Once reviled, with artists like Stormzy and Skepta grime has now come of ageby Joy White / July 24, 2018 / Leave a comment
All you need to become a grime MC are lyrical skills and the courage to perform. There are no financial barriers to entry. And at a time when the public school-educated pop star seems more common than ever, this is the beauty of grime—and one reason why it is a musical art form that matters in 21st-century Britain.
When grime first entered the public consciousness, it came with the tired stereotypes of guns, gangs and knives—just as hip-hop music was seen when it first burst on the scene in the United States in the 1980s. Like its American counterpart, as well, we have recently seen the emergence of a sharper political edge to this very British musical genre. During the 2017 general election campaign a group of artists formed Grime4Corbyn and urged their followers to vote Labour. During this February’s Brit Awards Stormzy provoked the ire of the Daily Mail when, in a freestyle rap, he called out Theresa May for what he and many other black people felt was her lack of care for Grenfell fire victims. More recently, grime MC Marci Phonix challenged Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng over the Windrush scandal.
Grime has altered the soundscape of UK popular music and its story deserves to be told. Dan Hancox’s new book, Inner City Pressure, arrives at a time when the music can be heard everywhere—as a backdrop to sell snacks, soft drinks and cars, as well as a way to encourage young people to get involved in politics. A cultural aesthetic that was once devalued—and has certainly had its creative ups and downs—now suddenly feels feted and desirable.
Grime emerged from inner-city east London in the early part of the 21st century. Its influences range from US hip-hop to reggae (particularly dancehall), jungle and UK garage. Using a distinctive flow and English regional accents, grime MCs rap over a sparse 140 beats per minute. The lyrics include an array of motifs: crime, success and making money, for sure, but also friendship and love.
Back in the early 2000s, grime was a ubiquitous east London soundscape. At my sister’s house in Plaistow, I heard my nephews put beats and lyrics together. While running a company in Silvertown, I was visited by reluctant Year 10 students for work experience.…