How Grime Made it from UK Underground to the Mainstream

How Grime Made it from UK Underground to the Mainstream

A brief history of the UK subgenre finally making its way across the globe.

A brief history of the UK subgenre finally making its way across the globe.

Text: Leah Sinclair

When Drake released his highly-anticipated project More Life last week, many were excited to hear the sounds and key influences on the Canadian rapper’s latest work. While the LP explores the familiar Island vibes heard on Views, with "Madiba Riddim" and "Blem," to your expected hip-hop collaborations with Quavo, 2 Chainz and Young Thug, there is also a significant British presence with features from UK MC’s Skepta and Giggs, to the use of London slang like ‘wasteman’ and ‘peng ting,’ which Drizzy frequently uses throughout the 22-track playlist.

This homegrown British sound used on More Life continues to expose the world to grime music and the stars within it, suggesting that the genre is growing beyond its UK roots, with co-signs from Drake, Kanye West, Swiss Beatz and more.

While grime hasn’t reached global domination just yet, its capacity to do so is inevitable. With Stormzy’s recent no.1 album in the UK, Skepta front row at Chanel, and Giggs double feature on More Life, grime culture seems to be on the brink of world domination. So, in preparation, we're going to give you a quick and easy introduction to the world of grime (you know, so you can get a head start and pretend you were into it before everyone else).

Origins

As a derivative of UK Garage sub-genres—which also include dubstep, 2step and bass line—grime was born in the early 2000s and was also known as 8bar, Sub Low, and Eskibeat. The darker, more visceral sound of grime combated the lighter quality of UK garage which had previously dominated the music scene there, and was arguably more fast-paced and edgy thanks to its 140 bpm in comparison to other sub genres of that time.

The sound was born in Bow, East London, and was known for its particularly anarchic spirit and rejection of mainstream ideals. Much like the early days of punk, grime’s defiant nature and "fuck you" approach to society resonated with many inner city youths, who used it as medium of expression. MCs would display their skills at UK pirate radio stations such as Rinse FM, Deja Vu FM and Freeze 92.7, cultivating the beginnings of grime culture which continues to influence today.

One of grime’s key originators, Wiley, began this move away from the house influences of UK Garage by releasing instrumentals on white label vinyls. His Eskimo series marked the start of a new sub-genre that would go on to produce homegrown stars and transform them into chart-topping MC’s, including Chip, Novelist, Ghetts, and more.

To get a taste of grime at its most pure and original, Wiley’s 14-minute edit of the track Ice Rink showcases it all. The marathon grime song featured some of today’s leading pioneer’s in the genre, from a young Tinchy Stryder, Kano and notably Dizzee Rascal.

Clashes

Much like the early days of hip-hop, a key aspect of grime culture was the clashes and rap battles, which were often documented by producer and Boy Better Know member, Jammer.

Known for hosting rap battle competitions, Jammer brought MCs together to clash in the legendary Lord of The Mics series—a staple in grime history, where some of the best MCs of today would go head-to-head with their counterparts. These sessions were often recorded in various locations across London—many of which can be found on YouTube. For some of the most iconic clashes, check out Wiley vs Kano, Skepta vs Devilman and Demon vs Bashy—the latter know stars on 24: Legacy.

 

Critical Acclaim and Mainstream Success

While grime has managed to maintain a lot of its authenticity thanks to its underground nature, there was a surge of MCs who were able to breakout and achieve both critical acclaim and mega hits off of the back of their work. Dizzee Rascal was one of the first with his lauded album Boy in da Corner, which scored him a Mercury Music Prize and a UK top 40 single with "I Luv You." The success of Dizzee’s album marked the first internationally known grime star, and soon others would follow. In 2003 and 2004, Wiley, Kano and Lethal Bizzle would go on to amass mainstream media attention for their albums Treddin’ On Thin Ice, Home Sweet Home, and Against All Oddz, bringing a new type of attention to the scene where grime could be both authentic and profitable—something they had yet to experience.

This attention placed on grime music resulted in even more exposure through radio DJ’s like DJ Logan Sama and television channels including Channel U (Channel AKA)—The UK’s answer to MTV.

Resurgence

From 2009 to 2013, grime did take a slight dip. As mainstream success called, many rappers left their grime origins for a chance on the top 40 charts, with the likes of Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah and Chip succeeding at it, and leaving the scene at a slight standstill. However, since the release of Meridan Dan’s “German Whip” in 2013 to Stormzy’s EP debut Dreamers Disease in 2014, the genre has experienced a resurgence and its artists including Skepta, Giggs, and Kano have reached dizzying heights of success in its wake, solidifying the idea that Grime MCs truly are the new Brit rock stars.

Skepta’s hit tracks “That’s Not Me” and “Shutdown” were huge anthems across the UK and beyond, along with other chart-topping acts including JME, Krept and Konan, and Stormzy dominating with their hit tracks.

Grime was also being recognized internationally (technically Diddy was one of the first, with his grime remix of ‘Hello, Good Morning’ in 2011, but that didn’t catch on); from Kanye West’s memorable 2015 BRIT Awards performance that saw grime heavyweights hit the stage, to Drake’s constant display of undying love for the scene, cultivating in the appearance of Skepta and Giggs on the playlist.

Even without these particular co-signs the success of albums like Skepta’s Konnichwa, Giggs’s Landlord, Kano’s Made In The Manor, and most recently, Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayers signifies a shift in the way the world is perceiving grime music and its stars. The defiant spirit of the genre seems to have finally entered our collective psyche and is about to takeover.

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