It sometimes seems that British rap has taken many twist and turns since the late 1980s. The British Hip-hop scene of the late 80s and early 90s can never really be said to have taken off despite the success of some British artists. The majority of UK hip-hop resided underground and small scale. However, Grime is looking at putting UK MCs on the international stage.
In 2003 Grime exploded out of London’s underground clubs and pirate radio stations allowing a brief, but exciting time for British home grown rap. Artists such as Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Lethal Bizzle lifted the genre to mainstream media with record deals following and heights reached that would’ve been envied by the hip-hop artists prior.
Dizzee Rascal’s first solo album Boy In Da Corner reached the top of the UK Albums Chart with three singles also reaching the Top 40; the second single Fix Up, Look Sharp went as high as the Top 20. In September 2003 Dizzee was awarded the Mercury Prize, being the youngest person and second rapper to win the prestigious award.
This early 2000s wave of Grime didn’t last long however with record labels returning to what it seemed, a safer option, importing well-established American artists. British Rap/Hip-hop returned to the underground.
It wasn’t until 2008 almost by chance that one song caused a fundamental shift that put Grime back into the clubs and charts. Wiley’s iconic track Wearing My Rolex peaked at number two in the singles chart and saw labels rush to sign up the likes of Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah and Chipmunk to name a few. Wiley’s hit single became the basis for slower, less aggressive club orientated music. Though this format was commercially successful, Grime in it’s true sense was yet to flourish and would have to wait.
The 2012 Red Bull Culture Clash was an indication of things to come. In the four-way stage-show battle, beating mainstream overseas names, including the likes of Major Lazer, the independent record label Boy Better Know, won. The London based Grime collective founded by JME, including Wiley and Skepta with help from Chipmunk and Lethal Bizzle called out the three other teams, throwing down fighting talk in a way that was clear they knew what they were doing, setting the stage for things to come.
As Pirate Radios got licenses, including the likes of Rinse FM, YouTube had already taken over with many young artists finding it easier to upload to the site coinciding with modern day technology. YouTube provided a platform allowing an easy way for young MCs to get their voices out to the public. London duo Krept and Konan were one of these artist that used the site as a platform to promote their work, gaining a record deal in the process. Their debut album The Long Way Home subsequently entered the UK Album Charts at number 2.
2014 was the year of change for Grime with an increasing number of singles making their way into the UK Top 40 mainstream. Meridian Dan’s German Whip featuring Big H and JME was the first to do this, shortly followed two months later with Skepta’s, That’s Not Me reaching number 21.
The Grime scene was pushing into the forefront of British mainstream music, allowing younger and less experienced MCs such as Stormzy, Krept and Konan and Little Simz to make their marks. This time, the Grime scene was unapologetic, self-confident and true to its roots. London born Stormzy said
“it’s like everyone’s just clocked at once: hang on, f**k that, we’re sick–we are sick. My tracksuit is sick. My Grime freestyle is sick. The way I do things is sick”. Grime has flourished over the last 2 years with its British and international presence growing hugely, with tours lined up for Stormzy, JME and Krept and Konan to name a few.
The Grime scene has had a rough road to the British mainstream, with ups and downs over the last 13 years. Grime has gone from pirate radio stations and the underground to the forefront of British media, but the question is can Grime continue in this fashion? Is this growth in mainstream music temporary or is it a resurrection that will see the London based music scene become an international phenomenon?