A brief introduction to Grime music
The early days
In the early 2000’s when the popularity of Garage music was hitting a low and a gap emerged for a similar sound, Grime was born. Or, more aptly, a sound was born—Grime music was so young that it hadn’t yet been named. If Garage was the fun upbeat and, at times, glitzy older brother then Grime was the younger sibling; frustrated, bursting with energy and begging to be heard.
Wiley (real name Richard Cowie Jnr) is largely the pinpointed originator of the Grime subculture. Adopting the stage name, Wiley, in 2001 he began writing songs that portrayed his life and used lyrics which he later described as “cold”. This iciness was mirrored through his self-made beats which he named “eski-beats” and were at the time principally the first of their kind. The heavy synth influences throughout his first album coupled with subtle pauses and deep bass drops saw the birth of a new and highly influential style.
"If Garage was the fun upbeat and, at times, glitzy older brother then Grime was the younger sibling; frustrated, bursting with energy and begging to be heard"
In an early interview about the then up-and-coming genre, Wiley talks about his single What do you call it, which features lyrics such as “what do you call it. He expanded on why he and his fellow artists had moved away from the Garage scene and into inventing a new rhythm altogether, “It’s explaining about how we started doing garage and then they started turning their back to us. Pushing us away, trying to say we’re ruining the scene and all that”.
The rise and fall
With Wiley’s “eski-beats” catching on fast throughout the south London music scene, adaptations were soon made and the artists and radio DJs within the culture had dubbed the sound Grime. The genre had migrated from bedroom beats to pirate radio stations in pursuit of engagement with their local audience and in doing so, designed a space for the sound to be pushed forward in a time where it was not yet recognised as worth national radio air time.
"The genre had migrated from bedroom beats to pirate radio stations in pursuit of engagement with their local audience"
Wiley had started to form a Grime crew named Roll Deep and was taking on prodigies such as Jet Le, Danny Weed, Breeze, Tinchy Stryder, Jammer and, most notably, Skepta and Dizzee Rascal. Dizzee Rascal’s career went from strength to strength and Grime music entered the mainstream music world for the first time.
Rascal found huge success with his hit song Dance Wiv Me staying at number one in the UK singles Chart for four weeks and becoming the 12th biggest-selling single in the UK in 2008.
However, despite the heights Dizzee Rascal was reaching in the charts along with other relative successes in the mainstream from Skepta and Wiley, no other Grime artists could manage to reach the same level of notoriety in the pop world, which resulted in Grime staying relatively underground and the general public losing an interest in the genre. Many Grime artists felt as if the style of music being used to capture the public’s attention differed from that of the original Grime sound and so they chose not to pursue the path of ‘fitting the mould’ but instead, kept creating the music they love while pushing its originality into the world’s view.
2016 was the year that Grime unapologetically came back with a vengeance. Old school Grime MCs such as Skepta and Kano were re-emerging with newer, fresher sounds which were essentially a salute to the old Grime, still at 140BPM but with crisper beats and catchier flows more relevant to our time.
Most notably was Skepta’s comeback album Konnichiwa, which blew most people’s conceptions of Grime out of the water and in doing so gained a huge following of new age Grime fans in the younger "Millennial" generation. The unabridged success of this album could be reduced to the statement that Skepta was following his own authenticity and the rhythms that came most naturally to him, rather than chasing a sound and attempting to improve it. American star, Pharrell, featured on the album which not only propelled Grime overseas but incorporated an American smattering that had largely never seen done before; strategies such as this this permitted the boundaries of Grime to fall and the roots of the genre to settle, allowing influences and muses from other sources to inspire without dampening the true heart of Grime music.
Toronto based rapper, Drake, took a huge interest in Skepta and other members of the Boy Better Know (BBK) crew, he co-signed Skepta and had him feature along with Giggs on his More Life album. This continuous introduction to parts of the world which would otherwise never had heard of Grime, inevitably grew the genre. And, with an interminably larger fan base than before, Grime artists were being recognised for their art and had the medium and the means in which to grow it.
"The cultural and political impact it’s bringing forward to our current world is, arguably, the best campaign for engaging young people"
Grime was no longer just a London based sound, as well as the reach it was getting overseas, the actual creation was being placed in cities further in the north of England and while the genre was still the same, the accents and differing everyday influences were resulting in another stimulating sound. The Grime community was rising and the music was resonating with a much larger British audience; from MIST in Birmingham to Bugzy Malone in Manchester—Kano remarked that “you wouldn’t think of Grime in say Derby, but there’s grime everywhere – it’s not just in London anymore”.
Grime today is no longer only about the music; its has, arguably, done more to engage young people—especially young black people—politically and socially than any other cultural movement in recent years. Grime is breaking down barriers for the way black music is perceived and it’s forcing the music industry to accept that talented individuals deserve recognition for the art they produce and influences they create no matter what their skin colour is. Stormzy, three time MOBO award winner and one of today’s leading Grime artists, contests to this fact in his track Cold, “All my young black kings, rise up man, this is our year / And my young black queens right there, It's been a long time comin', I swear”.
With a decade of history behind it, Grime has had an eventful journey but is still a baby in the civilisation of genres, so who can say what the future may hold for it. If 2016 was the year of the “Grime revival” then perhaps 2018 holds a space for a “female Grime revival”.
With so many talented artists already MCing including Lady Lesurr, Nadia Rose and Little Simz, a truly great step forward for Grime (and for the music industry in general) would be women finding a place in the genre where their music is just as widely respected as mens and is awarded with the same opportunities in which to mature further.