The term grime has been used a lot this year. It's a genre that's been waiting, sometimes unpatiently, for its turn at the big time and it seems 2015 is finally that year that underground British rap, defined as grime, will get its due attention. If you're going going to jump on board, there's a few things you need to know so at the risk of simplifying what is a genre entrenched in history we've compiled a little cheat guide here to help you catch up.
What Has Already Happened?
Grime may not be a new genre to British people but to this rest of the world, this is our first time flirting with the genre that was born in London. It emerged in the early 2000s in an east-London town called Bow, an area of economic deprivation. It was a reaction to the growing popularity of underground genres such as garage and jungle and saw the MC move from hype men to the main event. Music journalist Simon Reynolds , "Inherited from the period when two-step ruled the top 10, but also inspired by enviously watching the living large of American rap superstars, Grime feels a powerful drive to invade the mainstream and get 'paid in full'."
While Wiley is widely regarded as the figure-head of early grime, Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner was one of the first to gain both critical and mainstream appreciation. He took home the Mercury Prize in 2003 and grime was heralded as the new genre ready to define a generation in the same way that punk rock or '90s rave did. But it didn't happen. Inevitably Britain's biggest grime stars like Dizzee, Tinchy Stryder and Tinie Tempah all looked to more mainstream genres for success. Even Wiley released a pop album titled See Clear Now which featured the likes of Mark Ronson and Lily Allen. He has since returned to the genre.
We all embraced Dizzee Rascal a few years ago but it's hard to argue that the tracks that gained traction on the charts had much relationship to grime. His most popular songs were produced by the likes of Calvin Harris and Armand Van Helden who really wouldn't know grime from a rhyme. Dizzee's last popular single featured Robbie Williams on the hook, if you need any more convincing that he's pretty much deserted grime. A British documentary Music Nation detailed this period in which Dizzee and Wiley looked for more American sounds for inspiration as the moment that grime lost its identity.
Still, there are plenty of artists that have continued to chip away at the genre and now are being paid their dues for their loyalty. English grime label Boy Better Know, helmed by JME, Skepta and Wiley, has been releasing records from 2006 to now that sit firmly within the genre.
In 2014, Nosiey released a documentary featuring JME about the London police shutting down grime events because they were deemed as "a public safety" issue. It's well-worth a watch to understand the unstable relationship between grime and the police and elements of racism within London.
What Is Happening In 2015?
You could say that not much has changed sonically with the genre of grime in 2015, but it has finally grabbed the attention of American hip-hop heavyweights that have thrown it into the public eye. Perhaps the most obvious statement of grime's arrival on the International stage was Kanye West's performance of All Day at the Brits. Kanye took to the stage with a group of men dressed in black. Among them were Skepta, Jammer and Novelist. A lot of people complained (one complaint of which is sampled in Skepta's Shutdown), but then grime has never appealed to the British masses thus why it's spent so long bubbling under. Writing for NME, Wiley touched on the significance of what Kanye did, writing, "what he did wont just happen again next year, but people will be more open-minded about the people he got into the building and onstage."
Drake has been a fan of grime music for a while now but not until this year has he made any audible sense of it. His verse on Lil Wayne's Used To referenced Skepta's That's Not Me, also giving a shoutout to Skepta's collective Boy Better Know, rapping, "Love for the Gs in the ends, But we dont love no girls in the ends." It hasn't stopped there. He also posted an Instagram captioned, "Watching Skepta vs Devilman is a true reminder that whenever you think youre good at what you do theres most likely 2 people out there that will yam your food. Skepta later returned the favour, sampling Drake on his single Shutdown.
Two significant mentions in a year doesn't seem like a big deal but when it's arguably the two biggest names in American hip-hop right now, it's always going to make some waves. Grime hasn't hit the charts yet in America but it's all about slowly moving into the psyche of audiences. For example, EDM was well-established and hugely popular in Europe before America caught on and now there's more attention paid to the dance-style at festivals than anything else.
If grime's going to go mainstream this year, then the UK is going to have to jump on board completely first and they have started to do that. This year Skepta's Shutdown charted in the top 40 while young-gun Stormzy managed to creep into the Top 50 with Know Me From. Skepta's brother JME also achieved his first ever top 20 album with Integrity>, peaking at number 12. It's certainly not the chart success platinum records are made of but it's significant because this is raw rap music that's often been labelled by those in the UK as dangerous. The fact that it's sitting in the same lists as Maroon 5 and Clean Bandit is a positive step.
The BBC highlighted 21 year-old newcomer Stormzy in their BBC Sound Of 2015 Award which highlights the talent most likely to excel in the year ahead. Labelling the rapper as "gritty grime from South London," he's a far cry from the Adeles and Sam Smiths that usually crowd this award.
What Is Going To Happen?
It looks like both Kanye and Drake are going to drop albums this year and while there's been no solid proof that the artists will be including grime artists and/or a nod of the hat to the genre, it's likely. American hip-hop is the main genre that grime can potentially infiltrate which would reignite the passion and aggression that the genre has often traded for sex and arrogance.
But it feels as if there is only so far grime can go. The biggest problem with grime extending its influence is that its roots are so geographically entrenched. From the accent to the attitude, grime is and will always be a product of South London and while it has extended into other areas of the UK, it's hard to imagine artists outside of Britain successfully emulating the style. Other trend-genres like deep house and RnB have easily transcended geographical borders, but their ties to their origins aren't nearly as strong as grime.
Everytime grime has moved into the mainstream it's collided with a dance-genre. It originated from garage but has also spawned genres such as bro-step (born from dubstep) and collided with genres like drum n' bass, deep house and dancehall. There's a chance it will find itself amalgamated with American hip-hop and finding favour stateside or in a perfect world it will be adopted in its most pure form.
Skepta remains positive about grime's organic growth. He said, "It will catch on and not just in America; we want the whole world to hear it, which it will one day." Let's hope he's right.
In a Red Bull Academy lecture in London, Skepta revealed that he had been in LA working with Kanye, Earl Sweatshirt and Playboy Carti on material. "I need Earl on the album," he specifically noted. The result of that will probably inform where the genre heads stateside.
Rapper Ghetts put it best when he told The Guardian, "Jay Z is bigger than rap culture, but never once does he act like he's not part of that scene. That's what I'm asking my brothers in grime to do; be proud and promote our music." It's possible to grow bigger than a scene and still rep for grime and acknowledge the heritage. That's the way that grime will be able to grow bigger than what it is right now.
Who To Look Out For
There is a long-list of legends who have come and gone from the grime genre but below are three that, in our opinion, are still relevant in 2015 without shifting genres.
JME is one of the founders of Boy Better Know and has released three albums since 2008. His latest album Integrity> which features Skepta, Wiley, Jammer and Giggs has broken the top 20 for the first time in his career and also features his highest charting single 96 F**Kries. His 2009 track Serious is considered to be a seminal grime track. JME goes against many of the stereotypes that have been cast upon the genre. He openly opposes violence, drugs and sex and is a tea-totler himself. The rapper addressed grime's popularity recently on Twitter writing, "The year of the real. Inspired by the fakes."
In 2015, JME's older brother Skepta has had a huge part in grime's mainstream resurrection. His latest single Shutdown found recognition on international blogs after he appeared on stage with Kanye at the Brits and also simply because it's a brilliant track. He's had three albums over his career and is gearing up to release his fourth, Konnichiwa, this year. Skepta's ridden the wave of the genre, delivering classic grime, pop-based rap and, more recently, modern grime.
Wiley is considered by many to be the head-honcho of the grime scene. The 36 year-old rapper has seen grime through all stages. He's released classic grime albums, pop albums and last year delivered a mighty return to form with Snakes & Ladders, which he also announced to be his final solo album. His influence is the genre is undeniable yet he's been unable to crack the top 20 of the British charts with any of his albums. That is despite the fact he's had a number one single with Heatwave. He's oscillated between pop and grime better than any other artist on the scene, managing to retain his credibility and penetrate the mainstream.
If a movement is going to have its heyday it has to be championed by fresh blood. These are the young-guns that are set to make waves in 2015.
Stormzy is an interesting candidate to be grime's biggest newcomer of 2015. He's stayed away from "the raves, the girls, the glitz and glamour," as he puts it, rather building much of his career through his YouTube channel. The rapper placed third in BBC's Sound of 2015 and appeared on Jools Holland all without being signed to a label. This year he's released his most commercially appreciated single to date Know Me From and appeared on stage with Kanye at The Brits next to his hero Skepta. Complex asked Stormzy where he'll be in 2018. His answer? "I'll be the most prominent figure from our scene." Watch this space.
East London MC Jammz has started to cultivate attention this year off the back of his brilliant Hit Then Run EP. He produced much of the EP himself but it also featured production by established South London MC P Money and the self-appointed "DJ's DJ of Grime" Spooky. The beats are hard but there are also vocal samples that wouldn't sound out of place on a deep house track. His raps centre around radio and he finishes the title track of the EP by rapping, "No one's hitting radio like us this year/It's not a joke/It's our time."
Novelist is another one that appeared with Kanye West at The Brits but he's been making plenty of waves by himself. The 18 year-old is part of South London crew The Square, a group of rapper and producers aged between 15 and 20. The group released a strong mixtape The Formula last year, immediately drawing comparisons to Boy Better Know. He was on the shortlist for BBC's Sound of 2015 and also released his collaborative EP with Mumdance on the tastemaker label XL Records. His work with Mumdance demonstrates his effortless adoption of more experimental forms of electronica while still retaining that relentless grime flow. Novelist is the MC most likely to try different things and extend the boundaries of what grime can be.
There's a proper rap war going on between Novelist and Izzie Gibbs. Grime thrives off healthy competition and something really fierce could come from this. Last year Gibbs dissed Novelist on radio, leading Novelist to challenge him to a clash. Gibbs never turned up which he later explained but don't let that make you discount him as a rapper. Not only is he releasing fire grime records but he's also taking cues from American hip-hop. His track Sex In The Open recalls Future and Jeremih. It shows that his diversity is enough to cross the seas while also impress on local turf.
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