I’ll admit it, grime isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It is unapologetically in your face, abrasive and constantly energetic. But it’s these characteristics, combined with a rich history, that make it such an appealing genre, and one so embedded in current British music, so much so that one of the genre’s stalwarts, Wiley, received an MBE from the future king himself. While many argue that its best days were in a bygone era, the genre has experienced somewhat of a resurgence. Old figures and new, from Skepta to Kano to Dave, have revived the genre, or at least have released works that have some link to grime. Even Drake has collaborated with some of the genre’s biggest names. In a way, it is the perfect embodiment of modern music in general. Proliferated by the Internet, it has taken influences from cultures and movements from around the world to create a youthful expression of urban life.
While the genre itself is a relatively recent innovation, its history and influences go slightly further back. While the genre shares some ostensible similarities with American hip hop, it is a wholly unique form. Rather than drawing its earliest influences from soul, R&B and jazz, grime builds upon the rich electronic music tradition of the U.K., especially the traditions from the early-and-mid-’90s. This time, the peak of the original “rave” era continues to elicit nostalgia from those who participated in the illegal, ecstasy-filled warehouse shows themselves, as well as from those who weren’t even alive during them.
A far cry from the commercialized EDCs and Tomorrowlands of today, these raves were dingy, risky and, most importantly, an outpouring of the disillusionment of urban youth (especially among poorer, immigrant communities) in the country’s large cities in the post-Thatcher era. Genres such as garage, jungle and drum ‘n’ bass were at their peak, combining quick, uptempo rhythms with melodic touches. These genres themselves owe a lot to music made in Jamaica and Jamaican communities in the U.K., namely reggae and its more electronic cousin, ragga. Garage tracks operated around 130-140 bpm, while drum ‘n’ bass elevated the energy to a frenetic pace of 160-180 bpm.
An entire book can be written about the incredible scene that dominated the U.K. during this time, but what is important to realize about the scene is the sheer magnitude of its reach at the time and how multicultural and fluid it was. Far from being set in stone, beholden to a fixed set of characteristics, DJs at the time took influences from wherever they could from around the world, all while incorporating the unique identity of the growing immigrant groups in cities like London, Bristol and Manchester. This particular scene died down at the end of the decade and gave birth to the genre of dubstep, and eventually grime itself. The godfather of the genre, the aforementioned Wiley, adapted the breakbeat dominated sound of dubstep and combined it with energetic rapping to create a genre which he dubbed “Eskibeat” (aptly enough, he address this very topic in this iconic track).
In Wiley’s home city of London, other young artists contributed to the growth of this young genre. At just 19 years old, Dizzee Rascal released Boy in da Corner, an album which is to this day considered the genre’s Illmatic. Songs such as “I Luv U” and “Fix Up Look Sharp” are unmatched in their sheer ferocity, telling tales of urban, inner-city struggle intermingled with hilarious interludes of teenage life in general.
Wiley and Dizzee Rascal’s success led to arguably the genre’s most productive and influential years, with a host of new artists ready to take over London and the rest of the country by storm.
To be continued…