The Time For Grime
10 UK Grime Artists Making Waves Abroad in 2015.
Grime - a raw, gritty, type of MC-driven street music - has always been a vital music movement in the UK, its country of origin. Since its genesis, its shifted from the shadows of East London housing estates, to more glossier incarnations as Wiley and Dizzee Rascal hit the tops of the charts and talkshows, to now evolving beyond its own identity crisis to experience newly increased interest as MCs go back to their roots, a new era of producers experience success with instrumental grime, and UK talents bag awards and cross borders.
To hone in on that last one: there's a tonne of well-established UK grime artists that have recently been experiencing unprecedented levels of exposure and press in the US and further abroad (and mostly still sticking to their roots and the values of grime, with a few exceptions). New fans from the US, Australia and beyond are joining a long-time underground community of grime-lovers in their honest appreciation for the genre. In 2014, JME + Skepta’s Thats Not Me, JME/Tempa T/Lethal Bizzle’s Rari Workout and Meridian Dan’s German Whip all charted - something that was previously a pretty rare occurrence in the world of UK underground. It’s hard to say why... grime itself hasn’t really changed, but listeners’ tastes have: you could speculate, however, that its due to the merging of rap and grime as genres: hip hop production has evolved and moved closer to grime, with the popularity of Southern-style rap coming out of the US (from which trap evolved), and the proliferation of that type of beat (808s and half time patterns). Simplified flows have also helped in terms of overcoming the accent barrier, and the rise of more eccentric voices like Young Thug and Migos has warmed US people up to more abrasive British MC voices, and slang.
On the production side of things, Kanye has moved mountains, encouraging rap listeners to try out more experimental beats, and bringing grime to the forefront in his quest for new sounds (likewise Danny Brown through his choice to work with Darq E Freaker). Also, Metro Boomin, 808 Mafia, and heaps more, are furthering a booming trap production style, which generally has a tempo of 140BPM – the same tempo most of the grime instrumentals that UK MCs work with. Grime today is certainly not that different to the sounds you’d hear in commercial clubs. Although safe to say, the people gurning to German Whip in the nightclubs are probably still ignorant to a large amount of grime:the underground continues to innovate, with instrumental grime producers moving rhythms moving forward on their own, rather than building beats for MCs.
We’ve rounded up some of the artists at the forefront of grime’s imminent move into the mainstream. If you get time, watch this great interview with Skepta ‘Taking Grime From The Streets of London to the Studios of New York’, where he discusses grime's growth in the US:
Will 2015 be English grime veteran Joseph Junior Adenugan (Skepta)’s biggest year yet? Skepta, the MC whose always super on-point with his bars, been experiencing unprecedented success with his track That’s Not Me, recording a US version with Wiki from Ratking (and shooting a video on a Brooklyn rooftop), as well as collaborating with A$AP Mob’s Young Lord. More recently, he blew up the BRIT Awards with Kanye, and is on a winner with his menacing, thuggish track SHUTDOWN, off his forthcoming album #Konnichiwa, that’s set to feature The Streets' Mike Skinner and Dev Hynes and who knows, maybe even Yeezy too. He's just started announcing a few Australian dates in 2016, grab more info the BBE Facebook page.
Stormzy had a big 2014: his debut single Not That Deep shot straight to No. 1 on the iTunes Hip Hop chart, he was the first unsigned rapper to ever perform on popular UK TV show Jools Holland, and he won ‘Best Grime Act’ for 2014 at prestigious UK award ceremony MOBO (Music of Black Origin). He then appeared on the radar across the pond after appearing with Kanye West during the superstar’s live performance of All Day at the BRIT Awards. A quick viewing (below) of Stormzy doing this off-the-cuff freestyle of his track Shut Up (which is a lyrical response to calls that he was only a ‘back up’ dancer in Kanye’s vid), where Stormzy goes through some call-and-response bars with his crew, will instantly show you why we’re all so interested in this guy, and can't wait to see him in Perth at Jack Rabbit Slim's this September (details HERE) and OutsideIn Festival - details HERE.
Lewisham-bred MC Novelist, whose been described by DJ Logan Sama as the “poster child for the first generation of real grime kids”, honed his craft presenting on the airwaves of London’s many pirate radio stations in his early teens. After releasing critically acclaimed records with Rinse and XL Recordings, and getting selected for a covetable spot in BBC’s Sound of 2015 breakthrough list (which highlights the best new music for the year ahead) the high octane 18 year old is bee-lining to the top.
Tempa has a manic style that compels your attention. After cutting his teeth with East London’s Slew Dem Crew, Tempa T (Tempz), the artist with the most famous haircut in grime (an ‘80s style hi-top fro) rose up from the underground in 2009 with the Darq E Freaker-produced crossover smash Next Hype, following this with a track wtih Chase & Status. An album, however, didn’t come up at this time, although it has now, with his long-awaited debut It’s Bait It’s Bait set for release this month, following following last year’s All-Star Pars mixtape. He’s been in cahoots with Skrillex: the two spent time in the studio and Tempa posted a vine of Skrillex jamming to Tempa’s hit Next Hype, so we might even see Skrillex pop up on the release, or some kind of US leg-up in that department. He also recently linked with JME and Lethal Bizzle (another rapper who came out of the grime scene with a big hit in 2004 by way of Pow!) for the big banger Rari Work Out, which saw Tempa T as alive as he ever was in 2009.
JME is Skepta’s younger brother, but by no means does he stand in his shadow. JME is co-founder of the Boy Better Know record label (with Skepta), which was mainly an outlet for JME and Skepta to self-publish their own work, as well as other mixtapes and singles – they also sold a shit-tonne of merch (as one Skepta lyric boasts, the label made more money from t-shirts than most rivals did off mixtapes). JME recently guested on fellow Boy Better Know associate Meridian Dan’s hit German Whip (that Joker, Two Inch Punch and a bunch of others have since remixed). JME’s recent, third album, Integrity, was self published and promoted – JME is staunchly independent, and embodies a true grime spirit - the album wasn’t another trap-grime hybrid like some of these mainstream tracks we’ve been discussing. In fact, JME even makes this call, ripping a part of one of Wiley’s pirate radio sets: “Hold tight the people who leave Grime, and think you’re gonna achieve something. Don’t work, I tried it, way before all of you. Bye”.The album featured a huge guest list, with vocal appearances by Skepta, D Double E, Frisco, Big Narstie, Giggs, Wiley, Jammer and Shorty, and beats from Joker, Tommy Kruise, Deeco, Preditah and more. Grab the album via iTunes, and watch JME's short documentary about the making of Integrity here.
Some British lady emcees are in on the UK re-invigoration too, with their trajectories looking to mimick the rise of artists such as Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks in the States (or Lady Sovereign in the UK). 21 year old Islington-born Little Simz is one of these artists: a teen TV star in the UK, she has performed alongside Estelle, Tinie Tempah and Ms Dynamite, as well as Schoolboy Q, who she joined on his Oxymoron tour, and was recently being nominated for a BET Award (Best International Act: UK), and won 'Breakthrough Act Of The Year' award at the highly respected 10th Annual Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards. She gained attention after her Blank Canvas mixtape was premiered on Jay-Z’s culture website Life + Times, and Snoop Dogg has also been in talks with Simz. Her awesome singing and rapping abilities, stellar wordplay, and great choice of producers (aka IAMNOBODI) should see her continue to rise up this year.
Interest levels peaked in MC Solo 45, who also hails from the Boy Better Know collective, late last year when he dropped his Preditah-produced banger Feed Em To The Lions at Red Bull Culture Clash (where the likes of A$AP Mob, Chase and Status, and Tempa T battle it out in front of a crowd of thousands, and an online audience of millions). The heavy rhythm and pop flair of the track combined with Solo’s fierce performance had the crowd (appropriately) roaring, and it got an official release a few months back, after some hold-ups. Solo 45 is rumoured to have been in the studio with Wiley, Stormzy, and Skepta, so hopefully he’s got stuff brewing.
Signed to Dizzee Rascal’s label Dirtee Stank, Merky Ace’s production embraces hip hop, trap and rootsy grime, with his popular 2013 mixtape Play Your Position playing homage to dark, gritty electronic music. Merky has won fans and favour with his intense lyrical flow, intelligent wordplay and catchy adlibs: he has the confidence of a seasoned grime MC. He’s rapped on Dizzee Rascal’s recent Dirtee Stank TV 2 and trap whizz kid Baauer’s Day of the Dead mixtape, and Merky’s Peak Levels EP releases in just a couple of days. Listen/watch a bold track from it, Cuss Match, produced by Footsie, below. The video features a l’il cameo from longtime Merky supporter Dizzee Rascal, who has Merky signed to his label Dirtee Stank.
KREPT & KONAN
These two South Londoners have been huge in the UK for a while now, going big on the charts with their ’13 Young Kingz mixtape despite being unsigned. With an album about to drop soon Rick Ross’ MMG imprint (which is linked with Def Jam), they’re poised to gather some hype in the States: they’ve already got their foot in the door, appearing with Kanye onstage at the BRITs and on hit track Freak of the Week with R & B star Jeremih. There’s a bit of fire in the Youtube comments on this one, with commentators suggesting ‘generic American bullshit’ is a waste of Krept & Konan’s ‘potential’: (“Poverty DJ Mustard beat, generic Jeremih feature, why are so-called UK acts begging US music like this?”).
At times this femcee has been touted as the ‘UK’s answer to Nicki Minaj’: her fierce, rapid-fire delivery (perfected from early days spent battling in town halls with MC Chipmunk) and quick-witted lyrics are impressive. Like say, Lily Allen, Lykes’ lyrics are grounded in the day-to-day of British life - with tongue in cheek, on her Missy Elliot-esque Not Your Hair, she raps about weaves, on another track, her love for her own butt takes centre stage. Yep, she doesn’t hold back: on her track Nobody Can she takes ballsy jabs at Krept & Konan, Chip, Wiley, Stormzy and more (I'm better than most of these man. And I'm in a scene with so many man. I be like let one of them come clash me. When I know full well nobody can), telling a UK radio station: “I know i'm lyrically as good as the majority of these guys”. Trivia: Lykes currently stars in BBC Three show South Side Story, a doco series that follows a group of young people in the entertainment industry. Get around the rapper’s (aptly-titled EP), Sting.
*Wild Card Entry* - GEORGE THE POET
This 24-year-old African artist from North London is not textbook grime, but he’s edgy spoken-word/rap, and he’s the best dude delivering this stuff we’ve heard since Ghostpoet. We introduced you to his track Cat D late last year, and had this to say: “The appeal of George’s work is that it’s accessible; he’s not some gangsta rapper shouting or mumbling shit at you - instead he raps carefully and slowly, like a politician, whilst maintaining his expressiveness.” The Cambridge poetry grad (actually) made it to MTV’s Brand New For 2015 list and ranked fifth in BBC’s Sound of 2015 list. Cop his EP The Chicken and the Egg now.