“If Grime’s dead then how am I here?” – Stormzy
A very bold statement by young MC Stormzy in his latest track ‘Know Me From’, but does he have a point? Through a period where grime was trying to re-evaluate itself as a genre, Stormzy was one of the few artists trying to stop the genre from detaching itself from its roots. Everything about grime shows that it should be Britain’s answer to American hip-hop, but its lack of universal success begs the question if that is really true?
Taking its influences from garage and ‘drum ‘n’ bass’, it’s undeniable that contemporary grime artists haven’t had the same success as their predecessors such as the Artful Dodger and The Streets have. Grime as a genre has never taken Britain, let alone the world by storm. It’s never had a strong leg to stand on when it comes to dominating the music scene. Some may say it wasn’t the intention of Grime MCs to come to the forefront of the music scene, but to address social and personal issues through their music instead.
But this personal approach to grime demonstrated through the music of artists such as the Heartless Crew was somewhat overshadowed by the emergence of a more commercial sound from new, up and coming grime MC’s. Many point to Wiley’s ‘Wearing My Rolex’ claiming it shows the genre needed a re-evaluation to move forward and get back in touch with its roots. It felt as if, in between Lethal Bizzle’s intimidating ‘Forward (POW!)’ and Wiley’s track, the 140bpm genre had shed its identity to emulate chart successes that other urban acts were enjoying at the time. Following ‘Wearing My Rolex’s’ success, similar songs followed. Most notably we heard Chipmunk go from tearing up the grime scene at 16 with ‘Who Are You’ to embarrassingly naming a record ‘Oopsy Daisy’, a song unavoidably tailored to fit the emotional needs of a 15 years old. Then came Skepta’s ‘Rolex Sweep’. A song which probably only shared the existence of a rhyming structure with the genre it purported to embody. As a grime fan, it hurt the most seeing Dizzee Rascal go from being the ‘Boy In Da Corner’ to a man happy to rap over a Calvin Harris electro-beat.
In 2012, Wiley’s ‘Heatwave’ signalled the end to a difficult period of grime where its identity had morphed into something almost unrecognizable. The song reached number one but also raised a fair few eyebrows. One Youtube commentator, known as ‘GrimeSceneSaviour’, asked “What is actually going on? Is this what grime is now?” before concluding “I don’t want people to know this as grime.”. This was exactly my reaction and I’m sure the reaction of many people who grew up listening to Wiley’s backcatalogue, from Sidewinder sets to his infamous singles, such as ‘Gangsters’. However, the woes for the genre didn’t stop there. The emergence of trap music in the States rubbed off on the UK. Hip-hop was no longer seen as being about imposing culture, values and solutions into urban society but a genre that boasted about upper-class privileges.
The way I see it is that it’s mildly understandable in the States. Artists such as Drake, Big Sean and 2 Chainz have come to the forefront with their impressive upbringings in comparison to artists such as Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Nas. How are they meant to rap about the hood when they have never experienced it? They would have no right. However, looking at the chart successes those rappers have had, artists such as Krept n Konan, Yungen, Fekky and Sneakbo took notice of this opening in the genre. They would be able to rap about whatever they felt, without having experienced what seemingly used to be a pre-requisite for any rapper: ‘the hood’. From there, they arguably dominated the UK urban scene from 2012-2014.
As much as it may anger many people to listen to artists rap about things that are seemingly unrelatable and arguably pretentious, the positive American influence on grime cannot be doubted. It’s a contributing factor as to why it’s suddenly becoming popular again. In the last 5 years we have seen Chris Brown, Meek Mill, French Montana, Yung Lord and Vinnie Paz collaborate with grime artists. Is it a show of appreciation? Or were the Americans using the vulnerable grime artists at the time to gain some popularity in the United Kingdom? These questions can be answered through Kanye West, who debuted a brand new song entitled “All Day” at the BRIT Awards, from his impending untitled album. This may seem like a normal method of promotion for a successful act hoping to secure a successful single, but the performance itself raised a few eyebrows due to the placement of British Grime acts in a supporting role. Why exactly were Skepta, Stormzy, Novelist, JME, Krept and Konan, Fekky and 45 other Grime artists onstage with 22 Grammy-winning megastar Kanye West? Some speculate that it is simply another action in his long history of egotistical displays, but others say it is indicative of his commitment to promoting the urban scene in other countries. Some may argue that it was an unabashed criticism of the BRIT Awards and their refusal to acknowledge or reward urban British artists despite their title and status and despite the success and impact of those artists. Others may say West is trying to carve out an international approach and position himself within the musical evolution of other communities, and some may even argue that he is promoting himself by positioning himself as the promoter of those less successful. Either way, the one thing we know for sure is that Kanye has elevated the grime scene.
A new era has seemingly begun with artists new and old realising that commercial success can still be achieved through traditional grime, grime as we all know it. A genre that brings the struggle of the minority and working class to the forefront. A genre that ignores the words ‘politically correct’. A genre that allows accessibility to the lives of people who have evidently endured disappointment and constant hardship. The proof is there. In the past year Skepta and JME’s ‘That’s Not Me’ reached number 7 in the charts with a classic eskibeat and 16-bar verses. Combine this with the digital success of Stormzy’s recent track ‘Know Me From’, grime has arguably reclaimed its identity whilst still being relevant to contemporary society. With underground undertones and new school flows, grime at the moment is finding a balance to appease different sections of society. This could not be more relevant to 17-year-old MC/producer Novelist who was seen performing with Kanye West at his private concert in London last month. His flow is almost reminiscent of a young Wiley while his style is reminiscent of Dizzee Rascal. There’s no doubt that it’s getting back to its best. These artists could soon be mentioned on the same level that Roots Manuva, The Streets, The Herbaliser, Rodney P etcetera do, and it seems there are exciting times ahead.
Grime has re-emerged in 2015 as a genre that is much easier to appreciate. It has re-emerged as a culture that many people can explore. It has a new found diversity that has turned heads of people who never thought they would appreciate it. Stormzy was singled out by the BBC as a ‘rising star’ in 2014. It’s what the genre needs, a breath of fresh air with the development of old ideas. It’s now up to the artists to keep grime relevant while staying true to itself and their roots.