent in its vision and could be a rallying point in this bracket for those less keen on the grimey types.

DISCOVERY: I haven’t checked out all the YouTube-only tracks (this bracket has more than most) but I did enjoy The Coup’s rap addressed to a young daughter – a Marxist hip-hop “Kooks”, what’s not to like?!