A brief history of grime, part 2

Sunday, September 23, 2018 - 2:50pm

Skepta

Boy Better Know

While many would argue that grime’s best days were more than a decade ago, the resurgence of its popularity and quality begs to differ. True, legends such as Dizzee Rascal took long (and rather embarrassing) digressions into pop territory, but both old and new artists have revived the genre. Perhaps more importantly, it has grown from London and the UK to new markets abroad. Figures like Skepta and Giggs have found themselves remixed by pop stars like Drake and even featured on albums by rappers like A$AP Rocky.

Purists may bemoan the growing influence of American hip hop on the scene as a whole, but while it is true that genre distinctions have been blurring, the culture’s main distinctions remain prevalent. Skepta’s 2016 album Konnichiwa is a prime example of grime mixed with more pop tendencies. Songs such as “Man” and “Shutdown” permeated the mainstream charts in the UK and abroad, and have contributed to the genre’s newfound popularity. Others such as Dave, AJ Tracey (featured together in the marvelous “Thiago Silva”) and Stormzy have become major cultural figures in the UK and beyond. While their works don’t quite feature the level of intensity that is familiar to older fans of grime, the influence of the genre on their work is undeniable. In addition to the new bloods, stalwarts such as Wiley have released critically-acclaimed, more reflective albums with tracks that will surely become future classics. Old feuds have been resolved and now lay the ground for exciting collaborations and new, talented producers have added some needed variety and creativity.

What may be the biggest obstacle in the preservation of classic grime culture is the fact that it is not entirely an album-oriented genre that lends well to streaming services. Grime’s best moments occurred in events such as radio mixes, where MC’s alternate nonstop for hours over a mix of classic instrumentals. Its feuds and stylistic transitions are labyrinthine in nature and hard to appreciate simply by listening to playlists of selected tracks. Moreover, the genre is borrowing more from American hip hop trends, including trap-style beats instead of the reggae, ragga and garage style beats of old.

Nonetheless, grime is alive and well, and the fact that it hasn’t taken over the world yet might be one of its appealing qualities. The genre is unapologetically urban and British, a niche subculture in the sea of musical styles that float around the world, co-opted by groups of all creed and color. Just as it may be difficult to completely appreciate a Pakistani qawwali tune or a French chanson, it may be difficult to appreciate the sheer complexity of the history of grime. However, it can’t stop you from enjoying the energy and fun that it brings.