Celebrating fifteen years since its blow up, grime has cemented itself as one of the most important music genres to ever come out of Britain. Often referred to as the 21st century’s equivalent to punk, grime gave the disenfranchised youth a voice that was finally heard by the mainstream masses and offered an insight into the world of east London.
Over the last decade and a half the genre has gone through its share of peaks and troughs popularity wise and has morphed from purely being defined within the 140bm slot to an entire culture.
We’re about a year into what has now become known as the second golden era of grime. 2016 saw Skepta’s Mercury prize win for his seminal Konnichiwa mirroring Dizzee Rascal’s 2003 win and cementing the notion that the genre was back in a big way.
Alongside Skep on the shortlist was East Ham’s Kano with his ode to the ends Made in the Manor. Kano is an artist who is credited with helping establish the scene back in the early noughties and he remains one of the top ranked artists to this day. However alongside long term heavy hitters like Skepta and Kano, the sound’s rise from the ashes has introduced us to a whole new wave of artists. Grime 2.0.
One of the biggest developments in the scene has been the diversity in location. Thanks to the rise of social media and YouTube, the sound of grime is no longer confined to Jammer’s basement or Risky Roadz’s lens.
We caught up with some breakthrough and established acts behind the scenes at the Relentless stage at Leeds festival last week to pick their brains about the scene and where it’s at right now.
Tieks is a producer and DJ from south London. He graced our stage last year as his track “Sunshine” peaked in the charts. Since then, Tieks has emerged as an artist in his own right and is looking to release even more bangers in the future.
A music aficionado who lets his influences shine through in his productions, the Croydon born artist credits a whole range of genres to his sound, from his first record (“Biggie Smalls, Ready to Die”) to French house. “Loads of stuff was playing in my house when I was growing up. Paul McCartney sounds nothing like what I make but has a big influence on my song writing. “Sunshine” was a definite nod to garage amongst other things. My other single before that was a nod to disco. My next single is a nod to pop and afrobeat”.
On the topic of grime’s journey and evolution, Tieks believes there are parallels to be drawn between this and hip hop’s origins more than 40 years ago.
“Grime as a genre should learn from the trajectory of other genres of music like it. [For example] the trajectory of hip hop, which is a music from New York – it shot itself in the foot by trying to go commercial too quickly. It went back the other way and back to its roots, but then it became really big but also snobby and said it was only from New York.
Grime should understand that because it went through that same thing. It became seminal music – Boy in Da Corner is a classic record. Then some of the artists went too commercial too quickly… They don’t want to fall in that pit where it’s only a London thing because that’s what happened to house and garage. It should be national.”
In an era where the definition of grime has become hazy, Izzie Gibbs is a classic artist with a sound and a vibe that sometimes feels like it would fit in more in 2002 – despite the fact that he would have only been six.
Hailing from Northampton, Gibbs is a prime example of the geographical journey that grime has made. A boy from the midlands is one of the only artists that’s repping the old school grime sound as drill, UK rap and afrobeat creeps more and more into our playlists.
And it’s safe to say he’s earnt the respect of the scene’s elders. He’s worked with artists like Ghetts and Big Narstie amongst others. His last project, an EP entitled Yin Yang dropped back in June and featured Donae’o on the infectious track “Chillin”.
“It’s been about two months since Yin Yang and the reaction has been sick. Since then I’ve been going HAM trying to release as much music as possible and I’m lucky that every time I release something people go crazy for it. It’s really humbling.”
Gibbs is quick to recognise the other non-London artists that are making waves in the urban scene. “The Manchester scene is sick. Geko is sick. Fumes is sick. Sweeny is sick. I’ve got a lot of people from Manchester. They’re going in.”
The “Outta da Hood” artist has just turned 21 but he’s not blind to the transformation that the genre is going through. Having already built up a name for himself as one of the faces of ‘new grime’ (he’s been championed by publications like Complex and GRM Daily) Gibbs has a lot to say about the UK music scene right now.
“What people think is good and what is being respected… [I think] a lot of people are deaf. Can you hear what I’m hearing? I feel like people used to really respect the act of constructing art and a well written piece of music. Now, if it’s got a nice beat and you’re wearing nice clothes everyone goes ‘oh my god this is the best thing ever!’ which isn’t true. But them people there don’t have longevity.
Gibbs credits his success to his character, and how that comes across in his music. “With me it’s what you see… I’m not trying to be big headed but I work so hard that I think I’ve proven: if I’m not the best I’m definitely one of the best… I try to bring that element of energy that is raw and grimy to anything I do.”
As someone who’s been on the radar for years now, Rude Kid has seen the action from a, relatively, behind the scenes position. However by emerging this year with his Kiss FM radio show and dropping his Monsters EP, Rude has rechristened himself as an artist that demands the respect his work deserves.
Crediting Wiley’s “Eskimo” beat – widely thought of as the first grime riddim – as the moment that changed his life, Rude worked for years as a producer, however the secret to his success is that he isn’t pigeon holed.
“I listen to a lot of pop music and I’m not ashamed of that. I don’t feel guilty! What is pop now? Because everyone is charting now, so does that mean they’re pop? Do you mean commercial? Because even grime is commercial now. Grime has become a name for urban British music. People say J Hus is grime. Rap gets called grime. Drill tunes, like Section Boyz and that. I don’t even know what pop is anymore.”
DJs and producers are an integral part of the scene, but often don’t get recognised as much as their MC counterparts. The distance between a crowd and a DJ separated through decks can be a long one, but through sheer determination and grind, Rude Kid always manages to connect with his audience.
“I never feel like it’s harder for DJs to get a connection with audiences than MCs. I’ve always believed that I have to show the power is in me. Even as a producer, I drop instrumental EPs so I can show that the craft is strong. As a producer I am doing my thing. As a DJ I don’t have MCs with me [because] I don’t need an MC to shut down the rave. I can do that myself. I’ve always wanted to do that.”
After admitting that he had “lost the hunger” to create music, the last year has seen Rude return to full form. Now an established member of the scene, Rude has own show on Kiss FM which allows him to shine a light on new musicians.
“Before I used to rely on a lot of DJs and I still do. Radio people are very important. Presenters need to play your music. Now I can help up and coming MCs. Producers who aren’t as well known, I can play their music and they get heard. It feels good to help people. Yeah, it is like being an A&R a little bit!”
Devlin is one of the OGs of grime. As a member of east London’s Movement crew alongside Ghetts, Wretch 32, Scorcher and Mercston, the Dagenham artist has seen the rise and fall and rise again of his hometown’s music.
Similar to Rude Kid, Devlin also went through a quiet period where music wasn’t a priority. After a few years away he came back earlier this year with his The Devil In album which threw him back into the centre of the scene and all the touring and shows that come with it. He’s content with this returning, saying “I’ve had a couple years where I was a bit quiet so I’m just happy to be busy.
“I’ve always just made music because I loved it. I got a bit tired of it for a while and now I’m back at it. I don’t tend to watch really how popularity fluctuates, when it’s in me I just make it when I feel the urge to.”
However despite being in the middle of the genre’s origins, Devlin isn’t possessive over the location that the music is made in. In fact, he laughs at the idea that grime should remain a London based sound.
“I’m glad that there are people from the Midlands doing well – wherever people are from I’m glad when they do well. It’s only benefitting grime in general.
It’s music, man. No one has the right to tell anyone what kind of music they should be making.”