As the overground train approached Shoreditch High Street Station, passing over Holywell Lane Car Park; commuters were too engrossed in the day’s edition of the Metro or too busy playing Candy Crush to be aware of the carnage that was taking place underneath their feet. The iconic double-decker red buses drove by, taxis swerved the rush-hour traffic, pavements were crammed with pedestrians and pigeons flew overhead frightened by the passing train: everyone and everything was attempting to escape the London hustle and bustle. This was a typical Thursday evening in the capital, organised chaos was normality. However, under a bridge in East London an illegal rave dominated the typically ambient sounds of passing trains, beeping taxis and those trying to sell a ‘Big Issue’.
Tightly packed, waiting in the rain, in opposition to the police and in appreciation to their leader on stage, over 500 people turned out for one of the most pivotal points in recent history for home-grown British music. The illegal rave organised by Skepta that took place in a car park in Shoreditch was to go down in grime folklore. The Tottenham bred MC dictated the anxious crowd to chant “f**k the police” before dropping Shutdown sparking a raucous reaction and started the rave in full flow (pictured below). “I’m going to have a party in a car park and you can all come for free” had been tweeted by Skepta five years ago and then in April 2015 he was finally able do so. This was the right time. The time that his music had reached a new popularity. Grime was fashioned by young MCs in working class areas over a decade ago and now the genre had reached global status Skepta took his music back to the streets where it all began.
Over the past 12 months we have witnessed what best could be described as a grime revolution. From its promiscuous 'death' in 2013, which saw grime originator Dizzee Rascal staring on a Robbie Williams track, grime artists are now gaining national and international popularity. Ever since Meridian Dan’s German Whip grime has continually developed, now reaching a point at which the sounds of British grime music are reaching the ears of global superstars across the pond in the form of Kanye and Drake. Grime has become one of Britain’s most exciting musical exports and its development over the past year is something that should be celebrated.
Rewind 11 years and grime music was still very much premature. It was a geographically bounded sound with the majority of producers and MCs still in school and based in East London. The release of Wiley’s Wot U Call It in 2004 on an incredibly small budget paved the way for a new genre to develop. This new gritty sound of MCing over bassline or garage had never been heard before and caught the ears of many in London wanting to jump on what could be ‘the next big thing’. In the early years grime was very much spearheaded by Roll Deep, and more specifically Wiley, whom could be argued to be the original forefather of the genre. This was a very exciting time for the beginnings of the scene, with the main producers and MCs all being incredibly young, grime had the potential to reach the heights UKG had done in previous years.
However unlike grime’s main influencer – garage – the genre never really appealed to the mainstream, often associated with violence, the police halted the genre’s development. Whilst garage continued to gain popularity another London sound began to develop on the streets of Brixton. Mala and Coki (with help from Loefah, Skream and Benga) helped formulate a genre that would reach the ears of the world. Similar to early grime, dubstep productions used a 140bpm format with Digital Mystikz helping dubstep advance from South London into a world phenomenon. Dubstep’s ascendancy coincided with grime’s demise as the scenes biggest MCs and producers disavowed the genre in favour of mainstream success. You can’t blame these artists however: Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Wiley all enjoyed number 1 hits which was good for their bank accounts but for the grime scene this could have been seen as the end. Boy Better Know had remained in the underground but Skepta had also released pop singles such as Rolex Sweep all the while mocking Wiley for having a house “In The Country”. By 2013 grime was on it’s last legs as one of the scenes most celebrated artists in Dizzee Rascal starred in a Robbie Williams track with future looking bleak for the genre, but then came Meridian Dan leaning back in his German Whip.
Meridian Dan’s hit German Whip put grime music back on the map and heralded similar attributes to some of the earlier productions in grime’s prime. With its low-cost video production, 140bpm instrumental and catchy humorous bars it’s easy to see why this song propelled the genre back to the feeling it had eight years previous. However could the predominant reason why grime has enjoyed so much success in 2015 be due to the influx of ‘diss’ tracks all started by Chipmunk… remember him?
Since coming back from America working with Chris Brown and T.I, Chipmunk – who now calls himself Chip - started to make grime music again. The 24-year-old Tottenham based artist immediately returned to the scene starring on Charlie Sloth’s ‘Fire In The Booth’ on Radio 1Xtra in January 2015 which subsequently caused a massive uproar within the grime community. Through Fire In The Booth’s popularity on social media Chip used this opportunity to vent his feelings towards the current situation in British rap music, which triggered responses from a number of artists wanting to hit back at the young MC. Chipmunk then released ‘Pepper Riddim’ which again targeted specific grime artists and a number of tracks were produced in opposition to Chip. These MCs, most of which had been in the scene since the beginning, felt that Chip had no right to comment on contemporary grime music - as Big Narstie eloquently put in his own response “…you trying to jump back into hard-core grime bars wearing tracksuits, you’ve gone past that stage, mother**ker wears straight jeans”. Without intending to, Chip arguably catalysed the popularity of one of Britain’s most exciting grime MCs, coming from Manchester I am talking about Bugzy Malone.
Malone was already making big moves in the North West via his JDZmedia productions, but his Relegation Riddim – filmed in Chipmunk’s hometown of Tottenham – catapulted the MC to national success. Fire in the booth also aided Malone’s development as the Mancunian’s freestyle was one of the most popular ‘booths’ put on YouTube, with Sloth describing Bugzy as a “straight up animal”. The future looks bright for Malone, who at the same time has opened the doors for more grime artists in the North West to grow.
Bugzy Malone features at O2 Academy Leeds alongside Fekky, DJ Target, Danny Weed, Selection Boyz and more, Friday 2nd October. View event details and tickets.
The grime scene has also extended from London to the Midlands initiated by Devilman, whom was also mentioned by Chip in Pepper Riddim, which provoked the Birmingham MC to issue out another reply in opposition to Chip. Even though Devilman’s reply lacked the freshness of Malone’s it still highlighted that grime has now become a British sound rather than just solely based in East London. In his Chipmunk Reply Devilman also controversially stated that Skepta was a “lyrical repeater” which sparked the current leader of grime into creating Nasty which sees Skepta spitting over the top of Wiley’s Morgue. The clash of Skepta and Devilman at Jammer’s Lord Of The Mics 2 in 2006 was proclaimed as one of the greatest battles in grime and the fact this beef has been reincarnated, goes some way to showing the scene has regained the popularity and passion of the earlier years.
The radio has played a pivotal part in grime’s development as it’s given the genre a platform on to progress, thanks to individuals such as Tim Westwood, Mistajam and DJ Target (an original member of Roll Deep) whom was recently 'promoted' from Radio 1Xtra to a slot on Radio 1. To emphasize grime and Radio 1Xtra’s development over the past year, the radio station even had the honour of hosting a night at this summer’s Proms at the Royal Albert Hall featuring MCs such as Wretch 32, Stormzy and Krept and Konan.
Pirate and online radio, such as Rinse FM, have also played their part, partly thanks to the Butterz label who host a weekly show on the station. The Butterz crew have given grime a firm place within the dance world too with their seasonal Jamz parties taking place up and down the country and even further afield.
View all upcoming Jamz lineups and tickets.
Grime has transitioned from its 140bpm roots into a sound that can be played on any instrumental genre which is evident at Jamz events as bass, bassline, garage, dubstep and jackin’ house are all present whilst MCs such as Novelist, P Money and JME spit bars on top. As Skepta said; “It's all the same scene; house and grime is all dance music".
Wiley may have created and dominated the genre in its golden age of 2002-2006, but Skepta has since taken the crown some what, much to Wiley’s approval - the pair are good friends. Skepta has always reiterated that the popularity of grime fundamentally relies on its ability to be successful overseas, but more importantly America where rap music is universally popular. With American hip-hop’s large black influence, it has similar connotations to British grime music and subsequently led to Skepta and the Boy Better Know outfit being popular across the pond. Skepta’s affiliation with Young Lord (aka A$AP Bari) for the production of It Ain’t Safe and Skepta’s verse in The Man with G Frsh helped give grime a voice in America, but it was the influence of Drake and Kanye West that was pivotal.
The approval of Kanye West - whom invited Boy Better Know, as well as numerous other black British MCs, on stage with him at the 2015 Brit Awards – has helped grime prosper in America beyond what was ever imagined. Drake also became involved with Skepta - joining the Canadian artist on stage at Wireless festival. Associating himself with these American heavyweights, Skepta has since toured North America picking up several positive reviews from the American music press in the process.
Skepta’s ambition and determination for the success of grime music is honourable and he has since been awarded with the Outstanding Contribution award at the 16th AIM Independent Music Awards. His contribution to the genre, and British music as a whole, has finally been recognised by those overseas and grime’s success has much to thank Skepta for. Although the grime community is a close one, the range of influencers is wide and everyone has had their part to play, from the MCs, producers, DJs to the mainstream and more underground media – such as Jamal Edwards' SBTV – and beyond and all involved should be proud of where the genre is right now.
Words by James Bate
Images courtesy of Skepta, BBC Radio 1Xtra and Stereogum.