UK hip hop is a bit of a weird one. The name alone can remind you of that guy you met in the smoking area who’s always going on about the time he opened up his third eye. Boom bap beats, old Kung Fu movie samples – there’s probably a formula for it knocking about somewhere.

In the past year or so, hip hop on this side of the Atlantic seems to have undergone a bit of a change. While in the past it was a reaction to the commercialisation of the genre in the States, seemingly producing the opposite of what’s in vogue there, it’s now developing a new sound of its own thanks to a whole roster of new artists and inspirations.

One duo that embody this change are Sheffield’s Trellion and Sniff. Despite having their own sound within UK hip hop, past releases like The Skelly Zone sound closer to a South Yorkshire Cypress Hill than anything directly informed by the UK. Over time this sound has started to move into more ambient territory.

Trellion’s Lighthouse Tape, released this year via Bad Taste Records, showed how far this sound has come on. Pitched as a ‘dumbscape’, the tape is at its best when listened to in one sitting. A mixture of softer, slower rapping, looping, floaty beats and less abrasive drums leave the tape feeling like a journey through a marshmallow factory. It couldn’t be more different from the last release from the duo, North Luna.

It’s not just the likes of Trellion who are embracing a calmer output. The psychedelic sounds of Onoe Caponoe and the stripped-back Jesse James Solomon are just two artists who spring to mind. The latter’s Jesse From SE EP, released last year, and the more recent ‘The Ride Home’ make full use of his introspective lyrics and slow, spoken word-like flow, pitching it against minimal beats and arrangements. As a result, tracks like ‘Lionel Jesse’, where he does go for it, seem all the more powerful.

This move towards more low-key beats comes at a strange time for hip hop. In the US, rap seems obsessed with celebrity and beefs, whilst the music falls by the wayside. In fact, many of the ‘traditional hip hop’ tracks that do get a release seem outdated when compared with what the likes of Future and Chief Keef are doing vocally.

In the days of Soundcloud and Bandcamp, it’s as if a mixtape with 12 tracks on it isn’t enough anymore. To stand out, tapes and albums almost need to be a conscious project with a concept behind them. Look at the likes of Drake, an artist who isn’t the best rapper but commands a large fan base because of his ability to craft a concept, both sonically and visually.

This attitude to producing work can be seen in the likes of Jesse. His last two EPs both have their own distinctive sound and vision, with ‘Ride Home’ at times sounding like the MC having his best crack at a Streets album. A look at the credits for Trellion’s Lighthouse Tape reveal that the beats were recorded in 2014, with the vocals recorded later, showing an emphasis on the sound of the album as a whole.

Another reason for this change could be due to groups like the now disbanded Piff Gang. Whilst not making the most challenging or ambient of music, the group did a fair bit to widen what is expected of hip hop in this country. Until Don Silk and his cohorts, it was still rare for a UK artist or group to make music outside of the traditional boom bap style. More akin to what was being produced in the US at the time, Piff Gang proved that it could be fun, much in the same way that Trellion and Sniff have embraced the ‘dumb’ tag.

With the way electronic music has permeated so much of music and popular culture, it’s not so surprising that hip hop in this country is experiencing a change of sound. Kids who grew up with Timbaland in the US and grime over here are obviously going to be less inclined to make boom bap Tribe Called Quest clones than the generation before them.

At the moment hip hop seemingly couldn’t be stronger in the UK. Finally rid of the jokey tag that for years it couldn’t shake off, there’s a whole host of MCs, producers and labels breathing life into the genre with styles more fluid and less prescribed.

George Springthorpe