Grime is a British thing. Born out of the days of drum and bass, garage and jungle it has recently soared to heights never before thought possible. Rage said it best at Culture Clash 14 “before grime there was garage” and he was right. DJ Luck and MC Neat, MJ Cole, Ms. Dynamite and even So Solid Crew – garage artists. A musical encapsulation of urban Britain from late 90’s to early 2000’s. Sure there had been artists like Tricky, Overlord X and Blade who were at the forefront of the British Hip Hop scene in the 90s, but our scene had been and always will be overshadowed by the American one – even though two of the greatest to do it hail from our shores: Slick Rick and MF DOOM.
Despite the originality and expression shown by the aforementioned artists there wasn’t something that really captured the feeling of the urban British youth, there wasn’t anything that gave off the same impression to ill informed ears like our slang. That was, until grime emerged. I’m not talking the poor ‘grime’ that tookover charts from 2008/9 like Tinchy Stryder’s collaborative efforts with N-Dubz, but the real gritty stuff, like Demon from Eastside Connection, God’s Gift or Trim. There’s numerous different stories I heard growing up about where and when grime started, I’ve heard it started in Jammer’s basement – but that was Lord of the Mics. I’ve heard it started at a rave when one of the DJs messed up a vinyl and created a new sound but there’s no evidence that’s true. I’ve heard it was just kids on street corners spitting faster than what they heard on the TV and radio from overshores, which is probably true. You can’t turn the corner nowadays or go to a party and not hear somebody spitting, it’s inevitable. And that has been going on for years. The truth is, nobody really knows where it first started but everyone can tell you where they were when they first heard it and there’s documentation all over YouTube of some of the first grime sets on radio. Not your 1xtra, but pirate radio. Grime had it’s roots deeply planted in the streets from the start, and fusing elements from garage, dancehall and jungle created some of the hypest beats for MCs to spit their best 16s over. Even when it wasn’t beats and it was just acapella grime still shut down sets all over the radio: check the clash between Dizzee Rascal and Asher D (famed for So Solid Crew back then and Top Boy’s Dushane more recently) below for proof.
The grime scene really took off around 2001/2002 and just like where it originally started it is impossible to say what the first grime beat really is, a lot of people say it’s Pulse X by Musical Mob or that it’s Eskimo by Wiley. Nobody can really be sure but listening to both really gives you the feel and vibe that was floating around at this time. It was something new, something gritty, something to pull a dirty skanking face to but also something that gets you so hyped that even you wanna spit bars too. That’s what Grime did, as you can scout through YouTube videos, grime forums and soundcloud playlists and find names that made tracks from 2002-2007 and never be heard from again.There was no YouTube or soundcloud back then though. It was either limewire to try and find the hardest dub you heard that guy playing in class on his Sony Ericsson. It was a community thing, you’d look at someone like “you listen to grime?” You’d send them the track over break, taking up the whole break and you couldn’t even listen to it when it was sending. It was people’s drug and certain man happened to be the plugs. It brought people together, and it’s not like it is today where you can hear ‘grime’ every 5th track on the radio or TV, you had to know what grime was to actually listen and know about it.
Anyway, back to the forgotten names, the people spitting on these tracks were people about that life they were talking about, people respected on the streets and it’s reflected in their lyrics. This isn’t an insult to them but more of a big up, as some of the best lyrics and biggest wheel ups in grime history come from guys spitting the same 4 bars for a whole 16 but just switch a couple words. It’s ingenious and worked so well, this is apparent on what I believe is the best grime track of all time – Pow. I’m not talking the 2011 version, I’m taking the original one, 2004. The one with names both left in the 2000s and taken forward into the ‘new age’ of grime. I guarantee those listening to grime since That’s Not Me won’t be familiar with Fumin, Jamakabi or Ozzie B. All big names back then, and how you can hear grime when you go to a club nowadays, that wasn’t a good idea back then. Pow received notoriety not just in the grime scene but in the music world as it was known to spark violence in clubs when it came on. That’s what grime was, it was that pent up anger expressed by the youth who had been oppressed and disrespected for years ans this was the way out. This was showing them what we’re about and how it was our time in the spotlight. Despite the ban in certain clubs and the bad media surrounding Pow, it proved a commercial as well as street success, reaching number 11 in the charts – of course without featuring HotShot’s verse where he just lists off different guns and tells the listener to ‘shoot it’.
This was grime’s time to shine. It was finally getting noticed and that’s when you have Dizzee Rascal release Boy in Da Corner to critical acclaim, a Mercury Prize winning album that saw him shoot to new heights. The singles from the album were grimy but showed the new direction it was going, into a bit of pop but still with the forcefulness and aggressiveness it originally entailed, but the album tracks were pure grime. Stop Dat or Sittin Here for example still go down as some of the rawest and grimiest tunes ever. As Dizzee stepped up his game so did other names such as Wiley and Kano. The four Godfather’s of Grime if you will are and always will be; Dizzee, Lethal B, Wiley and Kano, the four of them helped out grime so much in the early years and broke boundaries. All were respected in and out of the genre and have gone on to have successful careers and also provided the platform for many a grime artist to follow. Grime couldn’t go unnoticed with these guys bringing out new songs or clashing people left, right and centre. When Lethal B and More Fire Crew dropped Oi! Wiley was there to drop a riddim and Kano was there to drop a track like P’s and Q’s and make everyone take a step back and be like wow, we really have something here. It’s no surprise that as I’ve been writing this article I’ve asked people what their first grime songs they heard were and there hasn’t been one that hasn’t come from these four, whether it be Wiley’s Pies or Dizzee’s I Luv U, these were the groundbreaking songs by groundbreaking artists. Kano in particular went on to be respected by multiple artists such as Blur and Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, with whom he is a collaborator on multiple tracks. This is the sort of stuff that helped grime transcend from small little disrespected genre to an international phenomenon.
Wiley helped sum up the general consensus towards grime at the time of it’s surge in popularity with the release of his 2004 track Wot Do You Call It? It sparked a big interest in many grime listeners across the nation and even with radio DJs, the hook of the song: “What do you call it, garage? ….What do you call it, urban?…What do you call it, two-step?” saw Eskiboy list of some of the things grime originated from as well as what people often got it confused with. It helped to differentiate the music in a big way and was one of many that had artists telling the listener that they make grime.
It wasn’t just the music though, the clothing worn was a big part of it all. You couldn’t just turn up to a set or a clash wearing anything. The clothes have come a long way since then but also in a sense it has all come full circle. Full tracksuits, basketball jerseys, Akademik, Evisu and of course the iconic Air Force 1’s. The fashion was just as big a part as the music was some to some people, you had to have the flyest trainers, the best tracksuit the sickest hat that you could turn to the side a la Wiley. Don’t get me started on the importance of the black hoodie though, look at the Wen I’m Ere and see what everyone is wearing, it’s an iconic piece of fashion in the scene, something similar to Kangol hats and chains in hip-hop. This added to how the youth could express themselves. Outsiders tarnished, and still do, people wearing tracksuits and what not with the same brush, saw them as nothing but criminals but to your boys, to the girls you were trying to impress, you looked the best you could.
Alongside the fashion that helped the scene distinguish itself from the rest of the music world were the films and TV shows heavily linked with it, similar to that of the movies made in 1990’s to accompany the growing Hip Hop world. 2004’s Bullet Boy and 2009’s 1 Day were two of the most praised movies to come from it all, and showcased the harsh truth on the streets of urban Britain, 1 Day was also a musical the likes of which not seen before, with the characters spontaneously bursting in spitting bars. Plan B also made a name for himself, although not with directly grime movies but with Harry Brown and his own self-written, scored and directed Ill Manors. But perhaps the biggest movie to grow from the British streets is Kidulthood, which illustrated the life of schoolkids on a day off due to the suicide of somebody in their year, wrapped with turmoil from teenage pregnancy, drugs and guns. The movie stood head and shoulders above the rest of British movies surrounding it at the time and was heavily praised for the depiction of how life really is for people. TV wise, Top Boy is the biggest thing seen on that platform that encompasses the lifestyle that’s thrust upon some and that some desire to have – the drug dealing, murdering, street life. With Asher D and Kano in starring roles, it also featured other artists such as Scorcher and Bashy and was unruly cancelled, but with rumours circling surrounding Drake reviving the show, it might make a celebrated return.
As the years progressed so did the talent, and with this competitiveness arose. MC’s started to align themselves with crews, whether it be Roll Deep, Boy Better Know, Eastside Connection or Nasty Crew, there was a multitude of them that had respected members of the game and were there to prove they had the best talent. The competitiveness didn’t stop with just songs though, it escalated to clashes, where, in steps Jammer, the mastermind behind Lord of the Mics. A concept for MC’s to clash one another – in his basement nonetheless – and sort it out there and then like men as opposed to on the streets. Lord of the Mics did so much for the grime scene and you saw the emergence of clashes filmed nationwide, one that particularly sticks out to me is Gadget Boi vs. Crawler in my hometown of Leeds. Lord of the Mics saw Wiley clash Kano, Skepta clash Devilman, Titch clash Bruza and many many more. But perhaps one of, if not the most important clash happened outside of Lord of the Mics. Dizzee Rascal vs. Crazy Titch. Dizzee wasn’t as big as he would go onto be at this point, and Crazy Titch was still the hostile MC people knew and loved. This came at the end of Conflict DVD and showed that neither artist were afraid and weren’t going to back down, especially with what was at stake – reputation. This helped give us the line “I’m not a mook” in what would then go down in grime history. The aftermath of this was numerous diss tracks from either side, with one of Dizzee’s biggest commerical tracks Bonkers even being aimed towards Titch. Don’t believe me? Look at the hook:
“Some people think I’m bonkers
But I just think I’m free
Man, I’m just livin’ my life
There’s nothin’ crazy about me“
To know Titch is in prison for murder now as well only supports the theory that Dizzee is going at him here.
Amidst all the volatility and hostility in grime at the time, it still popped off. Despite the negative connotations surrounding it, new artists emerged; Ghetts, Wretch 32, JME, Akala, Tinchy Stryder started to break off from Ruff Sqwad, Bashy started to make a name for himself especially with the release of Black Boys. Grime was taking off yet again and it began to become accessible in most stores. Or did it? Was it really grime, or was it a spin off of the once violent, aggressive genre? Tinchy and N-Dubz collabs weren’t grime, it was pop. Despite how good Kano and The Streets’ Nite Nite was, it wasn’t grime. Also a shout out to Mike Skinner is deserved, one of the few garage vocalists who transcended that genre and was able to make real grime hits, posse cuts or not, see: Get Out of my House and Pranging Out remixes. But I digress, ‘grime’ as the radio liked to show as if it was on their agenda to push they were now appropriating the ‘urban culture’ that was banned from most radio only a few years before, began to be played left right and centre. This isn’t a knock to those doing their thing at the time, because you do what you need to get money, but it wasn’t grime. And that’s what most people agreed, but it sold. You can’t argue with sales, and before you know it; Tinchy has gone, Tinie has gone, Dizzee has gone, N-Dubz are gone, Skepta started to go and the scene was somewhat unrecognisable. Of course, there were artists who stood up and took prominence in grime but even names like Ghetts and Mic Righteous did a tune with Cher Lloyd. It was a dark time for the scene and people knew that, but amongst the rubble people did shine. P Money came into his own, when Ghetts came back after the odd commercialised track he did his thing and them two had one of the greatest feuds in grime history. Boy Better Know became one of the most recognisable forces in the British music industry, the emergence of political grime also happened with guys like Lowkey and Akala showcasing their knowledge through the scene.
Around this time, Roll Deep had also made a return to music, making songs such as Green Light and Good Times. The songs themselves were heavily slated by original fans of Roll Deep due to how far they strayed from the collectives first releases. But then, you must go back and look at some of the greatest grime albums of all time and look at the content. In At The Deep End by Roll Deep had songs such as The Avenue & Shake a Leg, songs that don’t really seem all too grimey. The same can be said with Dizzee’s Boy in da Corner, listen the beat/riff for Jus A Rascal, heavy guitar. As for artists like Wretch and Giggs, they’re still making urban music, just not grime. It could once have been dubbed as grime but when you look into what it really is, you realise the differences, still all the same respect goes out to them for shelling down the industry every time. Grime itself hasn’t always been grimey in beats when you look at it like this, and the same can be said lyrically. So did they really sell out, or did they just take what the labels like from their grime releases and make more? That’s for you to decide.
As 2014 rolled around, names like Novelist, Cadet and Bugzy Malone had taken to their thrones at the top. YouTube was running rampant (and still is) with channel such as SB.TV, Link Up TV, P110 that showcased the urban music scene in Britain. And then, Skepta released That’s Not Me. The track began to get hype and airtime and people loved it, Skepta jumped back onto grime with this track and with that a lot more names came back. Chip, Tinie and Tinchy all came back with Fire in the Booths. As it’s come along since then more releases have dropped, but like I mentioned before with Wretch and Giggs, I don’t class Konnichiwa as grime. It’s rap, big difference that is a story for another article. Still though, Konnichiwa and the hype surrounding it did wonders for the scene, people from around the world once again had their eyes on what the English guys were doing. Section Boyz, Krept and Konan, Abra Cadabra, Dave, AJ Tracey, 67, Remtrex, Nines, Mist these guys started to make bangers that popped internationally and get features from artists worldwide including French Montana, Chris Brown and Drake. Grime began to take itself back to it’s roots, aggression was shown again and it’s non-radio friendly songs now that are being played again – and that’s thanks to the internet and the widespread audience it grants the artists. Grime has come a long way and has influenced many an artist and/or been give props from then, names ranging from Danny Brown to Drake to Kanye West it has taken it’s place atop the creative side of the media. It’s been a long time coming but the scene finally getting what it deserves, even if it has strayed from what it was originally beats wise – but that’s what grime does, that’s what the hood does, it’s what urban Britain does, adapts. The reason why grime itself is so popular, isn’t because MCs are spitting about what they don’t have, and what others don’t have, they’re infact spitting about what’s really going on. They’re not spitting about how they’d like it to be, they’re spitting the realness, and that’s why it’s been able to live on since it started, it’s raw, it’s gritty, it’s tough and it’s real.
long live grime.
words by Rohan Parmar.