Why Grime Is Finally Accepted Across the Atlantic

Though more recent than American hip-hop, Grime is not exactly a new genre of music. Originating in the early 2000’s in London’s East End, grime was pioneered by Wiley, “The Godfather of Grime”. It is very closely tied with pirate radios such as Rinse FM, where the music was first showcased to the public. Contrary to popular belief, grime is not a subgenre of hip-hop. Many hip hop heads still call it “British rap” – which is quite disrespectful to such a multi-faceted style and culture-heavy genre.

Grime has a very unique cultural heritage; rooted in reggae, bashment, dancehall, garage, and drum and bass. DJ Target of Roll Deep said it best on his 1Xtra Stories Documentary: ‘’It’s a 140 bpm type of life’’. It’s generally much more agitated and fast-paced than traditional American hip-hop. As a genre that was only “created” around 17 years ago, you could excuse grime for still not becoming a global sensation. I mean, hip-hop is 38 years old. Even in the UK, grime has never had the influence and respect that hip hop garners in the US. It never rose above garage in the charts, or blew up like dubstep, a successor to the genre. Police in the UK have always associated grime music with violence, and has always been determined to shut down raves. Lethal Bizzle’s “Pow Forward” was deemed so disruptive that it was banned from all clubs upon its release in 2004.

Today, grime is alive and well. Actually, one might say that it’s as healthy as it’s ever been.

Today, it’s difficult to find a more influential grime artist across the Atlantic than Skepta. In 2014, he claimed that “”They respect rappers in the US but in England, it’s the Queen’s country. She’ll forever be putting out the message on these BBC networks that there’s no hood, it’s tea and red phoneboxes. Hip-hop is celebrated in the US; Obama talks about having Ludacris on his iPod. But in the UK, there are a lot of obstacles in our way”

However, he wasn’t too worried about that. “I’m happy that grime remains underground,” he insists. “A lot of people talk like it’s some underrated or ignored genre, but to me that’s the beauty of it. You’ve got our voices recording the heart and the aggressiveness of London. It will catch on and not just in America; we want the whole world to hear it, which it will one day.”

And he wasn’t lying.

Today, grime is alive and well. Actually, one might say that it’s as healthy as it’s ever been.

Remember, this was 3 years ago, and though that doesn’t seem like a long time, a lot has changed in such a short period of time, and Skepta has much to do with it.

2016 has been a major year for grime.

2016 is the year that Skepta won the Mercury Prize, one of the UK’s most prestigious awards, for his album Konnichiwa. What’s even more impressive is the fact that there hasn’t even been a grime artist nominated in the last 13 years.

Skepta released “That’s Not Me” in 2014, a track including his brother, and it charted to #21 in the UK singles chart, with the video winning a MOBO award despite only costing 80 GBP to produce. This was the track that got the ball rolling.

Grime was finally starting to be recognized and appreciated outside of its loyal niche market.

And then came “Shutdown”.

This track is pretty self-explanatory. Skepta “shuts down” (he kills it, basically) raves or shows, but this is a cheeky double entendre towards London police, notorious for shutting down grime raves.

It’s clear to see that Skepta was becoming the bridge across the Atlantic, familiarizing US hip hop fans with this genre of music previously unknown to them.

Drake was the first major American artist to help grime gain more acceptance in this new market.

Before Skepta was co-signed by Drake, the Toronto native posted stills of the famous Lord of the Mics clash between Skepta and Devilman on Instagram, and made the following comment:

Drizzy went as far as getting a BBK tattoo, and Skepta paid back the favor by getting a tattoo of the famous OVO owl. Bromance.

The two even appeared together to perform “Shutdown” at the Wireless Music Festival in 2015, a track that sampled one of Drake’s Vine videos, and it was clear to see that the two had become good friends.

Skepta’s work ethic can hardly be questioned – he is determined to push grime as far as he can take it. Speaking to XXL, the Nigerian born rapper says: “Instead of spending a grand [£1,000] on a bottle of Grey Goose in a club, I use that money to go and buy a ticket to New York, just to go and freestyle on radios, put the work in, make links for myself.”

A$AP Mob also seemed to appreciate this new, fast-paced, often aggressive style of music.

At the 2016 Red Bull Music Academy Lecture, A$AP Rocky told Skepta: “we need to take this shit and put it on a broader scale, and we need to merge this BBK and A$AP shit”.

(BBK is a grime collective and record label that Skepta has been part of since its foundation in 2005)

And he wasn’t joking. Skepta collaborated with both A$AP Bari (It Ain’t Safe) and A$AP Nast (“Ladies Hit Squad”), giving them air time on his highly acclaimed album ‘’Konnichiwa’’.

Ever since then, Skepta has collaborated with legendary producer Pharell, Drake, and even shared the stage with Kanye West at New York’s MOMA PSI.

Another major grime advocate across the Atlantic is the famous Peter Rosenberg – known for supporting relatively unknown artists that he believes in. Peter has made several trips to the UK, interviewing popular grime MCs, and he’s given “Shutdown” major radio play in the US.

Grime accomplished another major breakthrough when it was officially recognized in the iTunes store, after being wrongly categorized as dance, hip hop, rap, and electro for such a long time.

2016 was truly the year of grime.

It would be a mistake to think that Skepta was the sole grime artist to recently make big moves.

Stormzy’s “Shut Up” reached gold status on Youtube with 44M views (44M!) , a track initially recorded around all his friends at the park and later reaching #8 on the UK Singles Chart.

He was showered with several awards – he won Best Grime Act back to back at the 2014 and 2015 MOBO Awards and was named as an artist to look out for in the BBC’s “Sound of 2015 List”.

It’s clear to see that Stormzy was trying his best to branch out to the American market when he announced a North American Tour. He sold out New York and LA; grime was definitely starting to be appreciated across the pond.

According to Ticketmaster, grime ticket sales are at their highest since 2011, and are even expected to outsell 2012,2013, and 2014 COMBINED.

Crowdmix documented the East London born music’s rise in the US, including performances by Stormzy and Skepta as well as interviews with Zane Lowe, and it can be watched in its entirety here.

It’s hard to tell what shifted US hip hop heads to be more accepting of this new type of music. According to Peter Rosenberg, it may have to do with the fact that many US producers have become less sample-driven, which often leads to more intricate, experimental type of beats. “It’s totally possible that as beats have evolved and are less sample driven, and as you have a lot more artists rhyming in really weird patterns and cadences, and at much more high speeds, like the Migos flow, well then, there are a lot of British artists who have been doing that really well for a really long time, so maybe people are ready for that. It makes sense.”

He may have a point. Eccentricity has never been more popular in hip-hop. Just think Young Thug. People are more accepting of rappers considered “weird”, or “unorthodox” – in fact, many hip hop heads love the fact that these are artists who really couldn’t care less what others think of them. Flatbush Zombies, for example, are artists that have benefited from this – their latest album “3001, A Laced Odyssey”, has reached no.2 on the Top Hip-Hop/R&B Albums. Independently, with no samples at all.

Rappers are increasingly acting like rock stars, performing with unseen before energy while their fans are mosh-pitting to their music. This is a clear link that unites grime and US rap – the latter has increasingly become about really engaging with the audience, and that’s exactly what happens at grime shows or raves.

Another point that is worth mentioning is the fact that generally, US rappers have (unfortunately) become less lyrical than they were in previous years. Grime artists are generally less concerned with lyrics and more with creating a hype track that allows them to engage with fans at shows.This might also be another reason why grime has begun to sound less foreign to US hip hop heads.

There’s no denying that 2016 was a defining year for grime – newer fans who were introduced to this style of music were hungry for more, which in turn helps other grime artists gain more exposure.

And it looks like there’s no stopping grime’s wheels in 2017.

Grime is not just alive and well, it’s kicking ass.

1 Comment

  • Sooms says:

    I went to a show in Dubai last year with both Skepta and Stormzy performing. Was surprised to see how many fans there were, especially in this part of the world.

    Grime is definitely kicking ass. Great read

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