In the UK grime scene, the spotlight has usually shone on MCs. Instrumentals have long remained a niche point of interest, a topic for more invested fans. We think that should change. With grime exploding in popularity, Tara Joshi asks, who are the producers shaping the sound right now?
Who are the producers shaping the sounds of UK rap and grime right now? 2019 seems as good a time as any to be considering this. Grime began as a composite of other, early ’00s black music scenes in Britain, and has since infiltrated and catalysed a whole bunch of other contemporary sounds. What we’re seeing right now in the UK — with rap, the garage revival, drill, and Afroswing — is inarguably thanks to grime’s success, and means that there are people producing across some, if not all, of these sounds.
Rising producer Conducta, best known for his UKG beat on AJ Tracey’s ‘Ladbroke Grove’, told Complex that he started out making grime and dubstep. Even if his current sound focuses on garage, he certainly still draws from these genres. Producers like Preditah rose up through his grime beats after winning the co-sign of Boy Better Know, but his palette has lately moved to more expansive sounds, channeling garage and even UK funky.
Grime has pushed boundaries and, to a degree, has been commodified. Whether you like it or not, one of the biggest pop stars in the world put out a “grime” track with Stormzy, Aitch, and Jaykae this year, with a Sir Spyro remix. Kano may have put out one of the grime albums of the year, ‘Hoodies All Summer’, but the album’s producers, Blue May and Jodi Milliner, come from pop backgrounds rather than grime’s DIY roots.
It’s worth noting that grime has pushed other black British sounds globally. Japan and Australia both have homegrown grime scenes. There’s a growing American audience for UK rap, which has led to some UK beat-makers working with North American artists: EY, a go-to producer for Stormzy and Krept and Konan, has found success working with Meek Mill, Swae Lee, and Drake.
All of this is to say, what it means to be a “grime producer” in the UK in 2019 is becoming porous, hard to define. It feels right to celebrate those making grime (and grime-adjacent) beats, beyond familiar names like Sir Spyro, Prince Rapid, Footsie, and Teddy Music, and even younger artists like Faze Miyake and Flava D. Many of the names on this list operate in spheres beyond grime, but that’s almost the point — a grime producer in 2019 is almost certainly also a broader rap producer, and probably capable of being a pop producer, too.
To call Tyrell 169 solely a grime producer doesn’t exactly work. He’s produced lithe, pop-leaning beats for Craig David, Mabel, and Ramz, and drill beats for MCs like Headie One. The importance of his grime roots can’t be understated, though — his rework of Ruff Sqwad’s ‘Pied Piper’ instrumental, for Streatham rapper Dave’s ‘Thiago Silva’, is a respectful homage to the original.
After his first Dave production, 2016’s ‘JKYL+HYD’, he’s since made beats for Dave’s EPs and Mercury Music Prize winning debut album, ‘PSYCHODRAMA’, and scored a UK number one single with Dave’s collaboration with Fredo, ‘Funky Friday’. Like Dave, Tyrell 169’s probably best categorised under UK rap. Most recently, the young producer is all over the new Top Boy soundtrack, making beats for Dave, AJ Tracey, SL, and Youngs Teflon. Tyrell 169’s talent for gargantuan beats and his versatility in the game are sure to keep him in the spotlight.
He’s been in the scene since he was a teenager, and is best known as an MC — you might remember ’09’s ‘East London Is Back’ — but Lewisham’s Maxsta is now someone you need to know as a beat-maker, too. After doing a production course a couple of years ago (and, of course, studying YouTube tutorials), 2018’s self-produced ‘Maxtape 2’ was a triumphant comeback moment. While it remains to be seen if he’ll start producing for other MCs, this year he put out ‘On The Buttons’, an instrumental EP full of skittering energy, which might suggest that production work is something that he’s been thinking about.
Hastings is not the first place you’d expect a grime producer to come from, but Drone manages dismiss any doubts — albeit after spending three years on a music production course in Bristol. Through London-based label Coyote Records, he releases cold, dark grime beats that flit between shimmering sinogrime and hefty dubstep. Drone seems to be riding a deep and immersive instrumental wave right now, but his Keep Hush set last year with EMZ makes it clear that his beats are also MC-friendly.
Their biggest track to date, ‘Jack Skellington’, is a collaboration with US pop-rapper G-Eazy, but South London brothers Tee and Rocket grew up with UK rap and grime. They’ve been on the scene for almost a decade as rappers, and as producers, they’ve worked with grime greats like Chip and Ghetts, Afrobeats originator Sneakbo, drill mainstays 67, and rising MCs like Fekky and Flohio (the cold, wind-chime trap beat they made for Flohio’s ‘WAY 2’ is well worth your time). They’ve been around for a while, but as their beats diversify in tandem with the UK rap, grime and drill scenes, you’d be remiss to not check for them.
There’s every chance you’re already familiar with Kwes Darko. He used to go by the name Blue Daisy, making dark and atmospheric electronics, but nowadays he goes by his own name, and you’ll likely know him through his work with slowthai. He’s the hype-man for slowthai’s live shows — the DJ, MC, and producer mirroring the rapper’s boundless energy.
Kwes channels the dark vibe from his previous work into his current, leftfield sounds, and amps up that boisterous energy. His back catalogue is diverse — he’s worked with soulful rapper Sampa The Great, among others — but in his work for slowthai, he even collaborated with pop songwriter and producer Mura Masa to create the dizzying, quasi-punk ‘Doorman’. Kwes isn’t a pure grime producer, but he’s certainly channels its fierce energy.
Another slowthai collaborator, JD. Reid is one of those DJs and producers working across a whole bunch of genres. Again, he’s perhaps more grime-adjacent than purely grime, given he’s produced melodic beats for popstar Mabel and jazz purveyor Henry Wu. But JD. Reid has worked with Skepta (on the hefty slowthai track, ‘Inglorious’), D Double E, and Ghetts, and has released music through Plastician’s Terrorhythm imprint — lending him credibility within grime. You envisage that, like Mura Masa, he’ll be keeping his pathways clear, dipping in and out of myriad genres and bringing his knowledge of each to push grime forward.
Ragz Originale often works with Oscar #Worldpeace, Chip, and, most notably, Skepta — his beats feature on ‘Ignorance is Bliss’ and ‘Konnichiwa’, including the unforgettable beat for 2015 hit single ‘Shutdown’. Ragz was briefly signed to Warp, before going back to releasing music through his own Mini Kingz collective. In the past year, the Tottenham producer has come into his own: his debut album, ‘Nature’, was released in 2018, and features music written with Kwes from the Invisible, a Solange collaborator. At the time of the album’s release, Ragz Originale told Trench magazine that he’d been listening to Tame Impala as well as old school grime — you can hear that softer, psychedelic touch in his melodies, as he sings and raps. There’s a new energy to these beats, a sense of theatrics, that hints that his best work is still to come.
Want more breakthrough UK music? Read our feature on the new school of UKG, and check out Manchester’s Anz’s Recognise mix and interview here
Tara Joshi is a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter @tara_dwmd
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