It may be strictly a UK ting, but with newfound interest across the pond, grime’s one-time aspirations of going global have finally shown signs of coming true. We put together a 10-track breakdown of some of the genre’s finest and most definitive moments, for all the newbies out there looking to get up to speed…
2015 just may be the year that grime goes global. The MC-driven genre is in the middle of a strong, fertile second coming that’s reaching listeners farther flung than ever before. Though grime has had global aspirations for over a decade now, launching several UK superstars like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Skepta, the music never managed to become an international export on the scale of American hip-hop. Now things are starting to change.
Amid Kanye West’s rumored collaboration with Skepta – whom he gave a shoutout to at the end of his performance at the BRIT Awards, flanked by large portions of the UK grime scene – and Drake’s ongoing flirtations with the sound – having borrowing a line off Skepta’s “That’s Not Me,” on his track “Used To” – grime MCs are getting a rare moment of international exposure right now. So much so, some are wondering if it might eventually lead to the kind of superstardom once previously reserved for U.S. rappers.
But to call grime the British answer to hip-hop would be both reductive and wrong. From its start, grime has incorporated unique musical influences outside American rap’s purview — namely UK garage and 2-step — and for Britain’s answer to the rhythmic and sample culture of hip-hop, one should look not to grime, but to trip-hop, drum & bass and jungle.
Grime’s unique footprint may be pulsing around the world right now, but while U.S. hip-hop has developed regional styles on the East Coast, West Coast and Deep South, grime feels like it will always, for the most part, be a London ting. As a quick round-up of both the scene’s early development and its biggest bangers, we’ve put together 10 of our top grime tracks to get you up to speed.
Youngstar – “Pulse X” (2002)
Most genres aren’t so fortunate as to have such a pure, incontestable year zero as “Pulse X.” Youngstar’s cold, lurching instrumental track would come to define grime both sonically and structurally. The song is the first 8-bar grime tune, switching beats every eight bars so that MCs laying down the usual 16-bar verse could rap over two rhythms. Today this structure is boilerplate, and its palette – minimal, cold and forceful – has proved pliable enough to service party starters, head-nodders and unforgettable anthems along the way.
Wiley – “Eskimo” (2002)
The other absolute essential grime number, “Eskimo” is the most legendary piece of production from Wiley, who would later become one of the game’s key MCs. “Eskimo” began a whole subgenre of “eski” tunes that were like the arctic tundra: cold, slippery and shockingly bare. The rhythm and bassline here aren’t too far from 2-step garage, but the sound is a step into the future. Apt, given that Wiley boasts over his later eski riddim “Ice Rink,” “They can’t see what I can. /I’m in the future.”
Dizzee Rascal – “I Luv U” (2003)
Dizzee Rascal was the UK’s first black male grime popstar, and “I Luv U” built on “Pulse X” to become grime’s first major pop anthem. The song’s success is surprising, given that everything about it is gratingly sharp – right from Dizzee’s nasal London accent to the claps like snapping mousetraps. That said, it’s all balanced, and the lurching gabber kicks are offset, dub-style, by the silence that follows them. Even Dizzee’s pigheaded rap is kicked back at him by female MC Jeanine Jacques: “That girl’s some bitch ya know./That boy’s some prick ya know.”
Lethal B – “Pow (Forward)” feat. Fumin, D Double E, Napper, Jamakahi, Neeko, Flow Dan, Ozzie B, MC Forcer, Demon and Hot Shot (2004)
A vocal update of Lethal B’s 2003 club-dominating “Forward Riddim,” “Pow” is an all-hands-on-deck collaboration with many of grime’s underground A-list taking turns to contribute some chest-thumping to the playfully violent track. Pure kinetic energy, the percussion pops off in a series of well-timed explosions. No surprise then that the song was allegedly banned in some clubs for inciting violence. That said, it’s also been reported that the track was banned after it became the custom to rewind it at each new verse, stretching the song to over 10 minutes of bedlam.
Skepta – “Duppy (Doin’ It Again)” (2006)
Like the ragga, jungle and garage MCs whose traditions they built on, grime MCs were often known for having signature catchphrases. For Skepta, this leads to some discography confusion, as 2011’s reflective “Doin’ It Again” is often confused with 2006’s “Duppy (Doin’ It Again).” It’s appropriate that “Duppy” is one of grime’s last underground tunes, though, as musically it captures both the UK’s past and future in one track. Switching seamlessly from bassline-driven garage to swerving grime, it takes in verses from the future stars of the now notorious Boy Better Know crew.
Tempa T – “Next Hype” (2009)
Tempa T has a reputation as one of grime’s most violent MCs, and his biggest hit, “Next Hype,” makes it clear why. How many other MCs would forgo simple violence and go on to taunt his enemies about trashing their kids’ toys? “Next Hype” is a real belter of a track, as Tempa literally shouts most of his verses down the mic. And, though not one of the genre’s lyrical masterpieces, it is one of the best examples of grime as snapshot of young, urban rage.
D Double E – “Bluku Bluku” (2011)
What does “Bluku Bluku” mean? Well the best explanation is that it’s something D Double E says. The seasoned MC claims “Bluku Bluku” once had a meaning, but it’s since been lost and now it’s just something he says at the end of sentences that sounds cool. The same goes for the song, “Bluku Bluku.” Other than a killer double-speed verse from Dizzee Rascal, the song is just a hypey bit of grime madness.
JME – “Integrity” (2013)
Boy Better Know co-founder and Skepta’s brother, JME may have been best known for “Serious,” but that was in a whole different era of grime (back in 2006). Back on “Serious” he declared, “Major labels don’t want killers / think / who’s gonna sign a guy with a shank,” but come 2013 it’s a whole new game, and on “Integrity” he complains about “cocaine snorting label executives that think you can take my integrity.” Grime is big money now, but it’s still about those same old skeleton drums and large, dread basslines which JME rides with breathless fury.
Skepta and JME – “That’s Not Me” (2014)
Forgetting the so-bad-it’s-good “German Whip,” “That’s Not Me” is the definitive anthem to grime’s second decade comeback. All things are cyclical, and “That’s Not Me” is an updated Eski-type banger – a retro grime track where, just like “Integrity,” the lyrical message is about staying true to grime’s core in the face of commercial pressure. The release of solo albums from Skepta and JME later in 2015 may push either MC to international stardom, but tracks like this contend there’ll be no aesthetic compromise on the way there.
Mumdance – “Take Time” feat. Novelist (2014)
Mumdance’s Twitter handle declares him the Grime Jeff Mills, and for how the man works a 909, he deserves the title. Crafting this grime banger out of a few kicks, pulses and odd bits of music concrete noise, Mumdance brings grime right up to the future with a hard nod to the past. “Take Time” was also the big debut of Novelist, the young MC heralded as the next big thing in grime. He and Mumdance made clear that “Take Time” was no fluke with 2015’s “1 Sec” and “Shook” – compositionally two of the strangest grime bangers ever assembled – but “Take Time” is the anthem that made them one of the brightest amid grime’s new constellation of stars.
Written by Taylor Hodges for Highsnobiety.com.