It gave us Boy In Da Corner, Kano vs Wiley, Boy Better Know tees and Pow (Forward Riddim). Birthed out of the garage scene, grime is much more than a genre, it’s a culture.
If you were fortunate to have been a teen or in your twenties during the ‘golden age of grime’, you’ll have unforgettable memories. Your crew all huddled around a Nokia 7600, each member taking turns to spit a quick sixteen over Ghetto Kyote. With grime undergoing a renaissance with the likes of Stormzy and Novelist leading the new wave, it’s worth looking back at what inspired them.
Dazed Magazine recently featured an article about fashion within grime and how it reflected London’s subculture. It wasn’t flashy or ostentatious unlike our brethrens (bredrins) across the pond. A9 tracksuits, Lot 29 jeans and Nike Air Maxes, none of this reflected the ‘bling’ trend that was sweeping pop culture at the time. For many, the clothes that we wore wear for comfort. ‘No hats or hoodies’ policies meant that grime was alienated from a lot of clubs
The lauded ‘Golden Age of Hip Hop’ came in the 90’s when many of rap’s greatest albums were released. Although Hip Hop made powerful strives in late 70s and throughout the 80s, rappers in the 90s helped spread awareness of its existence. With grime, you had to take it for what it was. You couldn’t make it sexy, it was far from it. The famed Lord of the Mics clashes took place in a dark and graffitied stairwell. Originally, grime was born in east London but like rap, it’s influence spread and soon every area in London had its own ambassador.
Grime always had a bad rep for it’s aggressive nature and it’s ability to lock off raves with a simple Pow reload. It came with the territory. When you heard Pow come on in a club, you got in the midst of the ruckus, you took it all on the chin.
I caught up with a few guys who each shared their stories and experiences during grime’s prime years. Each of them spoke highly of grime, it was their everything at one point - perhaps it still is.
James, who went by the name of Face, started spitting because it was simply the thing to do - “It was just the done thing, like football and girls.” With MySpace being the dominant social media platform at the time, it was very easy for people to get their music out there.
In fact, if you were lucky enough to become friends with an established grime artist, that was something worth putting on your CV. “I recorded lots actually, even like a little 5 or 6 track mixtape-kinda-thing. 30,000 plays on Myspace and that!”
Marque, who went by several names before settling on Ori-shin, said that Dizzee’s Boy In Da Corner was the main spark. I’m sure many people others would cite Boy In Da Corner as their influence.
Whilst US rap was something many of us grew up with, there was still a void between UK fans and the music, something that Grime was able to fill. “It had such an air of authenticity about it that made rapping in the American style seem ridiculous from that point on. I knew this was something I wanted to be part of, something I could do too - I was hooked.” Everything about grime was unique. 140 bpm instrumentals, aggressive tones and quick fire lyricism meant that this wasn’t an imitation of US rap. I remember when I started spitting, I was shite, my lyrics were good but I just lacked the panache. Although I’d spit over US rap instrumentals, I was still heavily influenced by Grime. It was infectious.
Cozy: What was it you loved about grime culture growing up?
James: Early on it was probably like, ownership. Even from young I clocked that it was ‘our’ thing. So ok, I’d listen to Get Rich or Die Trying or whatever but with this; the slang was different, the accents, the tone. It was a lot more relatable cos of that, even when the emcees were obviously talking shit about “buss 10 shots in your grandma’s garden” or whatever.
Then the instrumentals and sound and pace or whatever was just, ‘hard’. It was sick. One of the first tunes I was proper proper conscious of was I Luv U, via my mate’s older brother; SICK! Then Forward came out like a year later; SICK! Tunes like Jezebel proper spoke to us as well. I guess going back to the first question of “how did you get into it?” and you look at those, I was lucky that Grime was proper blowing up around the same time I would’ve been forming my social life and identity at 12 or 13.
When it came to spitting itself, it was amazing how everyone was on the same wave. Like, I can name you lots of times we’d be spitting with other schools, or from next ends all impromptu in central or whatever. It’s kinda cringey now but at the time it was amazing. Then there was radio, which was a feeling like nothing you’d get anywhere else. Getting wheeled on the radio is like scoring a goal multiplied by 10. Something you had sat in your room and wrote, then dropped at the right time over the right instrumental and sent a whole room or crowd mental was amazing for a 14 year old. It was so gassed! Especially seeing as spitting was always so competitive by default. Like being singled out by older guys in the area as the “best younger” or in my case constantly the “best white younger”- that was again, a feeling you wouldn’t get nowhere else. It was so local too, so when I would’ve been listening to emcees from like West and North-West, someone from North or South would have their own little local legends and way of spitting. It was just the defining thing of our adolescence I think.
Marque: Not long before grime fully took off (before it was even called grime), I was sent to Nigeria to finish secondary school. Grime became a way for me to reconnect with ‘home’. There was something in the hiss and grittiness in early grime tunes that reminded me of London in a way no other sound had ever done for me (bar possibly jungle). UK Garage was too shiny and too well produced - it sounded nothing like the London I knew. Grime, in my eyes, represented authenticity - a culture that was unique to my circumstance and one I was proud of. From grime fashion to grime music it was all rebellion, urban angst and braggadocio.
Cozy: What are your fondest memories?
James: Wheel ups. It’s not like I ever went anywhere with it, but that was such a gassed feeling. Even more small time than that was everyone huddled over a Sony Ericsson or Nokia in school, with some tinny instrumental coming out, everyone taking turns with their bars. Musically it was shit, culturally it was everything.
Marque: Waiting ages for the 2SG forums and the RWD Mag website to load on my slow Nigerian dial-up internet. Spitting to a tinny 'Ice Rink' instrumental playing from my Motorola Razr for hours on end with my best friends. Coming back to England and feeling incredibly grateful that Channel U existed. Hearing 'Forward Riddim' for the first time. Dummies, gelled-down baby hairs and Avirex. Tracksuits. Clashing MCs and winning - realising I was actually good at something.
Our Favourite Clashes:
James: Kano vs Wiley and Evil 1’s dub for Quake
Marque: Bashy vs Ghetto, Bashy vs Demon and Skepta vs Devilman
Jesse: Kano vs Wiley and BBK vs The Movement
Cozy: Do you feel that now that there is a sense of nostalgia, people are only just beginning to understand that grime was a culture in its own right?
James: Yeah, I don’t know if nostalgia’s the right way to frame it, more hindsight. Everyone back then was so desperate to be American and do Hip-Hop and be an ‘artist’. My days. The amount of times I heard people wanted to be an ‘artist’. I said that shit too but I was fifteen them grown men should’ve known better. Like D Double E sending a whole rave crazy wasn’t ‘artistry’ in it’s own right? But yeah, people were too busy chasing p or fame or whatever they thought the Americans had that they didn’t. It wasn’t the best time to have Hip-Hop parallel to you either because the early/mid 2000’s was like the peak of ‘ignorant’ rappers and huge R&B crossovers and lots of money, so that framed a lot of identity over here too probably.
Marque: It's hard to appreciate something as its happening sometimes. Grime was the last time we captured the zeitgeist - and with the benefit of hindsight it's easy to see where the ball was dropped. Grime was the closest thing to a real punk rock revival we've ever had, and it's taken me over a decade to appreciate it properly - a street level rejection of mainstream values and culture that had real potential to disturb the establishment. It should have been so much more!
Cozy: What do you reckon the future of grime will be like?
James: I dunno, I’ve always said it was dead when the young black inner-city demographic of London stopped checking for it. So it wasn’t what it was culturally. That happened after Giggs blew up, and no one wanted to be emcees anymore, they wanted to be rappers. Even the famous emcees! But there might be a window for it. Culture Clash was kind of the first time it was put next to Hip-Hop on a wide scale and showed itself to be it’s own, even superior, thing. Compare that to them embarrassing BET Cypher’s years back where it just didn’t translate.
Plus with how music is now, there’s hardly money in labels or sales; so fuck them, right? Internet and independence is king. Plus Skepta & Wiley are putting out Grime singles now and getting response, after their sell out tunes were one-off, just as people thought they’d be. Like they made money from them tunes there, but no progress, imagine they just put their own personal sound out unashamedly from day? Imagine what’d have happened? I dunno though, I’d be surprised if Grime didn’t stay a niche genre. Which isn’t a bad thing, but like, it really had potential it’ll never reach culturally now. Grime was as much a manifestation of a specific subculture of people at a specific time as it was a genre of music.
Marque: The sounds of grime have been co-opted and appropriated subtly over the last 10 years, sometimes in music that has gone on to sell millions. That said, it's very likely that a pure grime record will never have any sort of real impact on the mainstream. Instrumental grime has been going strong underground for a while though, and it's possible it might see some sort of mainstream success in the coming years if it mutates in the right way.
This year’s Red Bull Culture Clash was monumental. Boy Better Know arrived as a champions from last year’s victory, A$AP Mob repped the States, Jamaican legends Stone Love and newly formed Rebel Sound which comprised of David Rodigan, Shy FX and Chase and Status took the stage. Rebel Sound left as winners when they surprised the crowd, and Boy Better Know- by bringing out Tempa T on one of their dubplates. For many, the night brought back the essence of grime and finally after years of knocking on the door, it had arrived on the big stage.
What made the night even more special was grime’s ability to trump rap. Rap purists, at times, will look down their noses at grime, but with A$AP Mob’s failure to prepare, grime took the respect it deserves. James said, “Seeing a sound clash get huge financial backing and advertising again just gave a hint to what could’ve been done 10 years ago. Sick event, I’m not sure they’ll be able to top 2014’s one. You can’t really control moments like that.”.
Marque also lamented the nostalgia that was conjured. “I thought it was awesome. Stirred up crazy feelings of nostalgia and a bizarre sense of pride. If grime does ever make a proper comeback - it's nights like that we're going to point to as the catalysts.” For me, the gunfinger and screwing up my face seemed to naturally return as grime was celebrated once more.
There always appears to be a need for Grime to cater to US audiences but that’s where it stumbled. Whilst the US dominates the industry, grime artists shouldn’t have to modify their sound to appeal to them. We didn’t have ghetto-blasters, we had Ice Rink instrumentals on a Nokia phone. You cannot replicate that authenticity. Nowadays, the production on grime videos is of a high quality, which in a way removes some of the charm.
Grime was an unearthed diamond, rough and uncut yet it had an appeal. Grime wasn’t sexy, it never attempted to be. It mirrored the lifestyle and culture of a generation. It never sought approval from the music industry in general. While stars such as Wiley, Wretch 32 and Chipmunk went mainstream, Grime was always going to be there if they ever wished to return. It’s a refuge for many and what’s most important is that it’s ours.
Cozy Team’s Top Grime Tracks (in no particular order):
Kano - Reload It
More Fire Crew - Oi
D Double E - Street Fighter Riddim
SLK - Hype Hype
Tempa T - Not A Long Ting
Kano - Imagine
Funtcase and Foreign Beggars - Everybody Knows
Narstie v Solo - Brushman
Kano - Ghetto Kyote
Wiley - Wot
Ruff Sqwad - Together
JME & Skepta - Spaceship
Dizzee Rascal - I Luv U
Kano - P’s & Q’s
Wiley - Ice Rink
NU Brand Flexx - Gash By Da Hour
Roll Deep - When I’m ‘Ere
Ghetts- Top 3 Selected
Lethal B - Pow (Forward Riddim)
Words by Jesse (@MarvinsCorridor)