American hip-hop didn’t always resonate with the UK youth. It didn’t reflect the experiences of the black British youth, their slangs, frustrations and the community. The sound wasn’t something they could call their own. Emerging out of east London, grime is the first wave of UK’s contribution to hip-hop. It’s a blend of reggae, dancehall, and garage. Early pioneers included Wiley and Dizzie Rascal. In the early 2000’s grime, the distinctly British sound was born. Homegrown in the UK, a darker consistent sound over 140bpm, packed a punch.
London native, Warren Lynch accredits his love for grime to “people that sound like me, look like me, talk like me, from the same environment like me, dress like me, that’s who I gravitate to. There’s no doubt, U.S rappers have a big influence on our culture, but we have evolved and created our own lane which now influences others.”
Early exports, like Slick Rick and Monie Love, were able to achieve international mainstream success. However, grime owes a debt to Dizzie Rascal who released Boy in the Corner in 2003. This groundbreaking debut album won a Mercury Award, which rewards the very best of UK music. The then 16-year-old beat Coldplay and Radiohead in the same category.
The UK is very multicultural, and the rappers reflect that in their use of language. Since the 90’s, Jamaican patois and slang have been part of the urban vernacular among London youth. These days Drake and Rihanna dip into dancehall culture and language in their lyrics, but UK rappers were doing it for at least a decade before. The two major Jamaican influences on grime are ‘clashing’ and ‘wheel up.’ In clashing, artists battle lyrically over beats and sound systems. They get a wheel up when the beat switches and the artist’s flow match the rhythm, and they have to do that whole flow again to please the audience. ‘Clashing’ and ‘wheel up’ or ‘pull up’ are tenets in dancehall culture.
Grime’s resurgence is even more widespread thanks to the internet. At its inception, pirate radio stations like Rinse played a large part in grime’s groundswell. Today, YouTube channels like Link Up, GRM Daily, Spliff TV, and 1 Xtra lead the way in broadcasting content. Business savvy grime artists have used the internet to own their own channels of production like streaming services and downloads through iTunes and Soundcloud. Merchandising is a natural step for artists looking to pull on other revenue streams, and social media enables them to connect with their fans. Artists are keen to hold off on distribution deals that jeopardize their brand.
XL Recording producer, Richard Russell, said in a BBC interview, “[Grime] artists- they do everything. The level of self -reliance, and autonomy is pretty mind-blowing.” Perhaps it’s the DIY nature of production and marketing that makes it hard for grime to be taken seriously as a genre. It wasn’t until 2016 that iTunes created a category for grime before that artists had to satisfy with a dance music listing.
Thirteen years since Dizzee Rascal’s Mercury win, Skepta took home the award for his Kinnichiwa album in 2016. This time, he wasn’t the only grime artist in his category, east Londoner Kano was too. Sure, grime’s origins lie in the underground scene, but artists have been making confident strides towards mainstream success. Chart successes of Skepta, Kano, Lady Leshurr, Queen of Grime and new old bae Giggs. Grime ticket sales are steadily growing since 2011 according to Ticketmaster. Gigg’s sold out the London Forum show in a mere two weeks in 2017. Stormzy’s Gang Sign & Prayers album, held the number one position on UK charts in 2017, beating out Drake. Grime is poised to the next global wave in hip-hop, but the UK already knew that.