The Mobo awards, which celebrate music of Black origin, have announced the nominees for their first ceremony since 2017, championing a banner year for British drill, hip-hop, soul and more.
West London rapper Nines, who topped the charts with his album Crabs in a Bucket in September, earns the most nominations with five, for album of the year, best male act, best hip-hop act, video of the year (for Clout) and – in a category that acknowledges the awards’ fallow years – best album (2017-2019) for Crop Circle, released in 2018. The other albums nominated for the latter award are from Skepta, Ella Mai, Dave, Little Simz and Kano, the latter also earning a nomination in the inaugural acting category for his performance in Top Boy.
Three British singers who imaginatively blend soul, pop, jazz and R&B – Lianne La Havas, Mahalia, and Tiana Major9 – each receive three nominations, with La Havas and Mahalia joining Nines, Stormzy, and east London rapper J Hus in the album of the year category. J Hus, who topped the UK chart with his hugely acclaimed second album Big Conspiracy, also earns three nominations (with additional nods for best male and best hip-hop act), as does Nigerian-British Afro-swing vocalist Darkoo, for best female act, song of the year, and best newcomer.
Stormzy received two nominations, for best male act and album of the year for his No 1 Heavy Is the Head. Drill rapper Headie One, who has collaborated with Stormzy and Drake and topped the charts with debut album Edna in September, was also nominated for best male act, with AJ Tracey rounding out the category.
Alongside the aforementioned women, the best female act category features Ms Banks – the sole female nominee in the best hip-hop category alongside Nines, J Hus, D-Block Europe, Krept & Konan and Potter Payper – and FKA twigs.
The creatively vibrant and sometimes controversial style of drill rap is championed heavily in the best song category, with Tion Wayne’s I Dunno, Digga D’s Woi and Abra Cadabra’s On Deck – in part a diss track responding to Wayne’s I Dunno – nominated alongside two Afro-swing tracks: Darkoo’s Gangsta and Young T & Bugsey’s Don’t Rush.
The song nominees triumphed over major Black British chart hits including S1mba’s Rover, J Hus’s Must Be, AJ Tracey & Mabel’s West Ten and Headie One, Stormzy & AJ Tracey’s No 1 hit Ain’t It Different. Also mostly overlooked was this year’s Mercury prize winner Michael Kiwanuka, nominated only in the best R&B/soul category.
The Mobos have been criticised in some previous years for giving major awards to white artists such as Sam Smith, Plan B and Jessie J, but have overwhelmingly nominated Black performers this year, with Mancunian rapper Aitch and jazz performers Joe Armon-Jones and Tom Misch the only white nominees.
Founder Kanya King said she wanted the awards to “continue to uplift creative voices here in the UK and around the world … Recognising the unique role the Mobo awards plays for so many, and the challenging year we find ourselves in, it is now more important than ever to be there and to continue the rich history of showcasing the very best of Black music and culture.”
The virtual ceremony will be hosted by DJ and TV presenter Maya Jama alongside vocalist and online entertainer Chunkz, and feature performances from Headie One (with guest M Huncho), Ms Banks, Tiwa Savage and Kojey Radical, with more to be announced. It will be livestreamed on YouTube before a late-evening broadcast on BBC One.
The awards show, inaugurated in 1996, announced a one-year hiatus in 2018, with King saying the organisation needed time to “bring the platform to brand new heights”, and would return in 2019. That year’s event never took place; in November 2019, King instead announced the 2020 event – originally earmarked for Wembley Arena before the Covid-19 pandemic – saying she was “returning with even more determination and energy to support and boost our culture wherever we can”.
As well as the first ever acting award, this year’s ceremony features new categories for music production and “media personalities”, the latter acknowledging the rise of YouTube, Instagram and more as platforms for comedy and entertainment.
In June this year, King wrote an open letter entitled “An inconvenient truth”, in which she spoke vividly of the racism she and her family had faced in the UK, and castigated the UK music industry for failing to champion Black talent. “We’ve been fighting for over 25 years, I’ve dedicated my life to championing Black music and culture,” she wrote. “I’ve reached out to lots of people and sent ideas and suggestions. Over the years there have been promises, initiatives, fresh starts and pledges. But for me they were just empty words.”
She called for Black organisations who nurtured talent to be rewarded by bigger music companies who benefit from them, and for “strategic, targeted recruitment of the groups that are underrepresented”.
Mobo award nominations 2020
Album of the year
J Hus – Big Conspiracy
Stormzy – Heavy Is the Head
Mahalia – Love and Compromise
Nines – Crabs in a Bucket
Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
Best male act
Young T & Bugsey
Best female act
Lianne La Havas
Song of the year
Young T & Bugsey – Don’t Rush (feat Headie One)
Digga D – Woi
Darkoo – Gangsta (feat One Acen)
Tion Wayne – I Dunno (feat Stormzy & Dutchavelli)
Abra Cadabra – On Deck
Video of the year
Bree Runway – Apeshit (directed by Will Hooper)
Nines – Clout (directed by Charlie Di Placido)
NSG – Lupita (directed by Kevin Hudson)
Jorja Smith – By Any Means (directed by Otis Dominique)
Knucks – Home (directed by Ray Fiasco)
Kojey Radical – 20/20 (directed by Charlie Di Placido)
Best R&B/soul act
Lianne La Havas
Best hip-hop act
Krept & Konan
Best grime act
Manga Saint Hilare
Best international act
Megan Thee Stallion
Best album (1 September 2017 – 31 August 2019)
Dave – Psychodrama
Kano – Hoodies All Summer
Ella Mai – Ella Mai
Skepta – Ignorance Is Bliss
Nines – Crop Circle
Little Simz – Grey Area
Best African act
Best reggae act
Best gospel act
The Kingdom Choir
Best jazz act
Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes
Ego Ella May
M1 On The Beat
Best performance in a TV show/film
Kane Robinson as Scully – Top Boy
Michaela Coel as Arabella – I May Destroy You
Ncuti Gatwa as Eric Effiong – Sex Education
Jessica Plummer as Chantelle – Eastenders
Michael Ward as Marco – Blue Story
Damson Idris as Franklin Saint – Snowfall
Best media personality