Grime time: What it is and where to find it – Evening Standard

Outspoken rapper Azealia Banks recently took shots at the UK’s grime scene – but what is it all about and where can you find it?
t started with a tweet. On Wednesday, the singer Azealia Banks wrote: “The UK really can’t rap, though. UK Rap is just a disgrace to rap culture in general”. The New Yorker took aim at London’s grime scene, adding that our artists “NEVER have swag”.
She picked the wrong fight. After her tirade, Banks was taken off the line-up for Haggerston’s Born & Bred festival (June 4-5). The organisers say they have chosen “inclusivity and equality” over controversy and the grime community are hitting back. London’s grime scene is booming — Skepta’s hotly anticipated new album came out this week to glowing reviews and even Canadian superstar rapper Drake is on board. Here’s what you need to know about grime.
It all began in east London (E3-E14 are the grime hotspot postcodes), in 2001. Where south London had dubstep, the East End had grime. Grime is not hip-hop (whatever Azealia tweeted). It is faster, rawer, smarter. Its roots are in Jamaican ragga culture, dancehall and rave culture, rather than American rap. Hardly anyone in the grime scene agrees on a definition but they all emphasise the speed and the speech patterns. Most grime is played faster than hip-hop, around 140bpm, and MCs rap like they speak, with authentic accents and slang, not to mention references you’ll only know if you’re a true Londoner (Morley’s fried chicken).
Geeneus, founder of Rinse FM, who are the forefathers of grime, explains that it is about making your own rules: “The rest of the music industry saw us as messing up the scene because we were making stuff that didn’t fit in. So we made our own space. We became the biggest pirate radio station in the country. ”
London is full of independent grime labels but the one you need to know is north London collective Boy Better Know. Formed in 2005 by Tottenham MCs, brothers Skepta and JME, its lineup includes Wiley, Jammer, Frisco, Shorty, Solo 45 and DJ Maximum. In February they signed Drake in a massive coup for the genre — if they can attract him they are unstoppable. Mystery surrounds the financial side of the deal but we do know that Drake has a BBK tattoo. In July, BBK are headlining Sunday night at Wireless Festival to a crowd of 50,000 people.
The genre’s appeal lies in its independence, says 1Xtra’s DJ Semtex: “The very DNA of grime is anti-establishment, it doesn’t matter who plays it, or who consumes it, the message is in the music.”
Even though grime artists like Stormzy now make chart hits, they have stayed loyal to their roots – free of any corporate interference, just like when they were an underground east London movement.
Will Paterson, promoter for Born & Bred says: “Above all grime artists want to hold onto their disruptive approach to the music industry. It’s born out of the fact that they’ve had boom periods and periods where it’s been quieter. It reminds them the importance of control and owning their careers.”
Lily Allen has stuck up for grime, writing on Facebook about its lack of recognition at the Brit awardss: “Music industry figures don’t necessarily care about music…they vote tactically for their labels’ artists to win.”
Meanwhile, Drake’s been shouting out to London grime artists since 2009. He has referenced Skepta in tracks, borrowed lyrics and regularly Instagrams his BBK BFFs. After the Brits in February, he left partying with Rihanna to make a surprise appearance on stage at Village Underground with Section Boyz.
The genre has even won over Kanye West. When the artist wanted to put on a big show at the Brits in 2015, it was Skepta he called to give his set edge, bringing 40 MCs to perform on stage.
The Yard, E9, May 21
A night of hardcore grime from Moleskin, Lolingo, Boylan, Slackk and Oil Gang plus DJ Strict Face, who’s flying in from Australia.
The Yard Theatre
Fabric, EC1, June 3
Up-and-coming label Coyote will be hosting Last Japan, Silk Road Assistants, OH91 and Tarquin.
Sarah Ginn
Haggerston Park, E2, June 4-5
No Azealia but this is the ultimate grime festival, with established and new acts including Novelist.
Marc Sethi: Born & Bred Festival 2015
Finsbury Park, N4, July 10
Boy Better Know will be closing the main stage on Sunday night; it’s going to be massive.
Victoria Park, E3, June 11-12
Not solely a grime festival, but the east-London party will feature Skepta, Frisco, Novelist and Slimzee.
Press image
Rave culture is central to grime. In 2002 Wiley started the Eskimo Dance nights — indoor festivals with packed, pumping rooms and MCs fighting for time on the mic. Now Born & Bred have taken things outside. This is their second year and 7,000 people are expected at each day of the party. Skepta knows how to draw a crowd too. Last year he posted on Instagram about a last-minute gig and he ended up with a thousand people at an impromptu rave at a Shoreditch car park.
Boy Better Know have a song called Too Many Men (We need some more girls in here), which says it all, according to Tyrone Rowe-McKenzie, who runs Eskimo dance grime events. He adds that “the crowd is predominantly male dominated with a split of about 80/20.”
But this male-dominance is shifting. Women to watch out for include rising star Lady Leshurr (she gives out toothbrushes at the end of her gigs and has a song called Queen’s Speech) and Ms Banks, who Geeneus rates.
South London MC NoLay isn’t put off by the gender imbalance: “A lot of them are scared because I’m a female who can rap. I believe I’m better than 80 per cent of the males anyway. I enjoy fighting for my position.”
The scene nurtures the next big things and among those hotly tipped are Novelist, from Lewisham, who some are calling the new Dizzee Rascal, and AJ Tracey from Ladbroke Grove.
Geeneus, who manages him, says: “Novelist is the new generation. He’s 19, he grew up watching what we were doing. He tells me about stuff that I’ve done that I can’t remember. He’s been born into grime.” The young star is already shaking things up — yesterday he announced he’s “started a new genre”. It’s called Ruff Sound. It’s even faster than grime.
Tomas Fraser who runs independent label Coyote Records thinks grime is finally moving away from hip-hop and making its own mark: “Clubs are closing down, people are getting squeezed and grime always seems to get the worst of it because we’re an outside genre. But look at Drake. He’s not trying to get people to make rap. He’s coming to London and jumping on stages with young kids because he wants to be a part of it. They’re not looking at grime as a talent pool to take and mould, they’re saying it’s a thing in its own right.”
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